Dale Thurman loved the Gwinnett County Fair, but more than that the longtime fair manager lived it.
Thurman, who retired from that job at the end of October, enjoyed the crowds that visited the fairgrounds and liked the planning and work it took to put on the fair each year and to manage the property and the other events it hosted.
It’s that passion — 27 years of it — that his friends and former co-workers cite as they mourn the loss of Thurman, who died Jan. 17 at the age of 78.
“Dale was dedicated to seeing that Gwinnett county had one of the most outstanding fairs, not only in Georgia but in the country,” said Todd Teasley, who succeeded Thurman as fair manager. “He had a passion to see families enjoy the activities that the county fair brings to the community. The foundation that he laid as the first fair manager will benefit the citizens of Gwinnett County and surrounding areas for many years to come.”
Thurman lived in Hiawassee when he wasn’t working in Gwinnett and returned there after his retirement. He worked in fair management since the late 1980′s, with jobs at fairs in Hiawassee and Mobile, Ala., before he came to Gwinnett County in the 1990′s.
While the annual fair is the focal point of the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds, managing the grounds (and the other events it hosts) is a full-time job. Thurman was instrumental in developing the Gwinnett Fairgrounds facility into a year-round destination by recruiting many events — including gun shows, dog shows, exotic bird shows as well as reptile shows —to fill the calendar.
Teasley said that under Thurman’s watch the fairgrounds increased the events it hosted to more than 45 weekends per year. Thurman is also credited with helping get major improvements for the facilities, including new restrooms, conference rooms and offices. The exhibit halls were also expanded during Thurman’s tenure.
Thurman was active in the broader fair community in Georgia as well. The Georgia Association of Agricultural Fairs said he was a longtime member of that organization and was named the state’s top fair organizer nearly 30 years ago.
“It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of long-time GAAF member, Dale Thurman,” the GAAF said in a statement. “Dale had managed the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds and, by extension, overseen the annual county fair for 27 years and the Georgia Mountain Fair in Hiawassee before that. Dale was very active in GAAF and was named Fairman of the Year in 1994. Please keep his family in your thoughts and prayers — he will be missed!”
Thurman knew this past year’s county fair, which ended Sept. 25, would be his last. He announced his retirement prior to the event and said he would miss seeing and interacting with the crowds the most.
“The fun part is when you see the children pulling on mom and dad’s hand saying, ‘Hurry, hurry, hurry, we’ve got to get down here and play the games and ride the rides,’” Thurman said as he prepared for his last fair. “It’s always a thrill to see these older people looking at the livestock and the different shows that happen to going on each night as far as animals go.
“One night, it’s hogs, and one night, it’s sheep and there’s something different all the way through.”
Other groups that had worked with Thurman through his work at the fairgrounds are also mourning his death.
“He was always friendly, professional, accommodating and an all around good guy,” Chattahoochee English Springer Spaniel Club of Greater Atlanta said in a statement. “We will all miss him. Condolences to Dale’s wife and family.”
Said Teasley: “The Gwinnett Fair staff and board of directors are saddened by Dale’s passing. He will be missed.”
Credit: Gwinnett Daily Post
Credit: Gwinnett Daily Post
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