On the year without the fair … We look back to a story originally published in 2015 all about just how the largest firemen’s fair in the state was run and a bit about that famous clam chowder. The details come straight from a longtime fair chairman and his son years later … RIP, Jim Acker. All’s fair ….
There was a time when there was one. Now there are three. We’re talking Fair Haven Firemen’s Fair chairmen. Yes, there was one person in charge of all that’s fair, getting it started and keeping it going. That guy was James Acker back in the day a few decades ago from the late 1960s to early ’80s. Then it was Gary Verwilt, former longtime Knollwood School teacher.
The following story was first published on Sept. 7, 2016. In honor of the week-long Fair Haven Firemen’s Fair and all its tradition, including that famous clam chowder, here it is again …
The recipe for the famous Fair Haven Firemen’s Fair Manhattan clam chowder was considered a highly-guarded secret. People flocked to get their fill at the fair, because they could only get it once a year. It was a secret taken to the grave with former Fair Haven Firemen’s Fair Chairman James Acker.
As closing time for the Fair Haven Firemen’s Fair came, yet another old picture popped up, and there was a little chat on the fair grounds with a present co-chairman of the fair and the stockroom guy of more recent years — Andy Schrank and Frank Leslie.
Schrank, now one of three co-chairs, took us back in time a bit. He reminded us of the times when there was only one chairman. Before there were the present three, Gary Verwilt, former longtime Knollwood School teacher, had the job. Back in the day, though, from the late 1960s to the late 80s, that guy was James Acker.
So, the Retro Pic of the day features a photo of Acker peering out of the stockroom at fair time somewhere in the middle of those years.
What does the chairman do? Well, it’s what it sounds like. He has to make sure that everything is up and running right, son Bill said.
There’s some haggling that goes on over purchases, rentals and state operation licenses.
In then end, though, it’s all boils down to just making sure things are always running smoothly. And they always have.
James Acker, or Jimmy, as my dad called him, always had a sincere smile on his face and twinkle in his eyes, especially when talking about the fire company. He always looked people straight in the eyes when talking to them, too. He was just a nice guy who, his son reminds us, was stubbornly dedicated when it came time to chair that fair — but always a friend.
“I remember going to New York to Conelle’s to buy stuff (prizes) for the fair and rent the tents,” Bill said. “When Dad and Mr. Conelle got together, it was like watching two dogs fight over a bone. But when it was done, Mr. Conelle and Dad were like old friends again.”
Yes, James Acker was loyal. He loved his fire company and his friends. A perfect example of his extreme loyalty was his helicopter dad manner when protecting the fair’s famous clam chowder secret.
He had the secret recipe to the much sought-after soup. He got it from an old Fair Haven friend. He made that chowder with that recipe, Acker kids getting things cooking beside him, for decades.
As promised, Bill said, the recipe went to the grave with him. He had promised the hander-down of the hush-hush concoction that it would never be shared with another soul. It wasn’t.
It was a measure of commitment to the best for Jim Acker, loved his fellow firemen — enough to make sure he got the fair the best chowder around. And it was bowl-licking good.
Oh, the new recipe is good, too, but he and some others would have to argue that the secret recipe version had a bit of an edge.
A 1983 story from the Red Bank Register archives on the fair has Jim Acker quoted. He said that the fair drew about 5,000 people a night then. He also said that it took about 225 people a night to operate it. Don’t forget, there was no internet purchasing then. He said he started going into New York and buying $25,000 worth of prizes in January (from Mr. Conelle, whose first name escapes Bill) for the 15 games of chance.
The big prize in 1983 was a Dodge 400 convertible, rather than the present super 50/50.
Oh, and among the prizes purchased were cartons of cigarettes for the Big Six tent, now the Money Wheel.
Step right up for a spin on the fair memory wheel! Game of chance? No. It’s a sure bet that there are many more where it came from.
RIP James Acker. Thanks for the memories … oh, and the chowder!