For years, Nan Ernst has been on the stage at the Shady Grove Theater during Putnam County’s 4-H Fair, as the master of ceremonies for the weekend long entertainment.
She was on stage last Friday, but instead of introducing the next act, she was being applauded for her 20 years of volunteerism, winning this year’s service award as the 4-H Fair got underway. This was the 46th annual fair hosted by Cornell Cooperative Extension and it took place at Veterans Memorial Park in the Town of Kent.
Ernst said in an interview she was honored to be selected this year. For the last two decades, Ernst has brought the energy to the Shady Grove Theater as master of ceremonies and quickly got to work soon after she won her award with the fair in full swing.
“It’s so wonderful to stand here and be part of a wonderful organization, over 600 volunteers year after year and year.” Ernst said. “It’s really true when they say it’s a blessing to give than to receive.”
Ernst, a Somers resident, used to run the Somers Theater Company and was involved in several different organizations so she is able to find talent to perform.
Ernst, who works at Houlihan Lawrence, tries to bring a diverse lineup to the fair from jazz to country gospel to rock n’ roll. Her favorite part of the three- day entertainment is the youth talent acts on display.
“We try to bring it all to the stage so everyone can have a little bit of fun,” Ernst said.
Ernst used to bring her children to the fair for many years. Back then, she never thought she’d become such an integral part of the fair later in life.
“But I’m really glad that I am,” Ernst said.
Marjorie Keith, director of Cornell Cooperative in Putnam, said Ernst as entertainment chairwoman books and coordinates the performances for the three-day fair. On Fridays, the entertainment is dedicated to youth talent and then on Saturdays and Sundays, a variety of performers come from different places in the Hudson Valley. The age range is wide, Keith noted, with performers as young as 4 and as old as 90.
Keith said it takes Ernst about six months before the date of the fair to start contacting potential performers. For youth talent, Ernst needs to review audition tapes and helps decide who is selected.
Keith said she remembers working with Ernst on a cablethon fundraiser for the local women’s resource center. Ernst was in charge of entrainment for the cablethon and Keith was involved in another aspect of the charitable event. From there, Keith reached out to Ernst to see if she would want to help with the 4-H Fair.
“And Nan never says no,” Keith said. “She signed on 20 years ago and is still here today with as much enthusiasm as she had back then.”
And Ernst has remained humble. When Keith called her to let her know she’d be this year’s 4-H service award recipient, Ernst was silent for a few seconds and then said she couldn’t believe she was going to be recognized.
“A lot of our volunteers are people that generously share their time and talents with the community and they do it in such a way they’re not looking for the personal recognition,” Keith said. “They’re working to make our community a better place.”