Jennifer Wallace expected an exciting, nine-day debut as general manager for the Panhandle-South Plains Fair.

Hired by the fair's board of directors to replace the departing Herb Higgs prior to the 2017 fair, Wallace was challenged to help the community celebrate the fair's 100th anniversary.

She shared a speech about the fair's history with countless service organizations. She doubtlessly reminded citizens that Lubbock's fair -- a board-operated business receiving no operating funds from Lubbock County or the city of Lubbock -- is, in terms of size and revenue, the state's second largest fair, trailing only the State Fair of Texas in Dallas.

In addition, Higgs had contracted with a new carnival, and Reithoffer Shows' rides include roller coasters called the Galaxy and the Indy 500. The prior carnival had no roller coasters. Wallace loved riding rides since she was a little girl and was among the first to ride the Galaxy.

In addition to a nightly laser show, Wallace devised a plan to invest in 100 small gifts for different fairgoers daily, essentially an investment in 900 guaranteed, surprised smiles. Unfortunately, recalled Wallace, "There were days when I did not even see 100 people." Many gifts are stashed in closets or drawers.

True, the new carnival doubled the previous year's financial take during the opening Friday and Saturday.

But then the rain arrived. Wallace, hesitating between each of her five words, said, "It just would not stop."

The fair surrendered to heavy precipitation on seven of its nine days.

Wallace was upset, but her depression was short-lived. Colleague Sara Novak, vice president of Triangle Talent in Louisville, Kentucky, explained, "Jennifer always works to find a solution to a problem."

In this case, Wallace could deal with Mother Nature only by setting her sights on the next fair, which takes place Sept. 21-29.

She said the best advice she received from Higgs, and others in the business, was, "Plan ahead. Do what you need to do, as early as you can -- because the only guarantee in this business is opening day. ... It will be here before you know it."

Yet a confident Wallace stated, "If we had to open tomorrow, I'd be ready."

A lifelong Lubbock resident, Wallace, 38, earned a degree in accounting from Wayland Baptist University.

In 2004, she became an office coordinator for the fair. She would also juggle college classes for two more years -- but by 2008, Higgs recognized her value and promoted her to assistant to the manager.

In years that followed, she said, "There has not been one day that I have not used my degree and the accounting skills I learned at Wayland. ... I had considered myself shy, but the job forced me to become a people person.

"... Everything I learned about fairs, I learned, or picked up, from Herb."

A veteran of fair management, Higgs told many, including Wallace, "Not everybody is cut out to work at a fair. People who do, either love it, or hate it."

Wallace had assumed she eventually would become a CPA, and recalled being a "surprised" when it hit her how much she really enjoyed her job at the fair.

She also had family to consider. Married 15 years to Ricky Wallace, a Texas Tech police officer, they are parents to twins Will and Tiffany, who are 11 and a half years old.

Wallace wept upon learning of Higgs' departure, with sadness followed by worry. Most office employees were new; Wallace, not wanting to train a new manager, recognized her own qualifications. Whether or not to pursue the job would be a family decision.

At the very least, travel obligations for the fair's general manager include an annual national convention, a Midwest Fairs Association meeting and each year's Texas Association of Fairs & Events convention. While confident that her husband could handle things, the mom in her added, "I had never left my children overnight for 11 years."

Board members sensed her confidence, liked her answers and promoted her to general manager.

Wallace describes Crista Jones, a teacher/coach at Monterey High School, as her best friend for 25 years. Jones recalled that their friendship began during a seventh grade slumber party contest to see who could stay awake longest. Crista and Jennifer tied, still playing video games at sunrise.

Jones noted, "Jennifer has always been a dependable, hard worker and one of the most intelligent people I know. She also is the most loyal, and expresses that loyalty to the fair.

"I never had a doubt that Jennifer would manage the fair at some point in her career. ... I assume there were applicants with more experience, but not as dedicated, determined, outgoing and likeable. ... She is brilliant with finances, and knows how to run a business."

