HEMPSTEAD, Texas – The success of the annual Waller County Fair and Rodeo runs equivalent to the support it receives around the southeast Texas communities within its borders.
“I think the community has seen the growth and what the fair has done in the past, and they’ve followed suit,” said Dustin Standley, president of the Waller County Fair Board. “They’ve seen positive growth in the fair. When people see something positive, they are positive in support of it.”
The volunteer-based exposition is one of just five county fairs in the state that is not underwritten by the county government. Every ounce of financial support – gate admission, sponsors and donations – helps the fair board toward its mission for the youth of Waller County.
“The biggest part goes toward the scholarship fund,” said Susan Shollar, chairwoman of the fair’s exhibition auction. “For the past 2 years, we’ve given $80,000 a year in scholarships. In 2008, we allocated $8,000 to the scholarship fund, so it’s increased a lot in 10 years.”
Yes, it has. From great food to a world-class rodeo to seven top-flight concerts, fairgoers have a host of activities and entertainment options to consider.
“We have 250 sponsors, and they’re important because they cover all the expenses to put on the county fair,” Standley said. “It allows us to pay for our entertainment, our rodeo production and all the other costs that come with putting on this fair and rodeo, and that allows us to put more back into the youth of Waller County.”
The youth is not just the mission for the fair board; it’s more of a meaningful thought process that each volunteer carries as they go about the tasks of preparing and producing the exposition. By having a solid base of sponsors, that financial support opens the doors for so many other opportunities.
“The retention rate of our sponsors is about 95 percent, with a 20 percent increase each year,” Standley said. “We let the sponsors know that we are trying to give back to youth. We’ve built a program that’s beneficial to all of our sponsors. We attempt to pack as much of a punch to give them a bang for their dollars. We want them to see the value in partnering with us.”
That partnership continues to pay off, but there are also other friends of the fair who donate to the cause. Each spring, the fair board organizes a big crawfish boil and auction – a fundraiser that allows bidders to purchase a variety of auction items. This event has grown substantially in the past few years allowing the fair to upgrade the facilities and continue to grow the scholarship fund.
“We have the same group of core buyers that come to the fair in October for the exhibit auction, and they also come to the fundraiser in April and spend quite a bit of money,” Shollar said.
It goes back to that foundation. Doing positive things draws positive results, especially when the end game is for the betterment of youth in the county.
“There’s a whole lot of support in Waller County,” she said. “They support the fair, and they support the sports associations. They’re behind their kids in the county.”
About 150 people register for the exhibit auctions every year. The key there is that the students who show the exhibits are the direct beneficiaries of the auction – all money that goes through the bidding process is directed to the exhibitor.
From 2005-2017, there has been an average of 200-220 lots in the exhibit auction.
“We’ve gone from $402,000 to $814,000, and that money goes straight to the kids,” Shollar said. “They get what their project sells for.”
It truly is a fair for the next generation.