How do you stay on top of your game after more than 25 years on the job?
For Stan Poet, who managed the Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds for 27 years until retiring last fall, staying motivated was easy.
“I loved coming to work every day,” said Poet, who was honored as winner of the Saline Area Chamber of Commerce Community Spirit Award, a special new award created to honor Poet at Friday’s banquet.
At one point, the farm grounds hosted 425 events a year — more than one a day, and drew 500,000 visitors annually. What Poet loved most about the work was the passion of the people walking into the farm grounds.
He recalled an event for radio-controlled car races.
“One of the parents of a racer told me that their child was on the way to getting into trouble until he got involved in racing. Racing changed his life and helped make him a good kid,” Poet said. “That made me feel good. I was glad to be able to provide a place for events like that.”
Passionate people have a lot to offer, Poet said.
“I remember one time we were having a scale model railroad show. One of the scale model enthusiasts was really upset because we had let a Lionel train enthusiast into the show,” Poet remembered. “It sounds funny. I asked one of the people why he was so upset. This guy would take a magnifying glass and count rivets on a railroad car to make sure it was perfect and he thought the Lionel trains weren't authentic. It’s interesting coming to work every and meeting people like that. I learned a lot about new things from people who were experts.”
The big shows, like the Matthaei Botanical Gardens event, drew more than 32,000 people. Poet also enjoyed working the Saline Community Fair, the 4-H fairs and other events that brought friendly faces to the grounds.
There were a couple of rough events. The worst, Poet said, was a low-rider car event.
“The language they used should never have to be heard,” Poet said.
Then there was a circus in the late 1980s that was memorable.
“I should have known when I went to cash their deposit check and the bank told me they wouldn’t honor the check if it was for $1,” Poet said. “That was a bad sign.”
The next bad sign came when the big tent didn’t show up. Poet said the circus officials announced over the public address that the tent was late because of a train wreck. But police working at the fairgrounds had a better explanation.
“They told me the driver of the truck carrying the tent had been picked up for drunk driving,” Poet said.
Perhaps with no tent, people drank more fluids because they spent more time in the sun. That was problematic because, Poet says, the port-a-john truck never showed up.
“There were a lot of people relieving themselves on the south side fence line,” Poet said.
As if that wasn’t enough, some of the circus animals got loose, and there were reports of hippopotamuses running through people’s backyards, Poet said, with a chuckle.
“But they found them all,” Poet said.
Poet never expected a career at the farm grounds. He grew up in Wayne County, where his family farmed ground on what is now Metro Airport. His family moved to Bridgewater Township in 1957. Poet, a giant figure, was a center for the Saline Hornets football team and was also active in track and field and the Future Farmers of America. He graduated in 1960.
“We were seniors as they were finishing off Liberty School,” Poet said.
While in school, he met his future bride, Beverly Condit.
High school sweethearts?
“We couldn’t stand each other in high school,” said Poet, said with a smile.
Poet went off to Michigan State University’s agricultural school while Condit went to nursing school.
“We started hanging around the sound crowds, and we warmed up to each other,” said Poet.
Poet was dairy farmer until the 1980s. But the high interest rates drove him out of business.
“When you grow up on a farm, your parents farm, and you’ve done farming all your life, it’s not an easy thing to lose your farm. I was paying $1,000 a week in interest on borrowed money because of the Carter administration’s interest rates. I just couldn’t make it,” Poet said. “Most of the small dairy farmers in the area had the same fate.”
He landed on his feet at the farm grounds in 1984, but it wasn’t an easy transition. Poet said he was still struggling with the embarrassment of losing his farm.
“I didn’t want to show my face. But my wife, she helped me get through it,” Poet said. “A marriage is a partnership. I believe that. And I’m so fortunate to have a wife like Beverly.”
The Poets raised four children: Judith, Robert, Eric and Scot. They have eight grandchildren, including six who have graduated from or are currently attending Saline Area Schools, and one great-grandchild.
Larry Osterling, Executive Director of the Saline Area Chamber of Commerce, said Poet’s dedication to the community and his work ethic inspired him to create the new “Community Spirit” award.
“Stan represents what I call ‘Old Time Saline.’ People respect him. He’s everything that’s good about Saline,” Osterling said. “Serving. That’s what his whole life is about.”
Osterling said Poet was a “Gentle Giant” who, when he played football, used his big frame to knock people down. But, Osterling said, the football coach wasn’t happy about the way Poet always helped them get back up.
Poet was asked about his coach’s request that he be meaner.
“You don’t want to see me lose my temper. Things move when I lose my temper. I like to help people. I’ll be your best friend and give you everything I’ve got. But if you cross me, you’re dead,” said Poet, with a look in his eyes and seriousness in his voice that immediately reminds you that, while nearing 70-years-old, he’s 6’4 and you’re not.
Poet said he was happy and proud to be receiving the award from the chamber.
Poet, battling leukemia, was admitted to the hospital Thursday night and unable to attend Friday’s Saline Salutes banquet.
In 1975, Poet was named Michigan Outstanding Young Farmer by the Michigan Jaycees. He has served as President of the Manchester Jaycees, President of the Michigan Festivals and Events Association, Treasurer of the Washtenaw Livestock Council and was a member of the Bridgewater Township Board of Review, the Washtenaw County Farm Bureau, the Michigan Cattlemen’s Association, and the Michigan Association of Fairs and Expositions.