Don Arnold, who started the free golf cart shuttle service at the Seneca County Fair several years ago, died from cancer past June 18. His absence for the 2012 fair did not spell an end of the shuttles. This year, as always, they began operation at 8 a.m. Monday and will run through Sunday, under the guidance of Arnold's daughter, Danielle Lange.
Having promised her father to continue the tradition, Lange asked Brian Arnold, an uncle to Don and a faithful volunteer driver, to help her lead the effort. She hesitates to think of herself as a "boss" to the volunteers who are older than she is.
"I tell them you guys have been driving this train longer than I have. I don't want to be anybody's boss. My dad desperately wanted to keep this going, so we're going to do our best," Lange said.
PHOTO BY MARYANN KROMER
Danielle Lange gets a quick lesson on using the walkie-talkie. Lange is the daughter of Don Arnold, who started the golf cart service at the Seneca County?Fair.
Brian and Lange both drove the first shift Monday morning, and carrying on without Don proved to be emotional for them. They had to compose themselves as more people came through the gates needing a lift and sometimes directions.
"People ask us all kinds of questions ... The first day is always kind of hectic. This year, there's a new building for people to find," Brian said. "Tuesday is Senior Citizens' Day, so we're pretty busy on Tuesday."
Lange said her family came to the Tiffin area from Illinois where a fair in that state had a shuttle similar to the one her dad had in mind. Brian and Don had talked about the need for a shuttle service on the fairgrounds while they camped together at Meadowbrook.
After the family moved to Seneca County, Don became active with Seneca County Grange. When he first approached the fair board with a proposal for the shuttles, they told him no funds were available, so Don started the project on his own the first year. The service was well-received by people who used it.
"If I remember correctly, it started with one golf cart and just my dad. Then he got the fair board involved," Lange said. "He just saw a need and started it out of the goodness in his heart. He saw a need, being at the fair and seeing some people struggling to walk around out there with the heat, getting extra tired. It was hard for people to get from one building to another sometimes or to get to the gate."
Encouraged by the initial response, Don contacted local businesses and organizations to sponsor the shuttles. Then he returned to the fair board to see if they could cover insurance and arrange for the golf carts. Support from the sponsors would pay for other expenses. The core group of sponsors has continued to contribute every year. The donations made it possible to rent two three-seated golf carts.
About a half-dozen volunteers sign up to drive every year. One new driver was added for 2012. Lange said the drivers buy their own fair passes. The drivers on the first shift are responsible for checking and filling the carts with gasoline and oil and picking up a walkie talkie.
"I drove for the first time last year, when my dad knew that he was getting sick," Lange said. "It was actually really fun. You meet so many people. It's kind of funny when you stop and ask someone, 'Hey, do you need a ride?' and they look at you like, 'What do I have to do?'"
"It's just a free shuttle that takes people. You don't have to be elderly, you don't have to be handicapped. If there's a woman with four kids, and she's struggling, they can ride. But kids (under 18) need an adult with them. We try to steer away from running a bunch of 12-year-olds around the fair," Lange said.
Sometimes a person asks to ride around for awhile just to cool off. When the drivers met this year to make a schedule, they told Lange about a year when the golf carts had no tops. After that, Don made sure the carts did have a sunshade to give the drivers some protection from the sun during their five-hour shifts.
Although Don could not drive last year, he did ride with Lange some of the time to visit with people and check out the fair. Lange said her dad had showed her a checklist a few days before he died. Everything was completed except the 2012 plans for the shuttles. He had already introduced Lange as his successor and sent out thank-you notes to all the sponsors.
As its sponsor contribution, Handy Grafix made stickers for all the shuttle sponsors and affixed them to the front of the carts. Lange made sure her father's name also would be displayed on the carts this year as a way to honor him. She said his main concern was not recognition but a way to help everyone enjoy the fair.
As Brian waited at Gate 3 Monday, a woman and child who had come through asked how to find the Education Building.
"I can tell you where it is, but it's easier just to take you there ... Hang on now," he said as they climbed onto the rear seat.
In addition to Monday, Danielle committed herself to drive 8 a.m.-6 p.m. today and Friday morning. She has children ages 16 and 17, but they must be 18 to drive the carts. Her eight-year-old son often rides with his mother.
"He's so excited to drive the golf cart again with me this year ... He's enjoyed it thoroughly, and he was definitely Grandpa's guy," Lange said.
Fair goers can enter at any gate and ask the gate attendant to summon a shuttle. They also can flag down a shuttle anywhere along the driveway behind the fair buildings. Lange said in the future, she would like the buildings to have signs near the back doors so the shuttle drivers can find the right place to drop off riders. For now, Lange is learning the fine points of driving a shuttle and trying to follow in her dad's tiretracks.
"The shuttle service represents my dad's legacy the best of all. Anybody who knew my dad would say the shuttle service is who he is. He liked to talk to people. He didn't know a stranger. He'd help out anybody he could. That's probably one of the best assets I got from my dad," she said.