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The WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital (WGSH) Auxiliary Street Fair, more simply known as the Street Fair, celebrated its 70th and final occurrence last year, but the community spirit that drove the fair from the start is alive and well in its successor event, the WGSH Auxiliary Festival of Theme Baskets.
The Street Fair was always built on a spirit of community. In honor of its legacy and its successor, LebTown is taking a retrospective on the Fair and how it became a gathering for the best that Lebanon’s residents had to give.
It was a great 70 years for the Street Fair
Joyce Dissinger, longtime Auxiliary Recording Secretary and Communications Director, said in an interview with LebTown, “The Street Fair was really the child of the Auxiliary.” The Good Samaritan Hospital Auxiliary was started in 1921 by Lebanon women after the World War I era. Following a year of the women making homemade canned goods, jams, and jellies to replenish the hospital’s food supplies, the first meeting of the Auxiliary was held in October of 1921.
It’s clear to see that the times have changed from the inception of the Auxiliary to now–for around half of its 98-year history, presidents of the organization were known by their husband’s names, a custom still kept on certain Auxiliary documents.
Dissinger began her involvement with the Street Fair in its very first incarnation, when she helped with the fair’s legendary chicken barbecue. “I was twelve years old at the time,” she said. A 25-year career at the Lebanon Daily News was a boon in helping Dissinger put together the Street Fair tabloid—a special paper issue highlighting Street Fair events, people, booths, and supporters. The tabloid, as Dissinger refers to it, ran for a number of years, with Dissinger writing much of the content.
The idea for the Street Fair began in 1948, when Auxiliary members Barbara (Mrs. Thomas) Quinn and Dora (Mrs. William) Acres on a trip to Philadelphia’s Devon Horse Show visited a street fair and were inspired to create one in their hometown. The first GSH Auxiliary Street Fair was held on June 4th, 1949. At the time, the fair was the biggest event the Auxiliary had arranged–Dissinger estimates that around 15 booths were present in its first year–and was an immediate success, bringing in $4,850. Adjusted for inflation up to 2019, that’s around $52,000.
For 25 years, the Street Fair was held at Park Place on Chestnut Street. The location of the fair changed several times, first moving to the Lebanon Plaza Shopping Center in 1974, then to Lebanon Valley Mall in 1978, Coleman Memorial Park in 1989, and the Lebanon Valley Exposition Center and Fairgrounds in 1997. The Fair returned to the streets of Lebanon in 2004, setting up on South 8th Street.
Something of Interest for Everyone!
“People would come from very far away to see the Fair,” says current Auxiliary President Gina Boehler.
The hundreds of attractions and booths that the Street Fair was comprised of over the years are too numerous to list here, but some of the most popular ones are below:
- Chicken barbecue: A staple of the fair since its inception.
- Strawberry Shortcake booth: In recent years, this attraction was run by Lebanon County Association of Realtors.
- Dunk tank: In its early years, a dunk tank was a popular attraction in the fair. Hospital administrators and doctors would take turns sitting at the mercy of the crowd above a cold tub of water.
- Theme baskets: Perhaps the fair’s most popular feature, and the fair tradition being faithfully continued today (see below).
- The Teenage Dance: Held on Saturday nights.
- Miss Street Fair: A ticket-selling competition that was a popular pageant in the Fair, held annually from 1954 through 1986.
- Cotton candy booths, spin art stations, snow cones, homemade potato chips (“the husbands peeled the potatoes,” Dissinger laughs), root beer floats, petting zoos, hoagies, hot dogs, hamburgers, etc.
Aside from this small selection, the fair also hosted a multitude of entertainers, food stands, and small amusement park rides.
The Street Fair was a chance for the community to give back to itself: the proceeds from the Fairs were used in Auxiliary ‘pledges’ for a number of impressive renovations, donations, and expansions in the Good Samaritan Hospital. The Auxiliary has brought in at least $2.7 million from all activities, not just including the Street Fair, since its creation 98 years ago.
The pledges that the Auxiliary took on include funds for a volunteer services department (1958), a hospital-wide expansion program (1967), a new Beehive Gift Shop (1981), an outpatient mammography unit and cancer care center equipment (1989), a new GSH Outpatient Center (1992), and operating room tables and a new maternity care unit (1998). These are only a few of the ways the Auxiliary has given back to the hospital.
How the Festival of Theme Baskets continues the spirit of the Fair
The Street Fair’s 70th anniversary in 2018 was also its last. This year will see the first instance of its successor event, the Festival of Theme Baskets. As of publication, the 31 baskets are currently on display in the lobby of the Good Samaritan Hospital, jam-packed with impressive items and donations from local businesses. They will be moved to the Lebanon Area Fair on July 20th, where they will stay for the week. “The hospital departments put their heart and soul into these baskets,” said Boehler, and it shows.
“We had 70 years of success and it was time to do something different,” says Dissinger. The spirit of community that fueled the success and expansion of the Street Fair hasn’t disappeared, it’s shifted to reflect changing times.
The baskets range widely in theme and content. There’s everything from a maternity basket with a crib, a beautiful quilt handmade by the Sewing Room Volunteers, and even a tractor. Other themes include Wine & Dine, Date Night, Vera Bradley, Hershey Spa, Yard Games, and even a ‘Man’ Basket organized by the WGSH Maintenance department.
The Auxiliary and the WGSH reached out to local businesses and potential contributors and received an outpouring of support and gifts. A good portion of the baskets contain around several hundred dollars’ worth of goods and services.
The number of baskets and items donated by community contributors and boggles the mind. “The volunteer giving is amazing,” said Boehler, referring to the Auxiliary members and the businesses and organizations offering items for the baskets.
Participants in the Festival will be able to purchase tickets ($5 for 6, $10 for 18, and $20 for 42) using a new card system. Then it’s off to view the baskets themselves. Dropping a ticket into each basket’s shuffled bin will guarantee a chance at winning the basket (of course, the more tickets put in means a greater chance to win). The lucky winners of each basket are drawn on July 27th at 5:00pm. Those whose tickets are drawn do not need to be present to win.
The Street Fair’s myriad booths and traditions now belong to the past, but the community that made those memories remains. Times may change, but the people of Lebanon are still as giving as ever.
View some more photos of Street Fairs below. All photos courtesy the WGSH Auxiliary and Joyce Dissinger.
An earlier version of this article stated that the Miss Street Fair competition was a beauty pageant, not a ticket-selling competition. The article has been updated.