WELLINGTON — A week ago Friday, John Emerich came to the Lorain County Fairgrounds to say goodbye.
Having grappled with skin cancer for some time, Emerich knew he wasn’t going to be around much longer, according to Charisse Nikel, fair secretary and office manager.
“It had to be tough,” Nikel said of Emerich’s final trip to the fairgrounds with his son during which he went around and talked with people.
Emerich passed away early Friday at age 66.
The lifelong New Russia Township resident had the distinction of being the longest-tenured current fair board member with 44 years service, joining the organization when he was 22.
Emerich underwent a lung transplant in 2006 and rebounded well from that operation, Nikel said.
Emerich possessed a generally positive, upbeat outlook on life, but it took on an even deeper meaning after the lung transplant, Nikel said.
“That really changed his outlook,” Nikel said. “They went to Florida each winter for two months.”
At a volunteer appreciation dinner in September, Emerich told fellow board members he was contending with cancer, according to Nikel.
Even after being confronted with the diagnosis and the rigors of treatment, Emerich never lost his positive outlook.
“He was going through a lot, and yet he’d say, ‘I’m not good yet, but I’m getting there,’ ” Nikel said. “I was so impressed by that.”
Emerich and his wife, Judy, who met at the county fair and married in 1967, were heading to Florida in January and got as far as the Carolinas before returning home when he got to feeling bad, Nikel said.
Ron Pickworth, another fair board member and longtime colleague of Emerich, described the Oberlin High and Ohio State University graduate as the kind of man who could make friends anywhere he went.
“He was the kind of guy who could walk down the street and start to talk to somebody,” Pickworth said.
“He had that knack, that personality. He liked people.”
One of Emerich’s biggest passions was the fair’s harness racing program.
“He was a driving force for that,” Pickworth said, noting that many county fairs have done away with harness racing. “It’s not as popular as it once was, and it has also become unprofitable. But it really is a tradition, and John made sure we maintained it.”
Emerich also took care of the fair’s insurance needs for years, having operated his own insurance business for years, according to Tom Hines, longtime close friend and fellow fair board member.
“He was a good man,” Hines said. “The fair was his top priority. That was John ... everything for the fair.”
Hines last saw Emerich at the fair board’s Jan. 8 meeting.
“In 30-some years I never truly had an argument with him,” Hines said. “We always seemed to see eye-to-eye, and that’s not always true with every member.”
Hines, 70, has served on the fair board approximately 31 years.
While many were familiar with Emerich and his work with the fair, they may not have known anything about the square dance-calling Emerich did for the Elyria Saddle Club, which Hines and his wife, Beth, were active in.
“He did a lot of that, and he was good at it,” Hines said. “He taught my wife and I how to square-dance.”
“He was a very forward thinker,” Nikel said, recalling the last conversation she had with Emerich during his fairgrounds visit a week ago.
“He was telling me to get the board to move with the times, that they needed some new buildings,” Nikel said.
“That just showed his dedication to the cause,” Pickworth said. “He was still giving her things the fair board needed to do.”
Hines readily acknowledged the hole that will be left by Emerich’s passing.
“Anytime someone with that many years goes, that’s a lot of knowledge that goes away, too,” Hines said. “He’s going to be a hard man to replace. I’ll miss him greatly.”
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.