Sunday, Mar. 3, 2024

It’s The Volunteers Who Make It Happen

I don’t know quite how to feel about the fact that the young man who supervises the parking area at the Devon Horse Show greeted me this year with a “Hello Molly! Did you get a new car?”
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I don’t know quite how to feel about the fact that the young man who supervises the parking area at the Devon Horse Show greeted me this year with a “Hello Molly! Did you get a new car?”

On one hand, I could interpret it as a sign I’ve been covering Devon for a few too many years in a row (p. 8). But I prefer to look at our yearly interludes as a heartening reminder of the backbone that is Devon—the volunteers. That young man sits in the parking lot of a bank for 10 days straight, from the early morning to the early evening, making sure that all those lucky devils with parking passes can cram their cars into as small a space as possible. He does it cheerily, sun or rain.

More than 2,000 individuals give up some of their time and effort to help Devon happen every year. The Country Fair—with its famous candy stand hawking Devon fudge, the ubiquitous burgers and fries, and, of course, the tea sandwiches—is staffed by a team of hard-working and big-hearted volunteers. The list of Country Fair Committees includes concessions, Devon grounds, flowers, hamburgers, hot dogs, information, promotion and publicity, programs, souvenirs and many more.

Many of the volunteers have served at Devon for decades, and quite a few of them work year-round, rallying the troops and organizing. This year, the show recognized Viola Bement, who has served on the Devon Country Fair Committee for 76 years.

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The tradition of volunteer power at Devon started in 1919, when the Bryn Mawr Hospital became the beneficiary of the show. Hospital employees, including doctors, volunteered to cut the crusts off tea sandwiches, serve French fries and help make the show a success. In the almost 90 years since, the horse show has donated more than $12 million to the hospital, and the hospital community still has a large presence in the volunteer pool.

We frequently hear people bemoan how horse shows have become large industries, run by professional managers for profit. And in the process, most of them have lost the special touches that set shows like Devon, Upperville (Va.) and Aiken (S.C.) apart. Without volunteers, Devon would have to rely on paid
staff to flip burgers, supervise the seating in the box area and accomplish all of the other tasks those 2,000 volunteers complete. You can bet it wouldn’t be the same.

Volunteering is a great way to become involved in your sport, give back and help support a local show. Even if it’s not Devon, I’m sure there’s a show in your area in need of help. Events and dressage shows always need volunteers too. You can learn a lot by scribing for a dressage judge or judging a cross-country fence.

All too often, we attend a show or event and take the manpower and hours that went into planning and running it for granted. We paid our entry fee, right? So, we deserve the best. But without volunteers, those entry fees would grow. Take some time to give back someday. You might not achieve Viola’s level of commitment to service, but as they say, every little bit helps.

Molly Sorge, Assistant Editor

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