This will be the last time Mendocino County Fairgoers and entrants will see beloved staffer Cecilia Pardini — a familiar face at the front desk of the County Fair office. Pardini is retiring after 42 years working for the fair. She grew up in Long Beach and moved to Anderson Valley in 1958. “We lived in Santa Rosa, and then moved to Boonville. I've been here ever since,” she smiles. She notes that she is not related to the Ukiah-based Pardini family, but has a soft spot for the name. “We always buy our appliances from Pardini's in Ukiah,” she laughs. Pardini's family wanted to get out of Long Beach, and her father purchased the service station that used to operate across from the fairgrounds. “My uncle worked for the Forest Service, and that's how we ended up in Boonville,” she notes.
Moving to Boonville from Southern California had its challenges, Pardini notes. “I thought I had fallen off the face of the earth. I'd never heard of 4-H or anything like that, but now I wouldn't leave for anything,” Pardini explains.
She attended Anderson Valley High School and was in the first graduating class out of the newly constructed high school. Following school, she married her husband, Robert Pardini. “We've been married for 54 years now,” she says. Pardini has three daughters who also live in the valley, and five grandchildren.
Her work at the fair began because of her father-in-law. “He was a livestock superintendent. I thought it would be fun to be a livestock clerk working with him. When people sent their entries in, I'd enter them into the books. My husband's family had sheep, and he and his sisters showed sheep at the fair when they were young,” she notes. Pardini began as a livestock clerk in 1970.
“In those days, the fair was very busy. There were a lot of things going on. There were a lot more animals- horses, the sheep dog trials. The sheep dog trials have been going on ever since I can remember,” she notes. “There were a lot more sheep in the valley at that time. We had a few sheep, my husband and I. I gave the sheep away to my daughter-in-law's mother, and we got horses. I rode horses and did Gymkhana,” Pardini notes.
In 1982, a business assistant position became available at the fair. “I put in for that job and ended up getting it. I've worked here ever since,” she says.
“We're pretty busy all year. We have rentals to take care of and other things that keep you busy all the time.” Right now, Pardini is ensuring all the commercial exhibitors are ready to go- that their passes and paperwork will be ready for them when they arrive on Thursday. “We sell the carnival tickets, take entries in, answer everybody's questions- there's always something,” she continues.
“When I first started, there were no computers. You did all your entries by hand. You'd cut and paste into the premium book. A friend of mine said, that's a lot of work.' They brought me an old Tandy computer with those big, 8-inch discs and I started doing things on the computer.” Once she transitioned to the computer system, there was no going back. “I thought to myself, how did I ever do this by hand?'“ Pardini notes. She has many fond memories of the fair. “I was going to clerk one year. They put me in the food department. The judge asked me to taste this and that pastry. After doing that, I decided to go to the carnival. I got so sick. I decided I never wanted to clerk again.”
“When Dick Winkler was the manager, we were not supposed to have doughnuts. We would hide behind the file cabinet and sneak doughnuts,” Pardini says.
Living in Anderson Valley for more than 50 years, Pardini has observed profound changes. “Everything has changed in Anderson Valley. There are so many new vineyards and wineries. Sheep and apples used to be all there was. Right across from where we lived was an apple orchard. Now it's grapes,” she notes.
During fair time, Cecilia is at the front desk. “This year I'm doing my normal work, making sure everything's going OK, and having a good time.”
She enjoys most everything at the fair. “The exhibits are great. It's fun to go to the rodeo. I don't get to see much of it, but I sneak out and watch the Parade of Champions. Usually I just stay in here and answer questions. I never really see the fair. I feel it's more important for me to be in here than wandering around.”
Pardini doesn't regret a minute of her 42 years of service to the people of Mendocino County. “It's been one of the best times. I've really enjoyed working here. I guess I did, because if I didn't, I wouldn't have been here so long. It's always been fun. It's been a really pleasant time. You meet a lot of interesting people and see your old friends that you never, ever see,” she explains.
This week during fair time, Cecilia will be training her replacement. But there's no doubt it will take a little more than a few days to impart 42 years of wisdom to a new employee. “All she'll have to do is call me. I'll just be a phone call away.”
What are her plans after this week? “I'm going to ride my horse. We have a rock business, and now I'll probably tend to the business better,” she says.
What she will miss most? “The people here at the fair. But next year I'll really get to enjoy it,” she concludes. Perhaps it will be like attending the Mendocino County Fair for the very first time.