President's role crucial to Brussels Agricultural Society's legacy - Farm 2019
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Earlier this year, the Brussels Agricultural Society encountered a problem faced by many volunteer groups in this day and age: no one wanted to be the next president.
That has since changed. At the society’s March 6 meeting, Brussels Councillor Zoey Onn has stepped up to be the first vice-president of the society, meaning she will be the president for the 2020 Brussels Fall Fair. Barbara Cadotte has taken on the second vice-president role, meaning she will follow Onn into the society’s top role.
However, the society’s challenge in finding a new president is not a unique problem for service clubs and volunteer organizations in rural Ontario. While there are often plenty of people willing to chip in and help out, far fewer are willing to step up and lead.
While the job may entail a bit of extra work and the ability to lead, delegate, run a meeting and be the face of a storied organization for a two-year period, with the position comes a great sense of accomplishment, satisfaction and pride.
Jeff Cardiff has been the president of the organization twice; first in 1993-1994 and then again in 2010-2011, the latter of which was during the hosting of the 150th Brussels Fall Fair, a tremendous milestone for any rural fall fair.
Cardiff’s family has a great history with the society, dating back to his father Murray and mother Betty. Many other Cardiffs have since become involved with the society, including Jeff’s wife Cathy and their son Matt, who was the president just a few years ago – the youngest in the organization’s history.
Jeff Cardiff said that when he first stepped into the president’s role, he felt there was a certain sense of duty and community service in it and that it was his “turn” to be at the top of the society.
Due to the strength of the membership base, having a strong secretary and home craft president at his side and the enthusiasm and willingness to work of the members, Cardiff said he found his time as president to be rather easy.
The key to leading, he said, whether it be the Brussels Agricultural Society or any other position, is delegation. Being the president of the society, he said, would be far too big of a job for one person to do on their own. If you don’t delegate tasks to members who will excel at them, you will get burnt out.
However, if you’re smart about getting others involved and managing their workloads, as well as your own, the job will be manageable.
In his second time as president, Cardiff oversaw the 150th Brussels Fall Fair, which he says was a great honour for him.
With all of the history behind the fair, both for the organization and for his family, Cardiff said being involved in the 150th running of the fair was quite moving and a special moment for him that he won’t soon forget.
Seeing the fair hit that milestone and watching hundreds of people enjoy themselves at the fair, Cardiff said, really made it all worthwhile for him.
Dorothy Cummings is the current president of the society. This is her third time around in the position, including a two-year term that swelled to a six-year term when the society encountered problems attracting a new president between 1995 and 2001.
Cummings became president for the first time shortly after she became involved with the organization. Now, in her third term in the top spot, she has truly embraced Cardiff’s aforementioned advice, running the society by committee and delegating much of what needs to be done annually to host the Brussels Fall Fair.
Cummings was also at the helm when the fair made the precarious transition back to Brussels after being held in Walton in 2017, coinciding with the International Plowing Match (IPM).
While hosting the fair at the IPM was a fantastic opportunity, she said, there was the possibility that regular fair-goers might not return to Brussels alongside the fair, so that was a concern, although one the society was able to overcome.
She says that her greatest sense of accomplishment in playing a role in hosting the fair is seeing members of the community come together and taking a moment to pause and connect with one another. People are so busy now, she said, if an event can bring them together and give them the opportunity to catch up with one another, then the fair is doing its job.
Matt Cardiff was in his early 20s when he first became president, becoming the youngest president in the society’s history. He would be in the top spot during the planning process to bring the Brussels Fall Fair to the IPM in 2017 and then that year, adding on a third year to his two-year term so he could be president for the year of the IPM.
He said that hosting the fair at the IPM was a great accomplishment for the organization and that it really pushed the limits of what the society and its members are capable of when tremendously motivated.
Not only was hosting the fair at the IPM a massive undertaking for that week, but there were many fundraising activities in the year leading up to the fair that required increased volunteer presence and effort, all of which the society proved it was capable of accomplishing.
Matt says that he became president because he had some concepts he wanted to implement into the fair to help keep it moving forward. If you have ideas you want implemented, Matt says, becoming president is a way to make sure they happen.
He says that, to him, the fair is all about keeping agricultural tradition alive in Huron County and creating an environment where those skills and traditions are preserved.
Again, Matt said he was lucky to have a strong volunteer base to help him achieve his goals. When news spread that the Brussels Fall Fair would be held at the 2017 IPM, for example, he began fielding calls from members of neighbouring agricultural societies looking to help out.
The society then received another hand-up when rain washed out the first day of the IPM and the fall fair tent, one of the biggest on the grounds, was the focal point for a massive rescue operation, covering the ground with straw to ensure the tent was accessible when the IPM reopened.
While both Jeff and Matt Cardiff oversaw milestone fairs during their presidencies and Cummings orchestrated the fair’s return to Brussels, Nicole Noble, who was president in 2014-2015, found her term challenging, but worthwhile.
Noble, who has been involved with the society for years, was the president in the year the fair made the changes to inflatables from the traditional midway. The choice, however, was imposed upon Noble just days before the fair.
With the scheduled midway cancelling just days before the fair, Noble had to scramble and find a solution, which is what would eventually lead to the inflatables.
It turns out that Noble was ahead of the curve. While it was an unpopular decision at the time, due to rising costs and liability concerns, many area fall fairs are making the switch and the inflatables are now a popular, celebrated part of the Brussels Fall Fair – and one that’s a lot more affordable, both for the society and for those attending the fair.
Noble was also faced with a year in which Ontario teachers were undertaking ongoing job action, meaning the society was told not to expect any students at the fair unless they were taken out of school by their parents and taken to the fair by them.
Noble says she was literally begging area schools like North Woods Elementary School to come to the fair. To say that her years as president were stressful is an understatement, but she said it was very rewarding work despite the unexpected curveballs thrown her way.
Mary Douma has served the society’s home craft president and she was also the secretary for a decade. Her involvement with the Brussels Fall Fair dates back to when she was a child, exhibiting every year. She would eventually grow up and establish a teaching career in the community, encouraging participation in the fair for years through her work at the former Grey Central and Brussels Public Schools.
When she retired, Douma and her husband Maurice both got involved with the society, falling into the secretary and treasurer roles, respectively, almost immediately after joining.
Douma says that the relevance of the fair continues to be strong because, despite living in a rural community, many people still don’t know enough about agriculture and the fair takes great strides to try and bridge that gap from the agricultural community to the community at large.
Jeff Cardiff agrees, saying that the educational component of the fair is some of the most important work it does in a given year.
He says that while being the president of the Brussels Agricultural Society can be hard work, it’s very rewarding work and it accomplishes something that’s very important to Brussels.
For more information on the Brussels Agricultural Society or on the Brussels Fall Fair, visit its website at brusselsfallfair.ca.