Fond childhood memories of the Mother Lode Fair led to a 30-year career for one third-generation Tuolumne County native.
Maggie Beck / Union Democrat Mother Lode Fair Manager Jan Haydn-Myer holds a carnival prize (above), and talks with Patrick Karnahan about vendor booth Wednesday afternoon. Maggie Beck/Union Democrat, copyright 2012
Fair Manager Jan Haydn-Myer, 63, can remember going to the fair every summer and walking home with a goldfish in one hand and a stuffed teddy bear in the other.
“I would catch the bus at the Sonora Inn and go to the fair every day. So did every kid I knew,” Haydn-Myer said.
When a part-time job opportunity at the fair presented itself the summer of 1979, Haydn-Myer took it and never looked back.
The fair, which kicks off its 75th year today, has changed considerably since Haydn-Myer was first hired 33 years ago and she’s had a front-row seat to witness that evolution.
“I’ve pretty much been here every day since, so it was pretty much destiny,” she said. “My destiny.”
Haydn-Myer grew up in Sonora where her father, Al Lyon, owned and operated the Louvre Bar on South Washington Street. She said she would spend time helping him with the business almost every day before and after school.
She attended grammar school at the Sonora Dome, next to what is now Cassina High School, and graduated from Sonora High School in 1967. She still goes on trips around the country with friends she met during those days.
“You make lifelong friends in a small community,” she said.
Haydn-Myer left the area for about four years while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in fine arts with a concentration in accounting. She first began attending Modesto Junior College before moving on to Fresno State University, and later Stanislaus State.
She was finishing work toward her degree when a neighbor asked if she wanted to take a part-time summer job in the fair’s business office. Since that time, Haydn-Myer has worked under seven different fair managers before being promoted to the position herself in 2002.
Haydn-Myer left the area and the Mother Lode Fair for the first-time since
college in 1995 when she took an accounting job at the Stanislaus County Fair in Turlock. She discovered the two fairs couldn’t be more different.
“They’re security was amazing,” she said of the Stanislaus County Fair. “They had police officers on bicycles, horses, metal detectors... It was a completely different world.”
She was called back to help interim fair manager Forrest White in 1998 during a difficult financial period for the fair. In 2002, she was promoted to the top position.
Haydn-Myer said the fair has changed over the past few decades since she first began working at it.
She said the horse show was the main attraction during the early-1980s, lasting sometimes up to three days and drawing thousands of participants from across the state. The horse show now lasts about four hours and is made up of mostly the local youths.
Some of the biggest crowds now are for the motorized events such as motocross, truck pulls and the destruction derby. The arts, crafts and home goods competitions have also gained popularity over the years.
“It seems to be reflecting what’s going on in the community. The fair changes as the community changes,” Haydn-Myer said.
The fair was originally called the Tuolumne County Fair in the mid-1880s before becoming inactive in 1903. It was revived 34 years later and brought to its current location at the fairgrounds off Stockton Road.
It covers 25 acres and remains a state agency with nine board members who Haydn-Myer answers to.
She said it was a surprise when the state cut all of its funding, nearly $200,000 that composed 30 percent of the fair’s annual budget.
“I would have thought they would have done it incrementally and given us time to adjust to the lack of funding, but it just happened,” she said. “I’m still having a hard time coming to terms with it.”
Haydn-Myer and the fair’s board of directors came together to find ways to keep the fair afloat. They made a series of cuts to decrease expenses and hope to increase revenue by promoting the grounds as a destination to host events.
The fairgrounds are currently booked for 60 upcoming rentals with Haydn-Myer’s ultimate goal to make it self-sufficient.
When Haydn-Myer is not busy at the fair, she is attending to her other passion for agriculture.
Haydn-Myer lives on a cattle ranch between Jamestown and Oakdale on Warnerville Road with her husband of 32 years, Jim. She has two grown sons, Korey and Tate.
The couple raises commercial cattle on ranches in Oregon, Oakdale and Jamestown. She described ranching as a “lifestyle beyond just a business.”
“You rely on the land and how you take care of that land determines your reward,” she said. “It’s very consuming and interesting.”