By Christina Grand Porter
In 1938, a band of high school students and other musicians from around the county who had been playing together since 1936 became known as The Geauga County Fair Band. That was the same year Barbara Ricca (then Barbara Hazen) was encouraged by her school band director, Arzo Cheney, to practice with the fair band. She was 14 years old, a freshman at Chardon High School, and although band members were supposed to be at least sophomores, Cheney made an exception for someone who would be a vital part of the Band for the next 82 years. The first time Barbara missed playing at a fair was in 2018 after she fell and broke her leg, but she rallied and played with the Band at other events in 2018 and 2019.
The Band was like a family and Barbara’s three children, Ron, Carla and Ken, became a part of it when they accompanied her to the Tuesday night band practices where they socialized with other band members’ kids. One Tuesday night, the bass drum player didn’t show up for practice and Ron stepped in. He wound up playing bass drum in the Band for the next 7 years. Carla joined the band in 1973 playing trumpet and in 1979 she met the man who would become her husband, Lyn Svendsen, when he and his clarinet joined. Both still play in the band today.
Barbara was consistently busy her entire life, helping to run the family dairy farm and family business, Ricca’s Store, which was on Route 87 in Newbury. The family had a huge garden and sold their produce in the store as well as eggs from the chickens they raised. She served as the secretary/treasurer for the band for many years and always joined in when the band began a pinochle league in their off time. She was skilled at ceramics and making stained glass treasures and was a snowmobiler and a great bowler. She volunteered at Geauga Hospital delivering mail, volunteered for whatever needed done at Newbury United Community Church, was a Newbury Auxiliary Flame, and she was always asked to bake her two specialty pies- chocolate and butterscotch.
There wasn’t much that could hold her back. Her children remember the Christmas they were fooling around and broke the fuel oil line running from the storage tank to the furnace in the basement. Without missing a beat, Barbara calmly shooed the kids away and held the oil in with her finger until help arrived. She was widowed in 1977 but never lost her drive or her “Finish what you start and always do your best” attitude. Living by her own example, she drove the hay baler at the farm until she was 92.
She received her 80-year Band pin in 2017. It was presented to her by Congressman David Joyce, who was also a former Geauga County Prosecutor, and was one of the five prosecutors she worked for during her career as a legal secretary. She had quit when she had her children, but once they were school age, in 1966, she went back and served a total of 30 years.
Barbara, the last original Fair Band member, died March 23, 2019 at the age of 95 years, 8 months and 11 days. Barbara’s sister, Charline Heiden, plays clarinet in the Band. She turned 88 last May and is now the Band’s oldest member. The Great Geauga County Fair Band played at Barbara’s funeral at Newbury United Community Church as a tribute to a woman who will long be missed. Carla sat in; playing the 1941 Silver Bell King Trumpet her mother had played for decades in the Band. It is totally fitting that money donated in Barbara’s memory was used to purchase instrumentation and other items to complete the Fair Band’s percussion section. This will help perpetuate the memory of Barbara, the music she loved, and bring joy to many for generations to come.
Christina Grand Porter is a Random House author who lives in Huntsburg with her husband, dog, cat and bee swarm.