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July 23, 2009

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Main Street Fair to return after 18-year absence

The Main Street Fair drew big crowds to Chestnut Hill Hospital in 1970.

In the 1960s and 70s, anyone who lived in or near Chestnut Hill looked forward to the one day when the schools would close and the shops and restaurants would lose their employees and their patrons to the social event of the year: the Main Street Fair.

The fair was the Hill’s main event put on by the Women’s Auxiliary of the Chestnut Hill Hospital to raise money for the hospital.

On Saturday, Sept. 26, the hospital, under the leadership of its new Chief Medical Officer, Dr. John Scanlon, and the Chestnut Hill Community Association, is bringing back the Main Street Fair after an 18-year absence. When Scanlon interviewed for his job last year, he made it clear that one his goals was to bring back the fair.

“I remember taking my kids when they were in strollers to the Main Street Fair,” said Scanlon, who started his podiatry practice in Chestnut Hill in 1991. “It was a wonderful, collaborative event.”

The fair began in 1943 when a group of women — mostly doctors wives —wanted to raise money for the hospital’s equipment fund. More than a thousand people would volunteer at the tables, booths and amusement rides that featured everything from model train exhibits to nursing information (for the hospital’s now defunct nursing school) to vendors hawking kitchenwares.

In its heyday, the fair attracted a crowd of 55,000 to 60,000 and made as much as $89,000 in 1969. The new Main Street Fair is set to be smaller in scale. Many of the fundraising activities the Women’s Auxiliary used to lead up to the fair are now put on by the community association. In 1960, the first Chestnut Hill House Tour (now known as the Holiday House tour) was a precursor for the fair, as was a formal gala, which is now the Black and White Gala.

Every fair had a theme, and this year’s will be Chestnut Hill. Scanlon said it reflects the purpose of the fair – to connect with the community.

“It’s an opportunity to bond with the community,” he said. “It’s a chance to let the community know what they have at the hospital.”

At this year’s event, fairgoers will be invited into the hospital to meet the da Vinci robotic surgery machine, tour the hospital and meet the doctors and nurses. Outside on the grounds in front of the hospital, organizers are bringing back the big tent where Avenue shops will sell their wares, hospital staffers will provide healthcare information, children will be able to bounce and jostle through a variety of games and activities and friends and foes alike will have a chance to “Dunk the Doc” in a dunk tank.

While historically the Main Street Fair was a fundraiser for the hospital, this year’s fair will raise money for the Chestnut Hill Community Fund and the Elissa Messori Jacobsen Nursing Scholarship. The for-profit hospital can no longer accept monetary donations since its sale to Community Health Systems Inc. of Brentwood, Tenn., and the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Scanlon and a small group of volunteers, including Marita Krivda, Chestnut Hill Hospital’s librarian, and Jane Piotrowski, vice president of operations for the Chestnut Hill Community Association, have spent countless hours working with volunteers, scouring vintage scrap books and researching details from the original fair to resurrect this community event.

“You could write a book on the Main Street Fair,” Krivda said. “It was that big in Chestnut Hill. Older people start crying when they talk about it.”

Piotrowski said the more she learned about the fair, the more she realized how important this was to the community.

“Having a community hospital is like having food,” she said. “It makes us stronger.”

Krivda said the fair was an important community event that made people feel like the hospital was an integral part of a general sense of well being in Chestnut Hill. It is a feeling Scanlon is hoping to revive with the new fair.

“It is essential to our wellness to have community access to care,” he said.

 


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