He started working at county fairs when he was 5. For the past 27 years he’s been director of the Los Banos Fairgrounds and the Merced County Spring Fair (aka May Day Fair). Now Ron Brandt’s retiring.
He shared some thoughts about his past, present and future in a conversation I had with before this year’s May Day Fair started.
“I loved every day of my job,” Ron said. “I’ve enjoyed keeping up the fairgrounds and I’ve had a lot of fun at every fair. Earlier this year, however, I felt now was the right time to retire, while I’m in good health and have other things I’d like to do.”
Ron officially retired this past February, after he turned 55, but the Los Banos Fair Board convinced him to stay on as a consultant through this year’s fair, which he was happy to do.
Ron is a second generation fair manager. His dad, Don Brandt, managed fairs in Butte County and in Sonora at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds. Don gave his 5-year-old son Ron an early taste of fair work by assigning him to pick up fairgrounds trash. Ron has county fair DNA in his blood, and it shows — especially at the Merced County Spring Fair.
“I have really enjoyed every May Day Fair for the past 27 years,” he said. ‘”Each year I see how much the local community appreciates and supports the fair and all it involves — the concerts, special events, livestock sales, food and beverage booths, rides and much more.
“My staff and I work hard before each fair,” Ron added, “putting in hundreds of hours to make sure everything is in good shape before the fair begins. Then I tell my staff, ‘Make sure you have fun at the fair. If you’re having fun and keeping on top of things, chances are the fairgoer will have fun, too.’”
Not everything has been ideal since that day 27 years ago when Ron became fair manager, replacing the well-known Jim Shasky. “Funding is always a challenge. The fair and the fairgrounds are not tax-supported. We’re an enterprise operation that has to make sure our income matches our expenses. When the state cut support to all county fairs in 2011, we really had to scramble.
“But thanks to the Heritage Foundation,” Ron said, “and all the local residents and businesses that contributed to it, we have been financially successful. We’ve been able to operate in the black, and still have some extra dollars to offer scholarships each year to local students.”
Ron is also grateful to the many local businesses that have helped him keep up the fairgrounds and buildings, especially as the infrastructure has gotten older. “All I have to do,” Ron said, “is pick up a phone and someone will agree to lend me equipment or troubleshoot HVAC, electrical or plumbing problems. It’s another indication of the high level of community involvement and support.”
Two of his most enjoyable accomplishments during his tenure were developing the Ranchwood Little Hands Exhibit with Cathie Hostetler and the Henry Miller Educational Farm with Phil Fanneli. “These two exhibits are unique to the Merced County Spring Fair,” Ron said. “It’s always fun to see thousands of kids each year laugh, smile and learn about Merced County agriculture. I am very grateful for my time spent with the two remarkable individuals who initiated these exhibits.”
Ron is looking forward to a positive future for the fair and for himself. “There has been serious discussion,” he said, “to allow county fairs and fairgrounds to be given back a portion of the sales taxes collected at fairs. That’ would mean a lot to Los Banos, especially in regard to the upkeep of aging buildings.”
Ron also plans on enjoying his retirement with his wife, Andrea, who will continue to keep her insurance agency in town after he retires. “That’s one thing that will keep me in Los Banos for awhile. And while I’m here I’d like to help advance some community projects I’ve been thinking about for some time.”
He and Ron and Andrea also plan on doing some traveling. “I’m glad I’m retiring while I’m still healthy,” he said. “I’d like to do some things and see some places while I’m still in good health.”
I’ve been fortunate to have known Ron since he came to Los Banos, including the many years he and I were together in the local Rotary club (where he exemplified its motto, “Service Above Self”). I have seen up close what a genuinely friendly, dedicated and conscientious person he is.
I’m sure I speak for many Los Banos residents, especially those who have worked closely with him over the past quarter century, when I say, “Thank you, Ron, for a job well done.”