Tony Stevens

Tony Stevens, a fifth generation concession worker at county fairs, poses for a photo in front of his balloon popping game where players throw darts to pop them.

MANSFIELD -- For most fairgoers, the Richland County Fair is a fun way to spend an evening.

But for Mansfield's Tony Stevens, it's a dream job come true, night after night. It was something he was born into, and eventually took over operating on his own.

"I'm about five generations into the concessions business," said Stevens, who is spending the week operating two game stalls, a balloon popping game and a lucky duck game. "With my mom and my dad, it goes way back -- rides, food, concessions -- it goes all the way back."

Stevens said the family business shaped his interest continuing the fair-and-festival legacy.

"It's a lot of fun. You meet a lot of people," he said. "I think in life, you learn a certain type of street-smarts and you learn a type of way to communicate with people. You deal with all different types of individuals who come out to the fair and you just get a sense for people after a while."

Because vendors work one week at a time then move on to a new destination, Stevens said fair life is hard work from spring to fall.

"It's a lot of traveling, a lot of work," he said. "It's something we have to get used to it. Most people with 9 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.), they get to go home at night. It's something (for us) to get used to. We have our own campers and stuff. Doing it my whole life, I don't really think about it much anymore.

"I don't think people realize how much work we put in. They are coming in for a bit of entertainment, but to us this is our whole summer. A lot of times, you get people who don't realize that."

Stevens said he was excited to be in his hometown this week because he could sleep in his own bed.

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"It's really good, this is the only time I can actually go back to my bed. Normally we'll go from early June to late October," he said. "We go all over the state of Ohio. Some go across the country, but my family has always done work in Ohio. I have cousins, uncles, aunts in the concession business."

This week at the fair, Stevens said everyone is a winner at a balloon-popping booth.

"We like to say, 'Winner, winner, chicken dinner," he said. "Everybody wins. We make sure everybody gets a prize. All the kids get to have a good time. We like to say our catch phrase. We have a microphone and shout it, it gets a lot of attention and people love it.

"It's an experience kids remember. Because we are so many generations deep, some are like my mom who have been doing this her whole life, people will come up to her and say, 'I remember you, you're the 'chicken dinner' lady. And when they met her, they were little kids. Now they're bringing their own kids."

Stevens' job on paper may be to operate a game, but he's also planting memories, helping families forget the stresses of work and allowing them a moment to smile.

"People remember," Stevens said. "When you give somebody happiness, people remember that."

Staff Reporter

Noah Jones is host to The Open Mic Podcast -- available on Apple Podcasts! He is the crime, education and music reporter for Richland Source. He is a native of St. Louis, Missouri and a giant Cardinals fan.