Stonington Village Fair offers old-fashioned fun

Stonington — The hand-built wooden games were set up on the village green in the borough on Saturday.

The flowers had been arranged, the posters designed and the brownies baked.

The annual Stonington Village Fair benefits the Stonington Community Center — affectionately known as the COMO — and has taken place on the first weekend of August for 66 years, rain or shine. Despite occasional torrents Saturday, hundreds of people strolled around the green, grabbed a burger or lobster roll, greeted their neighbors and browsed the vendor tents.

"If you have any doubts about community being alive and well, it's alive and well," said Beth-Ann Stewart, executive director of the COMO.

The organizers have worked hard to keep the fair true to its roots, with homemade and hand-crafted offerings, and to pass the traditions on through the generations. Young adults who have moved away from the area come home to attend or volunteer at the fair and teens taking part in the COMO's Junior Leadership and scholarship programs help out.

Preparing for the five hours of fun starts early.

Artist Susan Scala created the borough-inspired image that was printed on volunteers' T-shirts and posters that were available in two sizes. Scala said she has been "taking in" sights and listening to stories about the borough for 30 years and wrapping it into her work. This year's poster is a view of sky and sea looking out from the borough to Sandy Point. She included the Stonington flag, sailboats with their white sails unfurled and a small bench that honors Joshua Piver, a local man with a love of the water who died in the September 2001 terror attack on the World Trade Center.

Kathy Conger and Alejandra Welch, co-presidents of the Stonington Garden Club, organized a team to visit gardens around the village on Friday and clip flowers, making sure to leave their stems long. The volunteers stood the flowers in buckets overnight to condition them, or allow the stems to soak up water, and started creating arrangements at 8 a.m. Saturday in donated vases collected by members. Among this year's local garden offerings were pink snapdragon, limelight hydrangea, cleome, Russian sage and Canadian black-eyed Susan.

The Episcopal Church Women of Calvary Church supplied the sweets. Peggy Vermilya and Lucia Johnstone sold out of a couple of varieties of brownies within an hour Saturday morning but still had a tempting assortment of lemon bars, muffins and cookies. Vermilya said she has "trained" the bakers to bring the sweets to her house ahead of time so that she can wrap and label them. Still, when parishioner Mary Hughes came by and started pulling packages of her freshly baked oatmeal cookies out of a tote bag, Vermilya accepted them graciously.

Sandy Blanchard, who went to the COMO as a kid and is now a grandmother, was one of three volunteers from Dime Bank's Blue Crew program selling Portuguese sweet bread.

"We've been coming to this fair forever," she said. "When we were little, it was the games, the wooden games. As a teen, it was the firetrucks, because I was an EMT. Now it's fun to volunteer."

Volunteers like Tony and Lina Gharios and their two kids consider the fair a fun way to give back to their community.

"We've been in this town for 19 years," Gharios said. "It's got a great school system, and both of our kids participated in the COMO. We try to volunteer wherever we can."

Amanda Mann and other members of the board of directors ran the concessions stand. Stewart's husband, police Chief Darren Stewart, was working the grill with members of the police commission.

"This is the highlight of the year," Mann said. "Not only working together, but getting to meet with the public. This is a village. The community works for the village, and the village works for the community."

Two bands, Chez Lorenz and Midnight Irish, were donating their time and talent and trying hard to keep their equipment dry.

Farouk Rajab, the COMO board treasurer, was running the Soup Garden, where donated soups from four local restaurants were on offer.

"It gives me a day to spend with my kids giving back to the community, to be part of the fiber of the community," he said.

k.florin@theday.com

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