Fun, friends, tradition drive these volunteers
Town & Country
Fair visitors come to the big, annual event for competition, entertainment, food and festivities, and a core group of dedicated volunteers makes sure they find both the traditional activities and a few new twists that often become new favorites.
Aided by a corps of other volunteers, the Mille Lacs County Fair Board members take responsibility for planning, organizing and hosting the huge event. Work continues throughout the year and intensifies in the months before the fair as they tend to an uncountable number of duties.
The vital volunteers of the fair board describe their duties as they answer five basic questions about their for-fun jobs:
–How did you get started with the fair?
–For how many years have you been involved and with what duties?
–Why do you feel it is important work and what about it motivates you?
–What is your biggest challenge with fair work?
–What is the biggest joy working with the fair?
Terry Ash said he got involved with the fair in 1987 and officially joined the board in 1988; he said his original motivation in joining was to shepherd a project to build a billboard, which has now been on the corner since 1990. Ash does basic repair and maintenance throughout the grounds, serves on the Speedway committee and is in charge of the cattle barns during the fair event.
He said it’s an important job keeping the grounds good looking “for the future of 4-H.” Ash thinks the greatest challenge is getting everything ready for the fair. His biggest joy, he said, “seeing the 4-H’ers here with their family and exhibits.”
Florence Dehn said Gene and Judy Gerth inspired her interest in helping. Dehn’s daughter had worked at the gate of the fair, and when she left for college, Dehn took over her duty. First she became a member of the Agricultural Society and joined the board as secretary in 2012.
Dehn serves on several committees, manages the open-class building and supervises office activities. Additionally, she is the coordinator for the Mille Lacs County Dairy princesses and serves on the county American Dairy Board. She enjoys working with the group of girls and seeing them develop into confident young women.
Dehn said, “It is very important to give back to the community and to educate the youth.”
She said finding time to fit it all in before the fair is her biggest challenge, as people want and expect a bigger, better fair every year. Dehn said the biggest joy to fair board volunteerism is “seeing people have fun, enjoying themselves and after all your efforts, things coming together.”
Marty Grimm, like many who help make the fair happen, started volunteering for 4-H at the fair when his family was involved in it. He joined the fair board after learning that the organization needed more help.
He said, “I joined four years ago to help 4-H and the fair grow together.”
Grimm helps with livestock shows and maintenance, mows the grounds and serves as office administrator. He belongs to several of the fair committees and focuses on growing the 4-H partnership for youth. Grimm also initiated the garden-tractor pulling club that has grown from four machines to 30 and uses the fairgrounds as its base.
He said the work is important because it’s about 4-H and representing the county’s youth, as well as entertainment and good food mixed with fun in a safe, clean environment. Grimm thinks the biggest challenge is the massive planning and organization effort each year that goes into making everything look great.
“Seeing the success in the kids’ eyes when they get a state fair trip with their exhibits or win a pullout (in livestock class),” Grimm said about what’s the most fun. “It’s all about success.”
Frank Hartmann started helping with the fair 20 years ago as a way of supporting his children in the 4-H program. He’s been on the board for 12 years and takes care of a variety of duties, including help with 4-H club projects. He’s helped make improvements to buildings and the grounds, such as new structures, walking paths and electrical updates.
He said, “All people have a special talent,” and one of the challenges to fair work is always attracting new county residents to volunteer for the event.
Hartmann thinks communication is vitally important, not only with Mille Lacs but also the five counties around it. He said it brings him joy to see young people gain accomplishment as they compete with other teens and have opportunities stemming from the fair that range from the local level up to the state level.
Tana Haugen-Brown began helping with the fair in 1988, after she moved here from Arizona to take a job with the University of Minnesota Extension’s 4-H program.
“I have enjoyed being a part of the fair each year because of all that it offers for the community and especially kids and families,” said Haugen-Brown. “After I changed positions and no longer worked with the 4-H program, I stayed on the fair board because I love county fairs!”
She has helped with 4-H exhibits and shows, open beef and dairy cattle shows, Saturday kids games, working to get the pavilion built and then the structure for the rabbits, poultry and llamas. Haugen-Brown also serves on the entertainment committee, which brings in fun shows and activities.
She said 4-H was always a highlight of her time in school. “One reason I continue to stay involved is because that sense of wanting to give back or provide that same experience of something I enjoyed so much to others and especially our youth fair exhibitors.”
She agrees that the weather might be the fair workers’ biggest challenge but said it is also disheartening when people complain about the $5 admission charge that is actually kept low by an all-volunteer fair staff and board of directors that works year round.
“Without volunteers, I think the fair would look much different and certainly cost much more,” Haugen-Brown said.
She said the group always takes notes and suggestions of what they can do better and how. The invitation for more volunteers and help is always open, and people can connect with the fair on its Facebook page.
Haugen-Brown said her favorite things are seeing the exhibits on display and knowing that “we” are a part of the opportunity for kids and adults to show off their talents in baking, painting, vegetable gardening, showing an animal and more. There’s a lot of satisfaction in seeing the joy on a kid’s face when they win a ribbon