Several decades ago, Abe Rojas went to the Stanislaus County Fairground to break up a brawl. And he never really left.
Rojas, then Turlock’s Parks and Recreation director, got called to the fairground when a dance associated with a city program got a little out of hand. He got to talking with the fair’s then-manager, Bob Walker. When fair time rolled around that year, Rojas volunteered to help.
Roughly 40 years later, Rojas – long retired from the city – still finds himself at the fairground every year. Though he spends long days at the fair, he doesn’t exactly miss his family. They’re all there, too, seasonal employees for the 10-day run that this year starts Friday.
“The kids were always coming out to the fair,” said Sharon Rojas, Abe’s wife. “They grew up here.”
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Now, the Rojases’ son-in-law, Ray Garcia, helps Abe tend bar in the hospitality room, where fair board members, their guests and sponsors stop in for a drink and to visit during the fair. Garcia previously worked as a building superintendent. Sharon Rojas works the door. Their daughter, Kristi Garcia, serves as a utility player, helping out wherever needed.
“It’s kind of fitting they run the hospitality end of things,” said fair Chief Executive Officer Chris Borovansky. He said that when his family was new to the area a few years ago, the Rojases were quick to introduce everyone around.
They are active in other areas, as well. Abe Rojas served on the Turlock High School board of trustees and still has a spot on the Yosemite Community College District board. A ball field at Turlock Regional Sports Complex bears his name, in honor of his dedication to youth activities and sports.
“I thank the Lord every day that we are able to do the things we do,” Abe Rojas said.
Working at the fair each year is more than just a job for the Rojas family. It’s a reunion.
“We see people here we never see the rest of the year,” Abe Rojas said. “Now it’s everyone’s kids and grandkids.”
This year, there will be one major piece missing, however. The Rojases’ son, Craig, died of a sudden heart attack in January. Colleagues from the fair came together to help the family in its time of crisis, preparing a vast barbecued meal served to more than 1,000 at a reception at the fairground.
“They did a lot to help out,” Kristi Garcia said.
Craig Rojas’ widow, Jennifer, will work at the fair this year, as will the couple’s 16-year-old daughter, Laci. She will help at the fair’s charging lounge, a new feature where attendees can plug in their phones. Kristi and Ray Garcia’s daughter, Siera, also will be on hand, working in another new amenity, Emanuel Medical Center’s “Mommy and Me” lounge.
“It’s like a big party,” said Ray Garcia, who works for the city of Turlock in his full-time job. “People take time off from their jobs for three weeks to work here every summer.”
Walking around the fairground with the family, it quickly becomes clear everyone knows who they are. They can’t walk more than a few feet without getting stopped.
Said Borovansky: “They’re the first family of the fair.”