Outside of learning to hunt deer on her grandfather's ranch, Wallace grew up a city girl. A vital part of each fair, she said, is the education factor connected to children competitively raising farm animals, large and small. That said, Wallace said, "I used to be a perfectionist, but the fair made me learn to delegate."

Wallace relies on Lubbock County Agent Robert Scott, among others, to assist with animal judging. "On a good day, we'll have 200 volunteers working everywhere from the livestock area to the Women's Building," added Wallace.

The fair has two full-time maintenance workers, and Wallace can hire as many as 50 part-timers to help with general maintenance and cleanup after Labor Day. She smiles when mentioning using prisoners from the Montford Unit to clear property and help with varied projects. "They are the hardest workers I've seen," said Wallace. "All we provide is lunch, and they obviously are motivated to do a great job."

Wallace's office staff must verify that 44 food vendors and 200 commercial vendors have proper paperwork. The first thing Wallace did in January was book five concerts for late September at the Fair Park Coliseum. Recording acts commit quickly, and Wallace is limited by the amount her board budgets for entertainment.

Triangle Talent makes the process easier by informing her of the acts in her price range.

"This year is the earliest I ever finished booking talent," she said. "I'm thrilled we are offering Tejano again. In fact, we already have given away 1,000 tickets to see the (free) concert (headlined by Little Joe y la Familia on Sept. 27). ... I'll work with any radio station who wants to work with the fair -- and I love expanding the kinds of music. Hopefully, that will attract new people to the fair."

Novak added, "I was not surprised that Jennifer applied as fair manager. She has been an integral part of the fair for years. Staff, vendors, promoters that rent in the off season, the community -- they all know Jennifer. She brings organization, drive, leadership, friendship and, best yet, heart. Her new ideas and vision will move the fair forward."

Fun appears to be part of her formula. While booking concerts, Wallace closed the office one afternoon. She and her staff enjoyed a "Music Day, listening to songs by acts we were considering. Plus, I know I can call my mom with questions about the oldies."

As for entertainment on the grounds, old favorites (Rocket the Robot, hypnotist Ron Diamond) return. Wallace's new choices include, for the first time, alligator wrestling.

Wallace stressed that the fair is designed to be "a one-stop shop. There is so much going on all around you.

"It makes me happy, just seeing people smile and knowing I played a role in that."

Provided rain clouds stay away.

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For concert tickets ...

Five concerts have been booked at 7:30 p.m. at the Fair Park Coliseum, including:

* Sept. 24 -- Rodney Atkins, playing country. All 5,400 general admission tickets now are being given away, free, at the South Plains Fair office, and on an undisclosed date by radio representative KQBR (Lonestar 99.5 FM).

* Sept. 25 -- Tony! Toni! Tone! playing R&B, soul and new jack swing. All 5,400 general admission tickets now are being given away, free, at the South Plains Fair office, and on an undisclosed date by radio representative KZII (102.5 Kiss FM).

* Sept 26 -- Hinder, playing alternative rock and hard rock. All 5,400 general admission tickets now are being given away, free, at the South Plains Fair office, and on an undisclosed date by radio representative KFMX (FMX 94.5 FM).

* Sept. 27 -- Little Joe y La Familia, playing Tejano. Lubbock band Grupo Adagio opens. Band leader Little Joe is Jose Maria de Leon Hernandez, 77. All 5,400 general admission tickets now are being given away, free, at the South Plains Fair office, and on an undisclosed date by radio representative KXTQ (Magic 106.5 FM).

* Sept. 28 -- The original Gary Puckett and his new Union Gap, playing 1960s radio hits. All 5,400 general admission tickets now are being given away, free, at the South Plains Fair office, and on an undisclosed date by radio representative KKCL (Awesome 98.1-FM).

* More -- Fans can request a maximum of four tickets for each show. Call the fair at 763-2833 for more information.