Sunday, 19 May 2024

Grand marshal has worked at fair since 1948



LAKE COUNTY – Each year the Board of Directors of the Lake County Fair chooses one member of the community to receive the honor of grand marshal by leading the fair parade and cutting the grand opening ribbon. All of the grand marshals have a history of years of service to the Lake County community. But until this year, none could boast of having worked at the fair every year since it moved to the fairgrounds in Lakeport.


A soft-spoken, pleasant man, Billy DeWaal of Kelseyville was a 15-year-old Lakeport boy with an interest in magic in 1948 when the first fair was held on what was then a brand new fairgrounds in Lakeport.

Billy's father knew the fair manager at the time, Phil Lewis, and managed to wrangle a slot on a stage for Billy to perform his magic act. At his first fair show, Billy performed a ventriloquist act and a magic show in which he used his sister as an assistant and performed an illusion where he floated his sister in mid-air. At that point, Billy had been studying and practicing magic for nearly 10 years.


After that, Billy began performing magic shows regularly at local service club meetings, including the Lion's Club, Rotary, the Odd Fellows, the Lakeport Women's Civic Club and Chamber of Commerce meetings. He also performed each year at the Lake County Fair, and has continued to do so every year since.

And after being "discovered" at the Lake County Fair, Billy went on to build a career around performing magic shows at fairs and festivals throughout the western United States and Canada.


Billy's acts have changed over the years, from ventriloquism and magic, to becoming William Wayne, Master Magician. In between, Billy spent more than 25 years performing as Wacky Willy the Clown, and in the 1980s he expanded his business to include Bilmar Puppets, a puppet theater which included his daughter Karen and granddaughter Becky as performers. Billy once made television commercial for AT&T which was aired in every English-speaking country in the world, and at various times performed with both Bob Hope and George Burns.


A few years ago, Billy changed his act once more and became William Wayne, Master Magician, the act he now performs several times each day at the Lake County Fair. Billy's wife of 55 years, Mary DeWaal, also works at the Lake County Fair, where she operates Aunt Mary's Art Center.


Billy DeWaal is a member of the Society of American Magicians. He has belonged to the Clowns of America #593, the Puppeteers of America, and the American Guild of Variety Artists.


In addition to traveling all over North America performing, Billy is also a Navy veteran of the Korean War, and was awarded two Silver Stars and a Presidential Unit Citation. Billy and Mary now live in Kelseyville, with two cats, 20 doves, two rabbits, and a huge collection of magic illusions and stage props, which Billy calls his "barn full of magic."


“Billy DeWaal has an amazing track record as a performer, and he is the only person around who has been employed by the Lake County Fair for 60 years,” said Lake County Fair Chief Executive Officer Richard Persons. “It's pretty astounding. The fair board found choosing the grand marshal pretty easy this year, and Billy definitely deserves the honor."


The Lake County Fair parade through downtown Lakeport takes place at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 28, with the grand opening ceremony and ribbon cutting at the main gates at 6 p.m.

Anyone who enters the parade and fills out an entry form in advance will receive free admission to the Fair when the parade arrives at the fairgrounds. Parade entrants will be provided an entry wristband before the parade starts.

For more information, contact the fair office at 263-6181.


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