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Behind the scenes at Country Days

FARMINGTON – At daybreak on Friday, Mayor Charles Rorex will don his cowboy hat and boots and head to the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast in Long Park Gazebo, where he will officially kick off Farmington’s Country Days.

The Farmington Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event, anticipates that 45,000 people will attend the three-day celebration in the city’s downtown. Fairgoers will enjoy offerings such as old-fashioned popcorn, cotton candy, amusement rides, parades, a moonlight bike ride and a Diaper Derby. Live music will play throughout most of the festivities.

But they probably won’t see the most crucial element of the 27-year-old-celebration – the more than 100 volunteers who make sure Country Days runs smoothly, Farmington Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ursula Kthiri said.

“There are just not enough ‘atta boys’ for the volunteers who leave their families that weekend and work hard for this to happen,” Kthiri said. “Some of them have been doing this for years.”

Traditionally, two outstanding volunteers are chosen each year to serve as Mr. and Ms. Country Days. This year, that “couple” is Mark Toti and Peggy Lake.

Toti, who has a radio show on J98, has volunteered at the festival since 1992.

“I do any kind of announcement on stage,” he said. “They told me when they named me Mr. Country Days that they would tell me each day where they want me to be. I just hope I still get to announce.”

Lake has volunteered at the event for the past 11 years for a variety of tasks.

“Anything you can think of, I’ve done over the years,” she said. “But this year, as Ms. Country Days, I get to ride in the parade and go on stage with the Bellamy Brothers.”

Lake said she is willing to tackle whatever task is needed, whether it is setting up, directing craftsmen or running errands. She looks forward to helping each year.

“I love how the community pulls together for this,” Lake said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.”

While Toti and Lake are serving as Country Day ambassadors this week, David Buerck will work as co-chairman of the arts and crafts show.

“In my opinion, he has the hardest job at Country Days, but he does it with a smile and so much grace,” Kthiri said.

Buerck and co-chairman Pam Bauer have the unenviable task of ensuring every craftsman is happy with his or her spot. Some vendors need access to an electrical outlet. Others have health concerns that dictate their placement. Above all, no one wants to be located near a competitor with similar items.

“We start at 5 a.m. Saturday to guide people to their spots and field complaints,” he said. “They have to unload everything and then park their car elsewhere, and they don’t like that. But we try to be as accommodating as we can.”

Buerck and Kthiri already are looking to next year’s event. This week, Kthiri will be busy taking notes and looking for ways to improve Country Days 2006. Buerck will solicit feedback from craftsmen and artisans to help him make adjustments next year.

Their attention to detail has paid off.

“Over the past few years, we have been doing better,” he said. “People are pretty happy.”

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