WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - The Navajo Parks and Recreation Department has selected a new fair manager to take over the controls of the largest Indian fair in North America.
Richard Showalter, a Window Rock resident, was hired as the new manager in early November. Showalter previously worked for the Navajo Nation Department of Behavioral Health Services (DBHS) for over 17 years before joining the Navajo Parks and Recreation team.
Turning over a new leaf professionally was his primary reason for switching jobs, he said.
"I just felt that at this point in my life I was looking for a new challenge," Showalter said.
Department director Ray Russell is happy with the selection of Showalter as the new fair manager.
"I have every confidence in Richard's integrity based upon his past experience," Russell said. "I trust he will turn around the conditions of the fair and make it a self sustaining event."
Showalter is no stranger to the fair.
He's worked with special events like the junior livestock, parade, fine arts and raffle committees in the capacity of corporate sponsor via DBHS. Beyond that, he practically grew up on the fairgrounds, as his parents were the original managers of the Civic Center.
"My first experience with the fair I can actually say was when the Civic Center was brand-new. My parents were the first ones to manage the Civic Center," Showalter said.
From those childhood days to now, Showalter has seen the conditions of the fairgrounds firsthand and said meeting those needs would be a priority for him as fair manager.
"Based on my personal viewpoint and from public opinion, I see improvements needed to the trash situation, parking, restroom facilities, traffic control and rest areas for the visitors," he said.
Development of a realistic list of improvement priorities is an immediate action item for Showalter, so he can identify what can be addressed immediately and tasks that will require a longer time frame.
"For the most part, previous fair management has done a respectable job in producing the two major annual events and I would like to commend them for that," he said.
The biggest challenge still looms in the horizon, however. With the ever-increasing production costs of entertainment and the aging infrastructure of the fairgrounds, the task at hand is substantial and cost prohibitive.
"When one thinks about improvements, you must consider the cost," Showalter said. "Where are the funds going to come from for any proposed improvements?"
To focus in and identify the areas of improvements, he is planning on meeting with all fair special event coordinators to determine what's working and what isn't working. Taking the team approach to tackle these challenges will be the game plan, he said.
"By positively working with event coordinators, hopefully they will continue to help out and take pride in their contribution," Showalter said.
The health and welfare of attendees to the fair is of paramount importance and Showalter said one of the first items of business is an assessment of the facilities with a walk-through inspection of the entire fairgrounds to determine areas in need of improvement.
Beyond infrastructure concerns, building on solid events and working with what's not broken will be another strategy to staging a first rate experience for fair attendees, he said.
"The highlights for the past year from my standpoint were the exceptional rodeo, junior rodeo and Kid's Day," Showalter said. "I personally observed good things and heard many positive comments about these events. I've always tried to advocate and support healthy activities for the youth," he added.
Showalter said the bottom line to recouping any expenses and realizing a profit will require stripping down some events and going without in other areas. This will be a hard sell to the Navajo people, who have come to expect the best during the premiere fair experience for the Navajo Nation.
"It would be good if a profit is realized without breaking the bank," he said.
In an effort to stem the costs of producing a quality fair the Navajo Nation can be proud of, Showalter is seeking the assistance of the Navajo people.
What would you like to see for the Fourth of July Celebration and Navajo Nation Fair? Who would you like to perform at these fairs and from what musical genres? What events do you think we could do without at the fair?
The public's response is welcome and encouraged. Suggestions or comments can be e-mailed to Richard@navajonationparks.org or sent by regular mail to: Richard Showalter, Fair Manager, P.O. Box 2520 Window Rock, AZ 86515. Budget constraints should be kept in mind when making suggestions.
"I will make every effort to continue the tradition of staging an event that the Navajo Nation can be proud of," Showalter said.
For more information, visit www.navajonationparks.org.