NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - Sheryl Crow's "Soak Up the Sun" played in the background at the funhouse at the Country Fair at the Our Lady of Peace Roman Catholic Church in New Providence on Saturday afternoon, when the clouds threatened to overwhelm the sunshine. But the fair, which ran from Wednesday to Saturday, was still well attended despite the ongoing rain.
The fair raises money for both the parish and its school, which is attended by children from preschool to eighth grade. Tips from the refreshment bar in the church gymnasium are donated to St. John's soup kitchen in Newark. Debbie Johnston, who has been staging the fair for the church with her husband Jim since 1987, was very pleased with the turnout.
The fair is very much a family production for the Johnstons, who start organizing it in June and in January go over new ideas derived from visiting other fairs. Their son Jim organizes the fair's games, and their daughter Kim helps her parents arrange everything else. "She could put this fair together for us," Johnston says.
Tickets sold in sheets of thirty, at $30 a sheet, were discounted to $20 before the fair opened on Wednesday. Unused tickets can be used the following year. Despite the recession, the fair is expected to raise a lot of money for the parish. The 2010 fair raised $87,000.
"I think we've been pretty lucky," said Debbie Johnston regarding the unpredictable weather. "Wednesday from six to about 8:15 we had no rain, then we got a downpour. Thursday we got rain, but it stopped 45 minutes before we opened. Last night [Friday] it was packed, now for today we're hoping the rain holds off."
The rain didn't stay away entirely, and for awhile it looked as though raindrops were the only way the clown in the dunking booth would get wet. A couple of children who proved to be ace pitchers changed that very quickly, however.
The rides included standard amusement fare such as a Ferris wheel and a carousel, but it also featured edgier rides like the Zipper, a long, tall Ferris wheel-style ride with cars that turn upside down, as well as the Himalayan high-speed toboggan ride and the Starship Graviton centrifuge that pins riders against a rapidly revolving wall. Among the foods offered were hamburgers, steak sandwiches, and even gourmet cupcakes.
While many vendors sold toys and trinkets in the parish gym, church volunteers ran the game booths. One of the more popular booths was the Fire Fly game, where participants sprayed water cannons at targets to light up glass cylinders overhead, trying to win a prize by being the first to light up an entire cylinder. Awa Ebo of New Providence, who helped run the booth, was happy with the business it was bringing in. "It's going well," she said. "The kids enjoy it, they're having fun. I think even adults enjoy this booth."
Food, fun and family were the rule of the day. Michele Liss of Fanwood and her husband were relaxing under the food tent as their son Michael enjoyed ice cream. She said Michael had been in the funhouse as well as on the elephant and dragon kiddie rides.
"It's a lot of fun," she said. "We come every year."
Also having fun were Dana Kane and her daughter Emily, of Summit. Emily had been on the Sizzler swing ride and the Ferris wheel, but her favorite attraction was the Starship Graviton.
"It was awesome!" she said.