The Delaware County Fairgrounds is under new leadership heading into this fair season and those to come as Jennifer McGowan was tabbed earlier this year to take over operations.
McGowan, who previously served as the office manager, was hired in April after the position became available in February. She is currently serving as part of a fair management team alongside Delaware Agricultural Society Board of Directors member Chris Welker in a transitional period before she assumes the full responsibilities following the fair.
Born and raised in Delaware, McGowan is no stranger to all things related to the Delaware County Fairgrounds as she prepares for her 28th fair. During that time, she served in a variety of roles as she made her way to the fair manager position, from folding and pricing souvenirs and answering the phones in the beginning prior to eventually being hired as the office manager.
McGowan’s ties to the fairgrounds extend beyond her own experience as well. Her father, Bill Lowe, worked as the fair manager for 20 years and spent a total of 30 years in some capacity at the fairgrounds, meaning McGowan spent much of her childhood on the grounds.
“I kind of grew up at the fairgrounds. We’d come in from school and throw our backpacks in the fair office,” she told The Gazette.
McGowan said she had to think “long and hard” about whether or not to apply for the vacated fair manager position, but ultimately decided it made sense to pursue the position as the “next step” in her tenure.
“It wasn’t a difficult decision, it was more of making sure I knew what I was getting myself into,” she said. “At the end of the day, I knew what I was getting into, so it made sense. I know the fairgrounds and I know the fair, I know what needs to be done in all the different areas.”
Perhaps the most difficult transition for McGowan has been the move from peer to boss, she said, adding, “For so long, I was just one of the guys, so to speak.” However, given the amount of support she received from her peers when she decided to pursue the role, McGowan said the shift has been seamless.
“They all were really excited for me, so there have not been any issues,” she said. “We have a great staff and a great team, so that definitely helps. They all encouraged me to apply for the position, so I think that says a lot that they wanted me in this role.”
As for the daily operations of being a fair manager, McGowan said she doesn’t anticipate much of a change in the difficulty of the role given her past experience with many of the same responsibilities.
“A lot of it I already do. Like, I order the tents and the golf carts,” she said. “A lot of those key pieces to the puzzle I was already involved with. It’s just been kind of a different angle.”
Of course, she’ll have a great resource at her disposal in her father, who she called “a great mentor” and said she still calls often with questions or for bits of advice. Perhaps the most valuable piece of information she’s received from her father is to treat everyone the way she would like to be treated.
“He was big into customer service, and all of the people who are here on this fairgrounds during the fair are our customers in some way,” McGowan said. “Whether they’re a vendor or a race fan, or they’re exhibiting, these are our customers, and we need to treat them with respect.”
McGowan said she anticipates taking a moment once the fair starts to enjoy the moment and appreciate the position she is in to lead the fair moving forward.
“It definitely means a lot, and it is kind of cool that I was able to follow in (my father’s) footsteps,” she said. “Just to walk out the office door and see all of it, not a lot of people know what goes on behind the scenes to put on a fair. It’s a lot of work, so just to see it and appreciate it, and see how far we’ve come will be nice.”
She went on to say, “I’m ready. … I think everything is falling into place, and it’s going to be a great year.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.