Rachael Burnette lives and breathes the Gloucester County Fair. That’s what you do when you’ve been in charge of something for about 20 years.
Although laudatory of the efforts the Gloucester Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism has taken to support the fair, Burnette said she thinks it is important that the fair remain a citizen-organized event and the Gloucester Fair Association, which she has headed for about 20 years, is in need of new leadership.
The fair has changed through the years, Burnette said. In the first years that she chaired the fair, there were many more entries for competitions like canned goods and handwork. Times have changed, Burnette said, and many more women are working outside the home and don’t take time for canning and knitting.
Also, many of the livestock and small animals of years past are just a memory, as few 4-Hers now raise cattle and many of them are pursuing modern interests such as computers. Photography is a category receiving more entries in recent years, Burnette said, perhaps spurred by the growing popularity of digital cameras.
Burnette’s upbringing probably lent itself to helping organize the fair. She was raised on a farm at Woods Cross Roads, where she helped with many chores, especially cleaning and packaging eggs that were purchased by hucksters coming to the farm. She resides on the family farm where she grew up.
An early memory is from the old Botetourt school in Gloucester, where she attended elementary through high school. She remembers often visiting the custodian in the basement as he worked to keep heat radiating throughout the building.
Later, Burnette worked 12 years in several positions, including teacher and administrator of the privately-run Christian Kindergarten in Gloucester.
Burnette’s first husband, the late Wade Roy, was a farmer. They had two children: daughter Karen Merrill, who lives at Woods Cross Roads and operates The Farmer’s Daughter there, and son Kenneth, who lives in Petersburg and is retired from the U.S. Air Force.
Burnette is married to John Burnette, who is retired from C&O Railroad. For many years, her husband helped at the fair, she said, always serving as the bingo caller.
Burnette attends Salem United Methodist Church, where she serves on the church’s Advisory Committee and is worship chairman. Also, she is treasurer of Friends of the Gloucester Museum and treasurer of the Cook Foundation.
The Gloucester Fair Association will honor Burnette for her service during a ceremony at the start of the fair next Thursday night. This will be the 40th year for the current fair.
In 1970, Freedom B. Goode, agricultural Extension agent in Gloucester, called a meeting to discuss a countywide fair, Burnette said, and the first unified fair was held that year. Previously, there had been separate fairs in the county for blacks and whites, with the "white fair" having ceased operations a few years before then, she said, and the black-oriented fair barely limping along.
Although pleased with her efforts to have a good fair in Gloucester, Burnette said one regret is that a permanent exhibits building has not been erected for use by fair exhibitors.