One man's legacy, two families' passion: The importance of soda machines at the fair

Katelyn Waltemyer
Jackson Newspapers
Ed Smolder, Lisa Smolder and Leo Rawson smile at the fair.

COTTAGEVILLE — When most people look at a Coke machine, they see a red chest filled with cool, carbonated drinks. When Ed Smolder looks at a Coke machine at the Jackson County Fairgrounds, he sees an old friend who had a plan. 

Drinks from the Coke machines at the Jackson County Junior Fair do more than quench peoples' thirst, they help raise money for the livestock sale. 

It all started when Smolder, a Ripley resident, and Leo Rawson, who died in 2009, met at the fairgrounds. They became best friends, Smolder said, and they dedicated one week every year solely to the fair. 

In the mid-1980s, Smolder said Leo got the idea of bringing drink machines to the fairgrounds and using the proceeds to help the kids sell animals in the livestock sale. For the past 30-something years, the Smolder and Rawson families have worked to maintain the machines and put the proceeds into the sale. 

Since Leo's death, his son Randy Rawson has helped Smolder stock the machines and fix any problems during the fair.

Regenia Rawson, Randy's wife, married into the soda machine legacy, and she swears that Randy is just like his dad. She said Randy always takes time off from work to help out at the fair. 

"He'll complain about it all year, you know, long until the fair comes around," Regenia said. "And then he's down here 24/7."

When Leo was around, Randy would help him, and now Randy's son Sam Rawson is helping him. 

"His dad's memory means everything to us," Regenia said. 

Sam Rawson, 18, of Sandyville,  will eventually take over the soda machine fundraiser.

The fair lasts a week, and the livestock sale is always toward the end. As the sale approaches, they roll up the coins from the soda machines.

Smolder said they always put the money toward situations where people are just shy of purchasing an animal, or someone hasn't sold as much as they were hoping to. It's never more than a couple of hundred dollars, but Smolder said it's a tradition he isn't going to let go of. 

Leo had a big personality, Regenia said, and he was known at the fair as the "pop guy." Regenia said Leo's legacy is more than just keeping the Coke machines at the fairgrounds. It's about the kids. 

"They always knew that they could count on him," Regenia said. "Randy feels the same way about it."

— Katelyn Waltemyer (she/her) is the General Assignment and Enterprise Reporter for Jackson Newspapers in Jackson County, West Virginia. Have a news tip on local government or education? Or a good feature? You can reach Katelyn at Follow her on Twitter @Kate_Waltemyer.