“Boats, Barbara. We really need boats.” Jane Wass is serious. “Put that in at the beginning of the article, and put it in at the end, too,” she advises.
And there! I’ve done it, haven’t I? When Jane Wass speaks up about what the Hospital & Community Aid Street Fair needs, I listen. She’s co-chair of the annual event and takes her responsibility very seriously. You see, it’s the fulfillment of a vow she made decades ago: if God would heal her from a life-threatening illness, she would do good with her life. For years, now, that good has been for Huggins Hospital through the annual Street Fair in Wolfeboro.
Now in its 79th year, the Fair, which takes place August 4 and 5, raises funds for the rural hospital serving Wolfeboro and communities 30 or more miles away. From the beginning, its purpose has been to buy things that would “promote the interest of the Huggins Hospital by providing as far as possible such articles as are necessary for the comforts of the inmates.” Over the years, receipts from the Fair have brought up-to-date equipment and niceties to the hospital that would otherwise be impossible for such a small institution to buy. In the 1930s and ’40s, this included x-ray machines and operating equipment, johnnies, sheeting and bandages, bedpan covers (!), paint and décor, silverware and even hand-hemmed tablecloths for the hospital dining room. In the ’50, anesthesia machines, a viscocardiette and an electromanometer were acquired. Recently, Huggins benefited by the purchase of birthing chairs and mammography equipment.
From the beginning, the Fair has been about fun. Fun in the days it runs, and fun in the year-round preparation for it. It’s fun with a cause and that cause has expanded through the decades. Always at the heart, though, is a unique collaboration of year-round residents and summer visitors. In fact, if one sees the definition of “ecotourism” as “tourism to places having unspoiled natural resources, with minimal impact on the environment being a primary concern,” the Street Fair fits right in.
You see, while this year’s Street Fair will include everything you’d expect to find at any fair in America: rides and cotton candy, hucksters and live music; it will also have its hallmark emphasis on re-using and recycling. The first Street Fair in 1938 fell in the ninth year of the Great Depression and introduced the central concept of giving new life to old items. Seventy-nine years later, the first scant gathering of a half dozen or so 6 by 6-ft. linen tents has grown to a great gathering of tents on Brewster Field. Inside the tents, you’ll find “previously-loved” books and clothing, household goods and electronics, sports paraphernalia and jewelry, all donated, and carefully collected, priced and packed at the Street Fair storage barns for 51 weeks, one year until the next, then hauled in truckload after truckload for the big event the first full weekend of August, rain or shine.
From the beginning, summer residents have played an important part in the success of the Fair. At the first Fair, the band from Camp Wyanoke (a boys’ summer camp off Forest Road in Wolfeboro) provided entertainment, along with the Wolfeboro town band, but the camp also shared the Brewster Field for its annual West Point-style Parade and Band Concert. Throughout the decades, summer residents have been known to save their white elephant items to donate to the Fair in Wolfeboro, and even today, some of Jane Wass’ most conscientious volunteers come from “away.”
Of course, being a volunteer has its costs. Like the proverbial sausage maker, one gets to know too well the importance and urgency of the hard work. In 2000, Skip Clow, brother of founder Ethel (Clow Dye) Black recalled traveling the 500 miles from Tonawanda, NY to work at the Fair for summer after summer. It was never a chore for him and his family, he said, because they had so much fun, but one day when he won at chuck-a-luck, he realized there was a price for his devotion. Walking proudly around the Fairgrounds with a fistful of change, he suddenly realized he had to donate it all back to the Fair. “My sister was running the show, you know.”
In this current era of serious attention to the conservation of natural resources, it’s remarkable to think how progressive the Street Fair has always been in this area. Cast-off treasures become new jewels when they are bought at the Street Fair, and it’s not uncommon to see favorite items return to be sold again after a brief years’ sojourn at someone’s home or cottage. In the 1950s when there was a Pet Tent, even animal genetics appeared and reappeared at the Fair. In 1950, the Fred Clows bought a kitten. By the next year, she had kittens and Bud Booth bought a kitten, and in 1952, Bud’s kitten had kittens that were sold at the Fair. (This writer finds some irony in the fact that on that year mama kitten also won the Fair’s title of “Best Behaved Kitten.”)
Today, Jane and her volunteers have taken conservation and recycling into new territory. In addition to “Buck A Bag” specials to encourage bulk sales on the Fair’s final day, arrangements are made for other charitable organizations to receive leftovers at the end of the Fair.
Medical equipment collected at the Barns is always offered free to anyone who needs it. Metal unsuitable for sale or left over at the end is sent out for recycling. Remaining books are picked up by a charity that finds them new homes. Clothing that does not find a home is taken to help impoverished people in other regions of the country.
For many people downsizing or breaking up estates, the Hospital Aid Street Fair has become the “go to” in the area. Jane says it’s a wonderful way to support the hospital and it makes things easy for the families—one-stop donating, as it were. “We just ask,” says Jane, “that people call ahead to be sure we are here to accept their things.” There is nothing more heartbreaking than to see perfectly good donations left outside the Barns only to become ruined by exposure to bad weather.
This year’s Hospital Aid Street Fair will be held at Brewster Field on Main Street in Wolfeboro – rain or shine – August 4 and 5 from 10 am to 10 pm. The Street Fair Barns on Pine Hill Road (Route 109A) can still accept some donations, particularly clothing, jewelry and boats. Please call Jane Wass at 603-569-6630 before dropping items off.
And did we mention? Jane Wass, co-chair of the Hospital Aid Street Fair says, “Boats…we really need boats.”