Westmoreland Fair secretary still loves her job 3 decades later
Marian Parker of North Huntingdon retired from her job as a school bus driver about two decades ago, but has yet to give up the job she really enjoys — secretary at the Westmoreland Fair, which closed Saturday at the fairgrounds near Norvelt.
“I just love my job. Even though sometimes people get mad and holler at me … they get over it,” the affable Parker said last week.
She’s been doing it since 1987 — that’s more than 30 fairs and counting for the 82-year-old Parker.
“They can fire me and I’m still coming up here and sitting in my office,” Parker said half-jokingly.
During the hectic fair week, Parker is stationed at her small, crowded office. She tries to solve patrons’ problems from her open window. One moment she might help someone pick up a bag of ice, then she’ll answer questions about fair procedures and policies — giving directions when needed. And if they don’t approach her in person with questions or problems, there’s always a steady stream of phone calls, Parker said.
“It’s constant,” Parker said of providing information in person or over the phone. “I do get a lot of nice calls,” she added.
Along the way, she has developed the kind of people skills necessary to succeed in the business on the occasions people get overly irritated.
In some cases, “there’s no way I can fix their problem. I tell them I am sorry it happened,” Parker said.
Sometimes, the way to defuse a volatile situation is to give tickets to an event at the fair. To that end, “the directors here are very generous,” Parker said.
Parker has a grueling schedule during fair week, coming into the fairgrounds at around 9 a.m. — before it opens to the public — and staying until close to midnight.
“She’s great help,” said James Baker, who has been fair director for 21 years.
Parker praised Baker and other leaders of the fair.
“We work pretty good together. We get it straightened out here,” Parker said.
Taking the wheel
Before she was spending part of her summer behind a window at the fair office, Parker was behind the wheel of a school bus — first for Norwin in 1971, then for Hempfield Area two years later. She had the bus route through Manor for 28 years, driving the narrow, hilly streets in the borough when others shied away from that run.
“I had the best kids you ever wanted. They were not bad, they were just ornery,” Parker said.
Parker was driving a school bus for Hempfield Area in 1987 when one of her fellow drivers, former fair director Braden Long, mentioned the fair board needed a secretary to work during fair week.
“If someone had told me I would have been here for 32 years … I never would have thought I would do that,” Parker said.
She intended to split the secretarial duties with another woman, but her prospective co-worker also was a school bus driver with conflicting commitments. So Parker took the part-time job on a full-time basis.
“When you make a commitment, you stay committed,” Parker said.
The fair was an eye-opening experience for Parker, who had taken her son and daughter to the fair in the years before taking the job. Parker grew up in Elizabeth Township and the only fair she had attended was the Allegheny County Fair at the old fairgrounds in South Park.
She starts her fair schedule in July, about a month before the fair actually gets started. She helps put together the fair entry forms, opening mail, putting strings together in bundles of 10 for the tags on about 1,300 entries — for animals and food — that people submit to the fair. She even handles the duties of sharpening pencils before the fair begins.
Parker is so well respected at the fair that a calf born at the fair Aug. 16 was named after her. She went to see her namesake each day at the fair.
Buoyed by those experiences, Parker gives no indication of going into retirement anytime soon.
“God willing, I will be back next year,” Parker said.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, [email protected] or via Twitter .