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WEST SPRINGFIELD — It’s the end of an “E”-ra. 

When Noreen P. Tassinari closed the books on an almost 50-year career with Eastern States Exposition on June 30, including 34 years as director of marketing, she left an indelible mark on the West Springfield institution.

Billed as “New England’s Great State Fair,” the largest agricultural event on the eastern seaboard and the fifth-largest fair in the nation, the Big E has grown substantially over the last 40 years, now encompassing 17 days with major talent on two stages, significantly more agricultural competitions and activities, a Mardi Gras parade, and a myriad of food choices. The exposition’s calendar of non-fair events has also flourished, with 120 shows and events taking place throughout the year.

Noreen Tassinari stands with her husband John at the West Springfield Colleen Ball in January 2023.
Reminder Publishing photo by Marc St. Onge

“Despite the whimsy of unusual foods, the sizzling concerts, and the shopping opportunities, the exposition’s core values remain the same — providing a showcase for agriculture, an opportunity to educate urban and suburban visitors about where their food comes from, and bringing the best of New England to our guests through the Avenue of States and Storrowton Village Museum,” Tassinari said.

Growing up in Springfield, Tassinari graduated from Cathedral High School, where an “inspiring and encouraging” creative writing teacher influenced her eventual career path. She majored in English and journalistic studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which included a heavy concentration in writing. A guest lecture by the public relations director of the university proved to be another watershed moment.

“I thought this sounded like a very interesting profession, combining journalistic principles with business,” Tassinari said.

After one of her UMass classmates secured a summer internship with the exposition, Tassinari reached out to Betsi Sheehan, then director of public relations, and scored a spot for herself.

“Betsi was a dynamic, high-profile professional who gave many young journalism and communications students valuable experience in the field long before internships became the norm in college education,” Tassinari said. “It was a masterclass in public relations and marketing. I knew that I had experienced something unique and magical, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

Tassinari returned to work at the Big E the following September, and she was hired as public relations coordinator for the exposition that winter. The position was changed to communications manager a few years later with the creation of the exposition’s marketing department.

“In 1990, with Betsi’s departure, I was promoted to director of marketing,” Tassinari said. “I was expecting my first son, had big shoes to fill, and had to replace my [former] position, which I did successfully by hiring Catherine Pappas, a newspaper reporter who had been assigned daily coverage of the 1989 Big E. She retired in 2022 after 32 years.”

Community service is an important part of the culture at the Eastern States Exposition, and employees at all levels are encouraged to volunteer. By the time she was 30, Tassinari was serving on three boards — the Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts, the YMCA, and the Valley Press Club, where she is currently a director and scholarship chair.

Tassinari’s long tenure with the exposition has shaped her both personally and professionally.

“My favorite part of the job is the Big E itself. It’s exciting and unpredictable, and a little bit of showbiz here in Western Mass.,” she said. “The fair business is a labor of love that requires a considerable commitment and, at times, a substantial sacrifice of personal family time, but the rewards are many.”

Tassinari said social media has had a profound impact on the way the exposition’s marketing department does its job.

“We were early adapters of social media, and it was exhilarating to see our numbers of fans and followers grow on Facebook and Twitter during those initial years,” she said.

Tassinari said social media is as much about customer service as it is about marketing and promotion.

“It has afforded us the opportunity to interact directly with our guests and answer questions, address concerns, and assess trends. It has also provided a great affirmation of how important the Big E is in the lives of New Englanders.

“Clearly, it has become a significant marketing tool, with paid content comprising a healthy portion of our budget,” she continued. “It has created additional employment opportunities in the department and dramatically increased our use of video content. Our visitors share our content or create their own, which we share, extending our reach to potential customers.”

Eugene Cassidy, president and chief executive officer of the Eastern States Exposition, thanked Tassinari for her invaluable contributions.

“Noreen is a force at Eastern States Exposition. She has served three of the seven presidents of this 108-year-old organization, and she has done so with aplomb,” he said. “Articulate, thoughtful, and capable of keeping her cool when the world around her is chaotic, Noreen has had her thumbprint on everything we have done for nearly two generations. To say I will miss her is a monumental understatement; to say I am grateful for her talent and ability is even more understated. I thank God she has been here to support us.”

Anne-Alise Pietruska, co-founder of Mellowship Entertainment and a former exposition intern, is stepping into the role as interim director of marketing.

“She is tremendously creative and capable,” Tassinari said.

In addition to a slate of summer travel and spending family time with her granddaughter, Tassinari said she will continue to seek out community volunteer opportunities in retirement. She is also interested in becoming a weather spotter for National Weather Service Skywarn, a group of trained individuals who provide reports of severe and hazardous weather to help meteorologists and emergency managers make life-saving decisions.

“Being part of a large outdoor event, I have always been weather-engaged, and I would like to take this to another level,” she said.

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