OTTAWA — Tom Van Dusen, longest-serving manager of the Ottawa Valley Farm Show, has resigned stating that working conditions over the past 18 months prompted his decision. The resignation was effective April 10, almost a month following the 90th anniversary show March 14-16.
At a meeting of the Ottawa Valley Seed Growers Association (OVSGA) April 11 where Van Dusen’s resignation was discussed, four long-time honorary directors also resigned: John and Mary Joynt of Smiths Falls, Lynda McCuaig of Manotick Station and Jim Arbuckle of Vernon. The OVSGA operates the farm show.
“For most of the time I served in the position, I was pleased and proud to be known as the farm show manager,” Van Dusen stated in a press release issued April 12. “I felt I was part of something reflective of a vibrant Eastern Ontario agricultural industry.”
Van Dusen became manager of the show after answering a job posting. He was interviewed along with other applicants and eventually given the position: “I had been a reporter for daily newspapers and had worked on Parliament Hill. But my roots were rural and I had developed an appreciation for agriculture.”
At the time, he explained, the Seed Growers had established a trend of hiring news media people as manager, a nod to their promotional skills: “I had become an agricultural writer and managing the show on a part-time basis fit right in. I followed Hal Botham of CJET in Smiths Falls, and television personality Cindy Day who did the job for a year.”
“Unhappily but predictably, most good things come to an end,” noted Van Dusen. A “spirit of camaraderie surrounding the show has withered” following the creation of “several overlapping committees … under the direction of relatively new board members,” he asserted, also citing a corresponding reduction in the general manager’s role.
“With the support of the board at the time and former Secretary-Treasurer Mary Joynt, I ran the show very successfully for 15 years, including relocation to a new site. It was a money-maker, it was recognized as one of the best in North America by the Farm Show Council, and it was seen as a friendly, down-home event. Faced with increasing undermining and obstacles, I’ve continued to get the job done. But the spirit has gone out of it, at least for me.”
“Even though it’s structured as not-for-profit, new personnel see the show as big business and want to operate it as such,” according to Van Dusen, who criticizes what he sees as the imposition of “bureaucratic procedures typical of a government department.”
“They push out anyone seen as getting in their way; and they don’t understand the essential nature of the show,” he alleged, adding that the four directors who resigned have cited similar issues.
Van Dusen thanked long-time board members, exhibitors, and the rural news media for their support over the years: “It’s been like one big happy family working for the advancement of agriculture.”
When contacted by Nation Valley News, Jim Arbuckle of Vernon declined comment but acknowledged that Van Dusen had put out a press release on the matter.
“I would certainly say, on behalf of the executive, that no one was ever pushed out,” said OVSGA Secretary-Treasurer Arlene Ross of Russell, confirming the resignations of Van Dusen and the four honorary directors.
The executive is “very disappointed to lose Tom,” she said, noting the former general manager brought “many skills and benefits to the Ottawa Valley Farm Show. We’ve certainly seen the benefits he has brought to the show over the years.”
The executive has been “very proud of the way everything has worked out at the show over the past number of years,” said Ross. “We’ve always been a community organization.”
The secretary-treasurer said she expected the executive would meet soon to determine next steps toward finding a new GM, “which will be a challenge, of course.”
John Joynt told Nation Valley News that it was time for his wife and himself to step back as honorary directors, describing the situation as “certainly unfortunate.”
“I resigned because I didn’t like the actions of a few directors but also in support of Tom,” said the Smiths Falls resident and 38-year member of the board.
“Unfortunately, we had a small group that decided Tom wasn’t doing his job,” he explained, “and they took it upon themselves to run the Farm Show in their own way, which was upsetting for Tom.”
He has “no problem” with replacing personnel “if that is deemed necessary by the board,” he said, noting they’ve changed general managers in the past. “But when it’s a splinter group that’s making the decisions …”
After nearly four decades, “I’ve been there long enough,” he added, emphasizing he’s “all for change.”
Joynt offered that he’s heartened by a new generation of “young, enthusiastic directors” who have joined the OVSGA, suggesting they will take the Show to “new heights” and “change the direction” of the organization.
“What’s kept me more involved than anything is the amazing camaraderie,” he said of his years on the board. “And while we might have often disagreed at board meetings, we always came out and moved on and everyone worked together.”
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