ELDORADO — In Eldorado, a small group of women turns teacups into fairy gardens, toilet paper rolls into bunnies, and ordinary groceries into locally famous ham loaf.
Their crafting, cooking and cooperating create the Eldorado Universalist Church Easter Fair.
Women of the church have created it every year since 1896. That’s when Grover Cleveland was president, and more than a dozen years before the current historic church building at Main and Cross streets was built.
Today, this annual event the Saturday before Palm Sunday is a two-story affair at the small church.
Upstairs, on tables and racks just outside the sanctuary, a shopper could choose among unique Easter baskets (some with real grass!), small pieces of stained-glass art, scarves, and an abundance of other home-made goods and goodies. Most popular are cookies, supplied by all the church women, and Easter candies. Also available were chances on five gift baskets being raffled off.
Downstairs, a few church women had started cooking ham loaf and chicken the day before. On Fair day, many more folks brought in dishes – notably desserts – to share with the 100-plus dinner patrons.
But having activities on two different stories causes problems, not just Palm Sunday weekend but on Sundays throughout the year. The 108-year-old building has no easy way for someone using a wheelchair or scooter to move between upstairs and downstairs – and downstairs is where the only bathrooms are.
The Easter Fair workers, most of them members of the Association of Unitarian Universalist Women, are motivated to solve accessibility issues. The new ramp that allows access to the sanctuary was built courtesy of Fair profits. Finding a solution to the two-story dilemma is a goal for the more than $2,000 this year’s fair brought in.
The first Fair also benefited the church building. Much of the $45 made in 1896 went for window screens and new wall lamps (with brackets).
Jill Vaniman is the current president of the women’s group, and has been for some years. (She’s not quite sure how long, but a replacement has yet to step up.) This year she made the fairy gardens and teacup-and-saucer bird feeders, as well as her signature Easter candy, which family members help produce.
The core of the group is only about a dozen women. “They work themselves silly,” Vaniman said, “and many of them are in their 80s or 90s.”
They do get help from other members of the community. “There’ll be people working here you won’t see any other time of the year. It’s part of their tradition,” said the Rev. Kathy Brawley, part-time minister at the church.
A few of the popular Fair sales items, including noodles and angel-food cakes, are made by non-members. (Even before the Fair officially opened this year, one woman said saw another carrying a cake out of the church, so she rushed in to be sure to get one before they were all gone.)
But even with outside help, the Fair takes a lot of work, Brawley said it’s become common for in recent years for the women to discuss ending the Fair. But then the consensus forms: “Yeah, I guess we can do it another year.”
Vaniman tells the story of leaving the church the day after the Fair at the same time as one long-time kitchen crew member.
She heard the woman start to say, “Well, now next year…”
But the husband interrupted: “WHAT?! You said this would be our last Easter Fair.”
The woman placidly replied: “Well, but I rested overnight…”
Judi Hetrick, a retired journalism professor and a folklorist, would love to hear from people in Preble County about their family, neighborhood or community traditions. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a phone message with The Register-Herald.