I came to the Pajaro Valley in late 2000 to serve this community as editor of the Register-Pajaronian. For the next decade, my staff and I covered a series of fair managers and scandals at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds and it seemed the fairgrounds, a huge asset to the people of the Pajaro Valley, was always facing bankruptcy. Finally, in 2011, the gates were locked, the facility closed due to a lack of funds.
Thankfully, Dave Kegebein stepped forward and led a coalition of volunteers who saved the fairgrounds from financial ruin. Kegebein left his own successful business to help this community and after two years of volunteering nearly every hour of his day to the fairgrounds, along with the use of his own heavy equipment, he started taking a salary in 2013.
Dave is constantly digging or pounding or planning. If you tell me that Dave isn’t that great of an accountant, I’m not surprised. If you know Dave, you know that money isn’t his motivating factor. If it were, he’d have been doing something else these past 10 years. However, his passion for the fairgrounds, where his father has worked for 50-plus years, has driven him to rejuvenate the place. In the past 10 years it has risen up from financial ruin to be a real gem again. Every weekend multiple community events are occurring. The annual fair has been having some of its best attendance ever, even as attendance drops at fairs across the country. Many have just been shut down, which is where this fairgrounds is probably headed back now.
Firing Kegebein will be so detrimental to the fairgrounds that I don’t see it surviving. The only reason it’s still there to serve the community are the hundreds of volunteers and it’s the Kegebeins who have inspired a lot of that volunteerism. Dave may have been paid, but that pay nowhere near compensated him for all his extra time and personal resources he poured into the place. The Kegebeins deserve a building to be named after them, maybe even a statue of both Dave and his father John.
In the end, this travesty will hurt the community much more than it will injure Dave Kegebein. Dave will probably just move on and put his time and effort elsewhere, or maybe he’ll just retire and tinker with his antique tractors and enjoy the rest he deserves. But the community is going to lose as the people behind this clearly don’t have the interests of the residents or the fairgrounds in mind.