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Lewis County Fair opens with rain, recognition and a political hopeful

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LOWVILLE — The 194th Lewis County Fair opened with a torrential downpour, a ceremony honoring some fair stalwarts and an appearance by a state political hopeful.

“This is probably the most untraditional opening we’ve ever had,” said Douglas P. Hanno, president of the Lewis County Agricultural Society, which operates the county fairgrounds.

For the first time in Mr. Hanno’s recollection, the fair’s opening ceremony had to be moved inside the LeRoy Nichols Building, rather than its usual spot at the fairgrounds’ Bostwick Street entrance, due to a monsoon-like storm that passed through.

It was also the first time in recent memory that Dr. Harry P. O’Connor was not in charge of the festivities. The local veterinarian, who served as president of the fair for more than 25 years, died in October.

“None of us ever planned for what happened last October,” Mr. Hanno said tearfully. “But the fair board came together, and we made Harry proud.”

During the fair opening Tuesday, agricultural society Treasurer James A. Randall read a proclamation renaming the grandstand in memory of Dr. O’Connor, then gave a copy to the late veterinarian’s wife, Donna.

“There’s never been a plaque that means so much,” Mr. Hanno said.

Dr. O’Connor oversaw a five-year, $500,000 project, completed in 2007, that fully refurbished the 138-year-old grandstand. The project included roof and seating replacement, stabilization work, drainage improvements and addition of a row of windows along the back of the historic structure.

Most of the project, funded primarily through grants and donations, was handled by Port Leyden contractor Gordon Fahey. However, renovation work on the grandstand bleachers was done primarily by volunteers, and Dr. O’Connor and his son Matthew J. rewired the electrical system and added lighting.

Another longtime fair director, Donald F. Sauter, died late last month.

Mr. Sauter handled ribbon-cutting duties at last year’s fair and was slated to do it again this year, Mr. Hanno said. To honor his memory, his wife, Lucy, was asked to handle that duty while flanked by members of three other generations of family members.

Also noticeably absent was Richard P. Bush, who had served as auctioneer for the fair’s annual cheese auction. Mr. Bush died in May, but his son Joseph P. took over.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert P. Astorino also was on hand for the fair opening, meeting with party faithful and other fairgoers as he made his way to the auction, during which 5-, 10- and 20-pound blocks of cheese donated by Kraft Foods is sold to the highest bidder to aid youth agriculture programs and help maintain the Dairy Industry Building.

Due to delays from interviews and other well-wishers, Mr. Astorino missed bidding on the first 20-pound chunk, which carries with it the title of “Big Cheese.”

A group of Dr. O’Connor’s family and friends took that title with a high bid of $2,000, and Kraft gave a matching donation.

Not to be outdone, Mr. Astorino a little later bought a second 20-pound chunk for a high bid of $2,025, helping to bring in a record $12,525 in total proceeds.

While missing out on the cheese auction’s title, the Westchester County executive said he feels he has what it takes to unseat Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and become the state’s big cheese.

Mr. Astorino said he is used to being an underdog, having won two elections in a predominantly Democratic county, the first time after trailing in the polls early on.

He suggested that successes he has had in controlling the budget in his county could translate to the state level.

“We’re living within our means,” Mr. Astorino said.

The candidate also touted the importance of agriculture and criticized current state policies for stifling that industry and other businesses.

“It really is a stop sign to growth,” he said.

Mr. Astorino, who was accompanied by son Sean, said he has enjoyed the beauty of the north country and is planning more visits here soon.

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