Jenny Shotwell’s great-grandfather was one of the founders of the farmers fair that has grown into the New Jersey State Fair-Sussex County Farm & Horse Show.
He, among others, used his farmland as collateral to help start the fair.
Shotwell, who has been going to the fair since she was an infant, has been working to restore a long-time tradition there: box seats at the horse show.
The fair was canceled in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. In 2021, the fair came back but not the box seats.
Many families had been buying the same box seats for more than 70 years, passing them down from generation to generation.
Shotwell and others formed a committee to bring them back. They were told they would have to raise the money to pay for temporary box seats.
The committee has raised more than $200,000 in each of the past two years to pay for one week of temporary box seats. Each box has six seats; there are a total of 72 boxes.
The committee raised the money by selling the seats and advertisements along with 50/50 raffles.
“We have about 80 families every year that purchase box seats and at one point we got up to 200-plus families, but now it is back down to 80,” Shotwell said. “What we’re trying to do is build a permanent structure so we can bring the cost back down and make them more affordable.”
Lori Eckert, president of the committee, said the permanent structure would be an asset for the fairgrounds. “We are hoping to build more so more people can enjoy it.”
Committee member Mandy Hoffmann said she has been coming to the fair for almost 60 years. “It’s a tradition and a lot of family memories.”
Lynn Jones, who traveled with her husband from New Mexico, met at the horse show with her sister’s family, who came from Maryland.
Her family has had box seats since she was a child. “We have been so grateful to have these box seats. We have three boxes and have had them for years. We now need the next generation to fill the boxes,” she said.
Marcie Hardin, Jones’ sister, said, “We all meet up every year at the fair. It’s a family tradition. It’s five generations who have been coming to the horse show.”
She has been to 61 horse shows, she said.
Committee member Sue Hildebrant, who also has been going to the fair since she was an infant, joined the committee when it was formed about two years ago. “We love the box seats because we come here, hang out and they are lifelong friends.”
Her grandfather was one of the founders of the fair along with Shotwell’s great-grandfather. Going to the fair was her family vacation when she was growing up, she said.
Bob Woods said, “It’s a one-week family reunion for everyone to get together.”
Proposal under way
The committee has been working with architects to create a proposal to present to the board of the Sussex County Farm & Horse Show Association, a nonprofit organization that oversees the management of the fairgrounds.
The proposal will show the size of the structure and the cost, which has been estimated between $300,000 and $500,000.
The committee has a core group of 20 people and more volunteers are welcome, Shotwell said.
“We call ourselves the box seat gang. We are the little committee that could!”
Anyone interested in helping is urged to contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org