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‘Everything Is Better Over A Fire’

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HARRISONBURG — Sometime during the 1960s, barbecue was introduced at the Rockingham County Fair, according to retired General Manager Dennis Cupp.

By the time the Rockingham County Fairgrounds moved from Kratzer Road to the current grounds off South Valley Pike in 1980, barbecue started “10-15 years prior to that,” Cupp said.

“[It] started with beef and chicken and chicken was the most popular,” Cupp said. “There were long lines for the chicken.”

Despite the fair changing locations, a piece of the “old fairgrounds” remains on the current grounds — specifically, over the barbecue pit.

Behind the horticulture and poultry industries museum is the fair’s barbecue pit, made up of the museum is the fair’s barbecue pit, made up of the former Grandstand building.

Under the weathered red roof is where roughly 80 volunteers make the barbecue magic possible.

Since starting in the 1960s, the type of barbecue offered at the fair has expanded to include a different type of meat five out of the six fair days.

The lineup of meats starts with chicken, followed by pork, lamb, beef and turkey.

“It is a culinary experience every day,” said Mark Litchford, the fair’s barbecue chairman.

Although the meat could be considered the star of the show, Litchford said the real stars are the volunteers.

Litchford has been a member of the Rockingham County Fair Association for the last 27 years and was a former board member. He said there are close to 200 Fair Association volunteer members, with 80 of those working specifically with the barbecue team.

The volunteers are divided into several groups, ranging from cooking the barbecue, slicing the meat for sandwiches and selling the sandwiches at the Fairgrounds BBQ booth.

“Making the sandwiches takes a lot of bodies,” Litchford said. “We have 70-75 volunteers in the booth to make it happen.”

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Leon Rhodes, of Dale Enterprise, works the slicer as volunteers help prepare Wednesday’s pork barbecue.

Each night has a different group of volunteers, with many of the volunteers coming back every year, according to Litchford.

“It is like a family reunion,” Litchford said.

The Quota International Club has been volunteering at the Fairgrounds BBQ booth since the 1990s, “if not before that,” according to Roxanne Rhodes.

Quota International is a nonprofit organization that provides basic needs to women, children, those who are deaf and hard of hearing in communities around the world, according to the organization’s website.

“We enjoy it,” Rhodes said. “It is fun seeing the people you know and being in the fair atmosphere.”

When the volunteers from the nonprofit arrived on Tuesday, they stuck with their normal routine of cleaning the booth and making sure everything was in order.

For beef night, members of the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association returned to the booth.

“We have been doing this for a long time, more than 15 years,” said Gay Wancey, a volunteer with the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association.

Litchford said there is room for anyone and everyone to do something, saying the “membership population is aging, if young people get in the organization then they would be serving the community and fair association.”

“Without them, we couldn’t exist,” Litchford said.

Contact Jessica Wetzler

at 574-6279 or

jwetzler@dnronline.com. Follow Jessica on Twitter @wetzler_jessica

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