Everybody around here just called him “Maynard.” Nobody had to ask, “Maynard who?”
He was Maynard Potter, the man who took the plain vanilla San Luis Obispo County Fair and turned it into an entertainment powerhouse called the California Mid-State Fair. He died last Friday in Idaho, where he’d moved after retiring as fair manager in 1993.
In 1990, he told me that national statistics showed the Mid-State Fair was “the largest overall entertainment fair in the country. And if you add in the fair’s free entertainment, there is no close second.”
Maynard came to Paso Robles in 1968 to take over the fair. He came from the Watsonville area, where he’d raised and shown registered sheep.
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At first, he and his family lived next door to our house. They moved again before we did, but I still often talked to Maynard. The fair was part of my news beat during the 25 years he managed it. We were always friends but not close buddies. News reporters and newsmakers usually keep each other at arm’s length.
In his second year at the fair, Maynard booked the first big-time entertainer the fair ever presented — Buck Owens, the Country-Western music star. He owned a ranch near Templeton, and Maynard enticed him into performing for a bargain price.
The Owens show was a success. Maynard turned out to be a natural showman. In a few years he was bringing in herds of stars such as Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Rod Stewart and Lionel Richie.
But he wasn’t just interested in show business; that was only part of the package, a means to an end. It helped pay for more space to exhibit livestock, arts, crafts and agriculture.
In 1972, he told me he saw the fairgrounds as an oasis. So he planted grass, trees and flowers wherever they’d grow.
He also created fountains, ponds, flowing streams and waterfalls.
Maynard was a hands-on manager. One afternoon, shortly before the 1987 fair, I saw the fair’s maintenance supervisor, Waldo Carminati, driving a tractor. He was backing concession trailers into assigned spaces. He wrestled the steering wheel and fought a jumpy clutch while Maynard stood nearby shouting instructions in inches.
Finally, Carminati got off and challenged Maynard to do better. Maynard eventually placed the concession where he wanted it, while Carminati lay on the ground doing some friendly heckling.
I remember Maynard Potter as a creative, courageous, driven, productive man. To me, he represented the seemingly unquenchable human urge to reshape the earth. He was an artist and the fairgrounds was his canvas.
Contact Phil Dirkx at firstname.lastname@example.org or 238-2372.