Ned Toth was all set to attend law school when he decided that wasn't for him. So he ran away and joined the circus.
Now, Toth, 65, is bringing the Pinellas County Fair back after a 10-year absence.
The four-day event will open at 5 p.m. Thursday and run through Sunday in Town Square Plaza Park, the space immediately north of the Pinellas Park City Hall at 5141 78th Ave. N. While there won't be any sheep, goats or cows — as is traditional with fairs — there will be a petting zoo and Elmo's Teeny Weeny Circus, with dogs and ponies. There will also be carnival rides, including a Ferris wheel with $100,000 worth of new LED lighting.
"It'll light up the whole city of Pinellas Park," Toth said.
"I was just a child then," Toth said. He and his siblings helped out in the circus while they were growing up, he said.
"They cried when they had to go," Toth said. "I cried when I had to go home. … I just kind of fell in love with it."
His first job, as a child, was to be a clown. As he got older, he worked his way through all the jobs. He even tried the high-wire act.
"I fell and broke my wrist. That was the end of that," Toth said.
After college, Toth was accepted to Stetson Law School, but the tug of carnival life was too much.
"I left law school for the business," he said. "I literally ran away from home and joined the circus."
Now Toth owns the Clyde Beatty Circus as well as several other entertainment companies. He has done merchandising for musical acts, such as the Beach Boys, Queen, the Steve Miller Band and Meat Loaf. And a few years ago, he picked up the name Pinellas County Fair, which was originally organized by Hardy Huntley on land next to his Wagon Wheel Flea Market.
Huntley last held the fair in 2001. It's unclear why he let it drop. Huntley's spokesman did not return a phone message asking for comment. But the land once used for the fair now houses the Mustang Flea Market.
It's unclear if the designation of a "county fair" can be used by anyone or if some sort of official certification must be granted, but Toth said he saw the lack of a fair in Pinellas as an opportunity. And he saw the field of about 11 acres behind Pinellas Park City Hall as a good spot, with its easy access and central location.
The city was equally interested in trying the fair, Pinellas Park spokesman Tim Caddell said. Several people had actually approached the city over the years about the prospect, but none got it off the ground, he said. Toth, he said, had come over several times to discuss the idea. This year, it jelled.
"We're looking forward to it," Caddell said. "I think it's going to be a cool event."
And two city-sponsored charities — the Angel Fund, which helps needy people with a one-time donation, and the Public Service Education Foundation, a scholarship fund — could benefit.
"He has agreed to make contributions," Caddell said of Toth.
Also benefiting will be the Pinellas Park Firefighters Benevolent Fund. The firefighters will sell beer during the fair.
Toth said this year's event will be a kind of test. If it's successful, he plans to make the fair an annual affair.
"It's going to be a success. I feel good about it," Toth said. "I'm committed to get it going."
Reach Anne Lindberg at email@example.com or (727) 893-8450.