Paul Harris, Beloved Leader of County Fair, Dies at 57
June 7, 2024 by Amy Patterson

Friends, loved ones and community members continue to reel from the unexpected loss of longtime Geauga County Fair Board Secretary Paul Harris, who died suddenly June 4 at the age of 57.

Friends, loved ones and community members continue to reel from the unexpected loss of longtime Geauga County Fair Board Secretary Paul Harris, who died suddenly June 4 at the age of 57.

A dedicated local dairy farmer, maple producer and owner/operator of Howard’s Apples Farm Market in Chagrin Falls, Harris became a Geauga County Agricultural Society Fair Board director in 1993, was elected president in 2006 and served as secretary since 2008. 

“We are at a loss for words today as we start to grieve the passing of our very beloved fair board director and fair secretary, Paul Harris,” the Great Geauga County Fair Board said in a Facebook post. “We will forever be grateful for his guidance, leadership and dedication for the Great Geauga County Fair.”

Son of Jennifer (Roddie) Hoffman and the late Ray E. Harris, Harris was born and raised on the Howard Family Farm in Bainbridge Township. He is survived by his wife, Pam Krotzer, and many close friends and fair colleagues, especially David and Nancy Parker and their children.

“If you knew Paul, you knew his two passions were dairy farming and The Great Geauga County Fair. He frequently boasted that he never missed a fair his entire life,” his obituary with St. John funeral home said. “From (1993) until the day he took his last breath on June 4, 2024, Paul was driven to create an amazing fair experience for the community and beyond.”

Geauga County, host of the oldest continuous county fair in the state, became a model for other county fairs, as Harris stepped up to statewide leadership after joining the Ohio Fair Managers Association in 2008, being named District 9 Director. He served as OFMA president from 2022-2023.

“He tirelessly advocated for the welfare of fairs across Ohio, working to update legislation and ensure fair funding and proper oversight,” his obituary said.

Bob Rogish, owner of Rogish Farm in Chester Township, knew Harris for over 25 years and served with him on the fair board for eight years after being elected in 2005.

“When I was president, Paul made things easy because he was fair secretary and any problem or question came up, he knew the answer,” Rogish said June 7. “Paul jumped in to fill the shoes of the late Dick Moss, who, when I first was on the fair board, was the fair secretary. From there, he took the fair to where it is today. In all those ways, we worked together, but more importantly, we were friends and shared many good and bad times making memories through it all.”

Rogish recalled when he met Harris, who was running a produce stand.

“When I started buying produce for Patterson Fruit Farm, I quickly realized Paul was a guy you wanted to be friends with at produce auctions, although they say, ‘you don’t have friends at auctions,’” Rogish said. “I knew that the quality of produce was high that he wanted and so did we. Eventually, we worked together sourcing produce from multiple auctions and growers. Just like other popular farm markets in Geauga County, we worked together to secure top notch products.” 

Rogish said Harris never turned down a request to borrow a corn planter, grain drill or a chisel plow, and was always willing to help out and share what he had.

He also loved helping out the youth, Rogish said, adding, “It was always about the kids, especially the Parkers’ Evan, Becky and Lauren. You won’t see a collage of pictures or memories pop up that those kids aren’t in.”

The Parkers’ children spent a lot of time with Harris helping at the stand, the barn and the fair, Rogish said.

“Paul was a dedicated individual, knew everybody, knew the answers. If he didn’t know something, he surely knew someone that did,” he said. “I’ll miss the calls and quick texts from him.”

Tributes to Harris poured in across social media after his death.

Harris spent hours ensuring the future of fairs across the state, through legislation and promotion, the fair board said in its post.

“Paul loved the fair more than anything (except Pam of course), and he put his heart and soul into making our fair the best it can be. We will continue to make Paul proud this year and in every fair that follows,” the fair board said.

The post was shared by public officials and other fairs, including the Ashtabula County Fair Board, which sent its condolences to the GGCF board and Harris’ family.

“Paul’s love for county fairs across Ohio and the world of agriculture will be sorely missed,” the Ashtabula fair board said.

