Lawn ornaments raising money for fair’s mudslide repairs

  • John Passiglia holds a Franklin County Fair lawn ornament he created as a fundraiser for the fairgrounds’ mudslide repairs. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The lawn fixtures on display. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • A plate of six lawn ornaments at Franklin County Technical School. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Franklin County Technical School welding students are helping their teacher John Passiglia make Franklin County Fair lawn ornaments. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/13/2019 10:27:18 PM

GREENFIELD — John Passiglia has been attending the Franklin County Fair for as long as he can remember.

So, when he learned that the Franklin County Agricultural Society was raising money to shore up an embankment on the northern side of the grounds, and that it is expected to cost about $500,000, he wanted to help.

“My wife and I love going to the fair,” said Passiglia, a local historian and Franklin County Technical School welding and metal fabrication instructor.

Passiglia said he has been doing blacksmith demonstrations at the fair for several years, and now camps out on the grounds from Friday to Saturday during fair weekend with his son and his son’s Boy Scout troop, Troop 5 out of Greenfield. This year’s fair will be held Sept. 5 to 8.

“I also joined the fair committee, because I wanted to do more,” he said.

As he looked around the machine shop at FCTS this past spring, he said he got an idea. He went to his freshmen students and asked them to do a project with him — one that would not only teach them how to build something, but teach them civic engagement at the same time.

“I thought it would be cool to make a lawn ornament of the fair gateway,” he said. “So, I went over to the fairgrounds and took a photo, brought it back to the shop and used our plasma cutting machine, and then traced over the digital silhouette.”

Passiglia said he made a few for a fundraiser that was being held at The People’s Pint to raise money for the same project.

“I was so surprised,” he said. “People bought them right up and paid a lot of money for them. They were excited about the piece, but also that they were helping a good cause.”

Passiglia said he used galvanized metal and stainless steel pieces that weren’t being used by the school. The ornament is galvanized metal to make it look rustic, while the lettering is made of the stainless steel.

“The school was 100 percent on board with the project,” he said. “The freshmen showed up and formed a mini-assembly line and we got to work to make more after that first fundraiser.”

Passiglia said so far the sale of lawn ornaments — which are 20 inches wide and 10 inches tall — has already reached $2,000.

Over the past three years, an increasing amount of underground water has caused four new streams to form beneath the soil at the fairgrounds. The water has found its outlet within the embankment on the northern side of the grounds, and the excessive water has caused the soil to destabilize and wash away on multiple occasions. Directly below this area are three houses continuously affected by mudslides.

In March 2011, the same land ridge failed 1,000 feet away at the neighboring Green River Cemetery, which sent 3,000 cubic yards of mud into the neighborhood below. In fall 2018, the Franklin County Agricultural Society hired SVE Associates to examine the issue and design plans to mitigate further deterioration, and early this year, the final plans were submitted, estimating the cost of $500,000 to do repairs.

Passiglia said he and his students will begin making the ornaments again when school starts.

“I’m actually hoping to get some made before the fair to sell them there,” he said.

Passiglia said Greenfield Farmers Cooperative Exchange on High Street in Greenfield sells them. He said he brought the store a dozen to begin with, and when those sold out — almost immediately — he brought more.

“The second dozen sold out quickly, as well,” he said.

The cost of a lawn ornament is $25.

“I want people to see them and start thinking about the fair,” he said. “I also wanted them to be affordable so anyone and everyone could own one. At the same time, I wanted to raise a lot of money for the fair. I think we’re doing both.”

Passiglia said Precinct 1 City Councilor Verne Sund took enough for all 13 councilors and returned a week later with the money for all 13 fixtures.

Passiglia said he could make the lawn ornaments himself, but loves that he is teaching his students a “good lesson.”

“This has definitely exceeded all of my expectations,” he said.

Reach Anita Fritz at
413-772-0261, ext. 269 or


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