Like for many kids growing up in Paso Robles, the California Mid-State Fair was a family tradition for Colleen Bojorquez. While she and her siblings ran around the fairgrounds waiting for the carnival to open or to enter the show ring for livestock shows, it never crossed her mind that one day she would become the CEO of the California Mid-State Fair.
As the fourth generation of a family running a grain and cattle farm in the Cholame Hills just outside of Paso Robles, Colleen always understood the importance of agriculture. Since the 1880s, the Work family has owned and operated their 12,000-acre ranch. Her father, George Work, was a front-runner in the community for land conservancy and land management, always instilling how important it was for a farmer to understand land is his greatest commodity.
“I understand the importance of ag, I understand the importance of open space and I understand how difficult it is for our farmers and our ranchers to make people aware of what it is they do and how important it is,” says Colleen on the values she learned from her father growing up. “That’s where the fairs come in because we are supposed to be a place where we show off our county. We show off what we do here.”
Colleen grew up with her two siblings, Ben and Jody, and the CMSF was held in August, which always landed close either her or her sister Jody’s birthday. She remembers working hard on the ranch to earn enough money come fair time, when she called the livestock barns her temporary home. It could be said that Colleen’s introduction to working at the fair probably started when she joined the Junior Fair Board. But in 1992, she followed in Jody’s footsteps taking a job in the ticket office — and the rest was history.
Later, Colleen attended Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo where she met her husband Tim and earned a degree in ecology and systematic biology. She continued to work in various positions within the fair and eventually found herself working under former CMSF CEO Vivian (Saylor) Robertson. And later, just like she did, Colleen’s two children, Curran and Bailey, have also grown up at the fairgrounds.
Throughout the years, Colleen says she has watched the area of Paso Robles grown not only in size, but also diverting to a tourist based and reliant industry.
“The whole area has changed so much and I can only imagine how it feels for my dad,” says Colleen. “Even just me remembering from the ’70s and ’80s where we were truly a small town, it has grown a lot.”
She has seen Paso Robles become a destination area which can bring its challenges with newer residents not understanding the area’s history. But not all the changes are bad, and the fair has become a place where the new and old can come together. She notes that the fair brings around 400,000 people to the city and a big economic stimulus with it.
The fair has built its reputation as a little fair with big musical acts. Artists like Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney have stopped at our town more than once, getting their start on the free stage. The grandstands have seen more than its fair share of iconic acts like Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, Kiss, Garth Brooks, or George Strait. But it’s the older entertainers like George Burns, Bob Hope, and Mel Torme, to name three, that have a special spot in Colleen’s memory bank.
Though she has learned to embrace the new tourist aspect of the area, Colleen recalls old Paso, and how its small-town atmosphere seemingly comes back to life during the fair.
“My favorite part about fair is there are people that I only see at fair … I love the fact that there is this big reunion that happens here and our community embraces our fair,” she says. “We have a really special fair in that people still look forward to the fair … a lot of us locals, we love coming to the fair because that’s when we get to see everyone again.”
Colleen hopes when people come to the fair, they learn about the area’s history and everything we have to offer. The fair has always been a place for reconnecting and even making new connections, but she notes none of it would be possible without the help of the over 600 employees to work tirelessly to make it happen.
“Our team is so incredible,” says Colleen. “It’s an experienced team, and I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else … they want to see it succeed, and they take so much pride in it.”
Colleen stepped in as interim CEO for CMSF back in March of 2020, notably one of the most challenging years for the CMSF. In March 2022, she was finally appointed as the official fair CEO.
When asking Colleen if she ever saw herself as becoming the CMSF CEO, she says, “Not even really a glimmer. It was something that fell into place … God had a plan and put me in here.”
This year when you walk down a midway at the fairgrounds, take some time to embrace the community surrounding you. Learn something new about our county and make new memories that, with time, will grow old but will never be forgotten.
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