By Steve Yablonski
Queens native is now the interim director of the New York State Fair. ‘This year’s fair will be bigger and better than any fair we’ve had,’ he says
Sean Hennessey has been hired as the New York State Fair’s new assistant director. For 2022, he’s taken over as the interim director as former director Troy Waffner moves into a new position.
Hennessey was an assistant commissioner of the State Department of Transportation based out of Watertown.
“I’m originally from Queens, New York. I came to Upstate; I attended SUNY Canton, which is in St. Lawrence County. I met my lovely bride there, Betsy.
She is from the Watertown area.”
After they graduated college, they relocated to where she was from, he said.
“We raised four lovely children there. I joined state government as a building superintendent. I was a construction engineer at SUNY Canton, so I joined state government by becoming a superintendent for the Office of General Services,” he said. “I was promoted to a regional manager in real property management. In that job I covered the Mohawk Valley, Central New York, Buffalo and Northern New York. So there was quite a bit of traveling in that position.”
It was a great position, he added. “I loved the people. I loved the project. That went well and I was given the opportunity to come over to the department of transportation as an assistant commissioner with operations.”
With that, he “dropped off Buffalo, but I continued to cover the Mohawk Valley, Central and Northern New York.”
He worked in emergency response and “was something of an ombudsman with the stakeholders, the elected officials or just residents with concerns.”
“I was something of a mitigater. If there was a storm or natural disaster of any type, I was one of the first responders,” he said. “I was there for the big storm in Buffalo. I was one of the folks that set up the Plattsburg vaccine site recently and when it came to flooding in Lodi, I would be stationed with the first responders. I had a lot going on.”
When he was with the DOT, he was driving four hours a day.
“That wasn’t fun. So, I thank the governor and commissioner for bringing me on board,” he quipped. “I love the state that we live in. I’ve got a passion for the state of New York, made in New York—especially made in USA products, that’s a passion for me.”
“I also before coming to this agency and working for the state fair, I was a co-executive director for an Irish festival in Watertown. I was on their board for roughly 17 years,” he added.
Booking national acts for that event gave him the booking background and he had a solid management history with Office of General Services … “so they said with my background that I’d be a good fit at the fair.”
Someone sent him an advertisement for the fair position on Indeed.
“I say as a lark, but obviously serious. I put an application in just to see what came of it. I got a call a short while after that inquiring whether I was actually serious about taking the position. And I was, yeah, so that and a series of inquires afterwards with human resource and other people in Albany it came to be,” he recalled.
“I managed the DOT presence here at the fair from a traffic management standpoint. I’ve been coming to the fair for years now and have always been enamored with it. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to work here. We have a great team here.”
On the run
“I have a variety pack of things that I do for fun. One of the things I do just for physical fitness is I am a runner. I’ll be running in the Boilermaker coming up in July in Utica. It’s a 15-K. In my last line of work, we had a corporate team. We have been doing this for four years so this will be my fifth year running in this race,” he said.
And, his four kids “keep me quite active,” he added.
He is also a gardener.
“Whenever I do something — I do it big. So I pared it down a bit, but I grow 10,000 cloves of garlic a year,” he laughed. “I have a field of garlic to give away to people. I do it all for fun. I give it away to people use.
“My mother is actually from Ireland. So you wouldn’t think that an Irish American — first generation Irish American — would be growing garlic. I do a little bit of potatoes, but garlic is really my thing.”
He said he has also become a baker.
“I bake sourdough bread and bagels. I have a small-scale business, that my wife actually runs,” he said.
I’m a fisherman. I’m an outdoorsman. We have 50 acres up in Champion. When I have time, I like to spend my days out there.”
Upstate is a big change of pace from living in Queens, New York, he said.
“In my apartment complex, there was a sign etched into the brick and it said: “Don’t Walk On The Grass.” It literally stuck in my mind as a child. I said, ‘can’t walk on the grass? I’m going to move somewhere where I can!’ So I spend a lot of time in the back yard or my greenhouse. Yes, I do love the outdoors. This is a beautiful place to live,” he said.
Things are very stable at the fair, he said, adding, over the last several years, there has been significant investment in the fairgrounds.
“The commissioner and Gov. Hochul recently announced that we are going to be investing more on the agricultural side than we have in the past,” he said. “There’s going to be a greenhouse built right on the grounds, a state-of-the-art greenhouse. Construction starts this year. That’s one change that’s going to happen. A goat barn will also be developed on the ground as well. We’re growing our footprint here”
“This year’s fair will be bigger and better than any fair we’ve had. We’re looking forward to a great year,” he added.
A search for a new, permanent fair director will get under way later.
The fair is scheduled to run for 13 days: Aug. 24 through Sept. 5.
Name: Sean Hennessey
Title: Interim director, NYS Fair
Birth Date: July 6, 1969
Birth Place: Manhattan, New York
Residence: Black River, New York
Education: SUNY Canton
Affiliations: Ancient Order of Hibernians
Personal: Married to Betsy (25 years), four children
Hobbies: Running, gardening, baking