Fifty Years of Fun and Games at the St. Denis Fair

When I talked to Christa Gosseaux, she was taking the opportunity to run some errands while her kids were at sports practices. It’s a scene familiar to many Havertown parents: seizing a window of time – that never seems quite long enough – to try and cross a few items off your to-do list.

As a board member of the St. Denis Fair, Christa’s to-do list is a little longer than most these days. With about a week to go before the gates open for the 2018 Fair, it’s what Christa refers to as “crunch time.”

“The texts and emails are flying between board members right now,” says Christa.

As is the case with most community events in Havertown, the organizers are all volunteers who are juggling work, family, and many other responsibilities to ensure that the fair is a success. Many are the second or third generation of their families to be involved.

Christa is a St. Denis alumna and second-generation volunteer. The planning goes on year-round, but in the weeks leading up to the fair, Christa explains with a laugh: “This is the time when our families don’t see much of us.”

joe perrna vince gorski frank 1984A photo circa 1984 shows, from left, Joe Perna, who founded the fair in 1968, with fellow organizers Vince and Frank Gorski.  (Photo courtesy of St. Denis Fair)

This year is extra special. The Fair is turning 50.

What started in the late ‘60s as a fundraiser for St. Denis parish, led by late parishioners Joe Perna and John Savini, has become a cherished Havertown tradition; a mainstay so synonymous with this town that it’s hard to imagine a time when it did not exist.

Some things have not changed. The Fair still serves as the primary fundraiser for St. Denis parish (which includes Cardinal John Foley school). The proceeds now support operational costs of the church and school, things like building upgrades and repairs. Christa tells me the fair raises an average of $80,000 – $100,000, after expenses.

viewThe Fair in recent years (Photo courtesy of St. Denis Fair)
fairsetupFair set-up in the early 1980s (Photo courtesy of St. Denis Fair)

Those who have not been to the fair in many years may be pleasantly surprised at how recognizable it is from the days of their youth. Many of the amusements and games have remained year after year. New Jersey-based Lynam’s Amusements have provided the rides for the past 28 years.

Other things have changed, including an indoor area for more grown-up fun like a beer garden with live music and casino games.

“We are also bringing back an old ride this year,” says Christa. “But it’s a surprise.” The St. Joe’s Hawk and Villanova Wildcat mascots will also be in attendance for high-fiving and selfie taking.


The slide is a favorite  (Photo courtesy of St. Denis Fair)
Photo courtesy of Instagram / @chris237

If you’re looking to start a new family tradition, consider volunteering. Christa says, “Volunteers come from all over, and they make it possible.”

As Christa and I spoke, a memory flashed through my mind. Somewhere among the VHS tapes that document our family activities starting from the early ‘80s until the dawn of digital cameras, there is a moment where I grin into the lens of the camcorder my dad is holding. My smile is full of missing teeth and there’s an unmistakable expression of excitement on my face.

“What are you doing today?” my dad’s voice asks from behind the camera.

“We’re going to the St. Denis Fair!” I exclaim back.

I realize that must have been around 1987, the same year Christa Gosseaux graduated from St. Denis School.

Thirty years may have passed since then, but the fun continues. And it never gets old.

May 2 -5 and 9 – 12
Hours: Wed through Fri opens 6pm; Saturday opens 2pm
Buy tickets online in advance and save
The Fair is still looking for volunteers: sign up here