Berlin Lion Mark Neumann has been the voice of the entertainment at the Berlin Fair for years, working with Peter Hansen. This year as the President of The Berlin Fair, which is this weekend, Friday Oct. 5 to Sunday Oct. 7, he has come up with a motto he hopes sticks. "A Better Berlin Fair."
Here is a question and answer sit down with Neumann on all things Berlin Fair.
Berlin Patch: Why "A Better Berlin Fair" slogan?
Neumann: "My mission was to make affordable improvements and additions to the fair. I wanted people to feel happy and welcome the moment they enter the parking lot or gate. Greeting our guests with a friendly hello, new signage, better safety, improved parking and drainage, re-vamped drainage and surface for kiddie land, the family four pack of tickets and of course the scrumptious Berlin Fair cinnamon bun are all attempts at making the fair not bigger, but better."
Berlin Patch: What is new and improved and what are you looking forward to the most in those three days?
Neumann: "Close attention has been made to repairing, painting and re-vamping our facilities. I am looking forward to three days of good weather and greeting as many people as possible and just seeing the whole thing come together.
Berlin Patch: What will you be doing as President during the three days of the fair?
Neumann: "I will be visiting every area of the fair and thanking the members and crews for what they do. I will also try to greet as many people as possible. A new special opening ceremony will be held on the black top on Friday at 10 a.m. Local young person Mackenzie Joseph will sing the National Anthem and a Marine Color Guard will present the colors. Local dignitaries and guests will be present. I invite all to attend. Of course I will be taking notes for next years president. I will also be monitoring radio communications. At 4 p.m. I will ride the first bull opening the bull riding show."
Berlin Patch: What are your first memories of the Fair, did you attend as a youth or not until you became a Lion?
Neumann: Wow I'm so old, I first attended the fair as a youth in 1967. My first memories are seeing and being with my friends, seeing fellow church members, seeing Nick Gill (the sport shop guy) smoking his pipe at the south ticket gate. In 1983 when I became a member most of the same people that worked the fair as Lions, now became fellow lions. I was into cars in the 60's so I bought the distributor enhancer and car wax. I liked, and still do buying new and interesting products."
Berlin Patch: You usually do entertainment; will you be missing that this year?
Neumann: "Well I didn't have to do the long and tedious work that literally starts after the previous fair to prepare for next years entertainment. People still call us right before the fair to perform. What they don't realize is that we are already bidding and hiring as early as December and by April most of the main acts have been booked. This year I will get to visit the acts but not really stay in one place too long. Peter Hansen wants me at the baby contest, the blueberry pie eating (which I started 25 years ago, thanks to Teddy Boryzki.) Pete and I have been on the job for 30 years."
Berlin Patch: What changes will fairgoers notice when they come to the fairgrounds?
Neumann: "If the weather cooperates, better parking conditions for one. Identified injury reporting stations, new street signs to improve emergency response. The Cinnamon Bun Booth. BMX bicycle demonstration area. Distribution of special 'gifts' for children and adults. A large vertical information booth sign and thanks to all our Lions who attend work nights newly remodeled, refreshed and painted interiors of the buildings."
Berlin Patch: What is your favorite food at the Fairgrounds?
Neumann: "Thank goodness I just look more now than eat. But every year I begin with a bowl of American Legion clam chowder (trying not to burn my tongue for the weekend). Apple fritters and of course the Lions famous sausage grinders and pulled pork. I would like to try the lemon meringue pie but Peter Hansen eats it all before I can buy any."
Berlin Patch: Tell me about your background, what was your profession, what do you do in your free time, what are your hobbies, married/single, children?
Neumann: "What was my background? Do you have all day? Actually my first job as a salesman at Brockton shoe store taught me more about promotion, management, making the sale, and advertising more than any college course. . I however majored in music and became a music teacher, the head of the fine arts and gifted and talented programs in New Britain. I pursued three Masters Degrees in administration, supervision and curriculum. I always was involved in the community and served as communications director receiving the National United Way Award for Best Communications Program. I was events manager, stage manager, and Student Activities director for New Britain High School. I also am a full-time Director of music and organist for the Largest Catholic Church In the Archdiocese of Hartford. I guess that and watching the fairs over the years. I've had a blessed life. Most memorable was being selected to sing the National Anthem for President Ronald Regan. I even got my own secret service agent. I have a daughter, Meredith, who has been to every fair since she was born (including the snow and rainy ones) she has always given me comments and judgments about the fair. Now she’s 28 and a music teacher in the West Hartford system."
Berlin Patch: How do you decide who the entertainment will be? Concerts? Who makes those calls?
Neumann: "A budget is drafted and finalized by February. We must live within our budgets. We try to get the most bang for our buck. Our choices of up and coming entertainers has been right on. We got them affordably on the way up. Phil Vassar, Daryl Worley, Joe Nichols, Jake Owen and last year Lee Brice have all made it big. Lee has a current hit in the top 5 "Hard To Love." I attend an entertainment convention yearly in Las Vegas to get ideas and prices etc. We also take the advice of our agents, we usually offer less than asked. Sometimes we win or we keep looking."
Berlin Patch: What is your biggest concern about the weekend, is it the weather like most would think?
Neumann: Actually we need cool temperatures and good weather three or four days before the fair so that the ground is not spongy. For me, my greatest concern is that All my Lions know how much I appreciate their hard work and that the people really enjoy the 'Better Berlin Fair.'"