COLUMBIA — Scott Jacobs’ broken down body finally couldn’t take it anymore, and the latest blow from Lou Gehrig’s Disease came with cruel timing: He would have to miss the South Carolina State Fair in October for the first time in 55 years.
But his family and friends weren’t going to let that happen. They decided to bring the fair to him instead.
It won’t be quite the same without the two hour trip from his home in Cheraw to Columbia, but it will bring a taste of a treasured experience that’s been central to his life.
Back in 1956, it was just Jacobs and his date, Janice, who became his wife on Christmas Day 1958. They returned to the fair, year after year. Their single car with three kids inside became a caravan carrying spouses, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. They would fan out to the rides, games and shows as Jacobs ate his vinegar and french fries, Polish sausage or whatever other greasy treats caught his eye.
But his disease, formally known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, has relentlessly eaten away at his nerves and atrophied his muscles.
He fought off a lung clot in March and regained enough strength to look forward to the fair again.
Then came a kidney infection last week that sent him to the hospital and made his family wonder whether it was the end of his 72 years. He lived, but lost something important to him.
“He just decided he couldn’t go,” said his daughter Ann Smith.
So Jacobs’ family is racing against time, along with a friend who also lost her father to the disease, to bring the fair to him.
“I know how special something like that is. If you can’t go to something that has been a tradition in your family, you bring that to them,” said Sandra Evans, who met Jacobs and his family while bringing her father to a clinic for ALS patients in Charlotte, N.C. She threw her own Super Bowl party for her dad weeks before he died earlier this year.
Evans started gathering together odds and ends that evoke the spirit of the fair – popcorn, simple carnival games and funny sunglasses. Then she got people at the State Fair to pitch in candy apples, cotton candy, T-shirts, a hat and posters with this year’s theme: “Find Your Happy.” The leaders at the fair were happy to help.
“That’s what fairs are all about, families and the good times and traditions. We’re so glad we can be a part of such an important tradition and send along our thoughts and prayers, too,” said Nancy Smith, who manages marketing for the fair, which has opened every year on the same site since 1904.
Now all Jacobs’ family has to do is find the right time to bring everyone together for one last fair.
Jacobs was too weak to talk to a reporter this week, but his daughter said he perked up when she told him about the party.