Geauga Public Health extended its heartfelt condolences to Harris’ family in an online post.

“His presence and contributions to the fair will forever be remembered. We are all saddened by this news and will cherish the memories of his time with us. Our thoughts are with his loved ones during this difficult time,” GPH Administrator Adam Litke said. “Paul was a giant among men. He loved Geauga County and the Great Geauga County Fair almost as much as he loved his wife. He will be greatly missed in our community.”

Carolyn Brakey, president of the Geauga County Board of Health, said she was shocked and saddened to learn of Harris’ passing.

“I ran into him at the Blossom Time Parade a little over a week ago and we had a lovely chat,” she wrote in an online post. “My prayers and condolences to his family.

Fond Fair Memories

Outside of his circle of family and friends, many in the community shared fond fair memories of Harris.

Former Geauga County Administrator Dave Lair recalled a sunny day in July 2008, when the framework for the Bicentennial Bell building on the fairgrounds in Burton was raised.

Reached by phone, Lair said he went back and revisited photos and videos he had taken on a digital camera that day, and found the decades-old record of his most prominent memory of Harris, who Lair said was “Mister Geauga Fair.”

“Paul was, of course, in the center of the action, everything from being on the team … who raised the south wall, to being at the top of that center post resting on a large stone in the center of the building, as it is eased into place,” Lair wrote in a Facebook post June 5.

Over his years on the fair board, Harris rubbed shoulders with many local officials, including Geauga County Commissioners, with whom he worked closely to plan the fair every year.

Scott Mihalic — a current fair board member who, as an auctioneer, has sold everything from pies to livestock — said Harris was at the fair every day.

“He treated it like it was his full-time job,” Mihalic said. “One thing that has not changed about Paul over the years is his passion. Not just for Geauga County, but for all the county fairs statewide.”

Mihalic said Harris’ involvement with the fair’s youth, like the Auburn Dairymen, should be one of his defining legacies.

“In any capacity, he was always trying to help the future leaders of tomorrow,” Mihalic said. “Our fair is standout because of his advocacy. Youth. Veterans. Vendors. He put his mark on Geauga County.”

A Two-Century Streak

Known for his firm guidance on the fair board, Harris did not back down from a fight to keep the fair open during the COVID pandemic in 2020.

When fairs around the state and country were being shut down, Harris announced early the Great Geauga County Fair would proceed.

Since its founding in February 1823, the fair had never been canceled, “despite multiple national conflicts, including the Civil War, Spanish American War, two World Wars, the Great Depression, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and various droughts and hardships during other significant periods and events in America’s history,” according to

Harris pursued every angle, including working with state leaders to craft a safe fair experience, but in late July, an announcement from Gov. Mike DeWine put a halt on his plans.

“It is with a heavy heart that the directors of the Great Geauga County Fair announce a scaled back version of the 198th fair September 3-7, 2020,” Harris wrote. “The latest order from the Ohio Department of Health and DeWine does not give us the option to move forward with the plan that the fair board had worked tirelessly to put in place. We have exhausted every avenue available to move forward with a modified version of the fair that you all love and richly deserve.”

The bounce-back happened in 2022, with the 200th Great Geauga County Fair, a grand occasion necessitating an additional sixth day to celebrate.

Harris put out the call for mementos and photographs of earlier fairs, asking people to donate items they may think were not significant or interesting.

“There was a lot of stuff done we don’t even know about that is out there. That is the stuff we are looking for — to share a little history,” he said at the time.

In his annual update to county commissioners last July, Harris said the return to a normal, five-day schedule was welcome. The fair’s plans at the time included planning for a 25,000-square-foot multi-purpose center, with a little funding help from the state budget and the return of some popular attractions like the Sea Lion Splash.

Those in Harris’ life knew it was centered on the fair.

“It was a privilege to get to know Paul during my time with the commissioners’ office, and to see him in action at fair time and many other times when his energy and passion for ‘his’ fair was so clearly displayed,” Lair said.

Rogish added, “No matter if you disagreed with Paul or were best buds with him, at the end of the day, his actions were done in the best interest of the fair.”