The fair has been a constant in George Soares’ life. He showed cattle as a youth and later received a WFA scholarship for $500 in the 60s to continue his education. Without that scholarship, he may not have been able to continue his schooling and become the advocate for the fair industry that he is today. “When you come from humble beginnings and an organization like WFA steps up and provides this envoy of the scholarship during a challenging time with limited resources, it’s really an opportunity.”
Professionally, he had WFA as a client, with Kahn, Soares & Conway serving as the Association’s representation and advocate. “The fair industry has been a continuum in one way or another since those early days,” said Soares. “It was the fair industry when I was a teenager, Western Fairs when I’m in college, then WFA as a client – It’s part of my DNA.”
Soares was “shocked, honored and humbled, all at the same time,” upon hearing that he would join the ranks of those in the WFA Hall of Fame. Having looked at the list of previous inductees, Soares found a bit of irony in the experience and familiarity with many of the names. “There’s Lou Merrill, who I knew, and who was ‘the guy’ in those early days and put the fair industry on the map, then Julian McFee who was the president at Cal Poly when I was a student there. Then I saw some of my classmates – my roommates, even – on the list. With George and Bryan Davey. And of course Bates Bowers who I knew for years” as a friend, client and neighbor. “I knew they were in the Hall of Fame, but going down the list it causes me to stop and reminisce about how I first met many of the people in the Hall of Fame.”
“When you’re young and impressionable you look at people who hold those kind of positions and it’s a bit motivating,” said Soares. Now it’s Soares’ turn to be the motivator. Part of that is through his political work on behalf of fairgrounds. Legislative work often happens behind the scenes but makes a very visible impact in the form of funding and preventing or creating laws that shape the industry.
“It seems like the industry is capable of working through and continuing whatever issues arise, and
we have to be thankful for that because the grounds provide such opportunity in communities for young kids to show animals and a place for people with emergencies,” said Soares. “I think fairs certainly aren’t underappreciated by people who go to fairs, but sometimes underappreciated by the larger community because people are so busy that they just go to the fair and have a good time. They don’t appreciate what a fair is doing throughout the year for the community.”
Though Soares considers his work and the work of his firm as the advocate of Western Fairs vital, he gives much of the credit to the industry itself. The foundation of effective advocacy is the industry itself. The advocate creates opportunities for clients to tell their own stories, with the explanations and passions coming from those closest to it.
“The fair industry is understanding and embracing of that, fortunately,” said Soares. “We would not be able to do our job for Western Fairs is WFA wasn’t so willing to make themselves available at the drop of a hat.” The fair network throughout the state can capitalize on the opportunities of fairs dealing with and building vital relationships with local officials.
Over the years the issues have been many and varied, ranging from the more recent funding cut,
to previous legislation regarding food and beverage operations and seasonal workers.
“Fairs are worth the fight, that’s for sure,” he added. “The issues are always tough with Western Fairs because there’s competing interest. But if I have to go to war with and for someone, then I want it to be with Western Fairs. I’ll take that any day.”