WISCONSIN DELLS — According to Isabella Haen, 2018 Wisconsin Fairest of the Fairs, the word “fair” is so much more than its definition in the dictionary. To Haen, the fair means food, faith and farming; it means learning and spreading the word about agriculture. Fairs also inspire those who attend and those who volunteer; and fairs are an opportunity to tell the real stories of those in the agricultural field.

“Go out and find your definition of ‘fair’ and share your real story,” she said Jan. 9 in her farewell address at the Wisconsin Association of Fairs’ Awards Banquet and Fairest of the Fairs Finals.

But as Haen’s Fairest of the Fairs story ended that evening, a new fair story began with the crowning of Meghan Buechel of the Brown County Fair, who will serve as a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Association of Fairs in 2019, representing all 76 Wisconsin county and district fairs.

“I’m so honored and excited to serve as 2019’s Wisconsin Fairest of the Fairs,” she said. “It’s crazy to have won but crazy exciting.

“To be representing Wisconsin’s fair industry leaves me speechless.”

Buechel’s passion for the fair began 13 years ago as a young girl in the show ring exhibiting sheep and swine at the Brown County Fair. She has exhibited 13 different project types through her years of involvement in 4-H and FFA, adding that her participation in the fair has always been one of the highlights of her years growing up.

“These projects have taken me down a road of learning responsibility, shown me the fruitful products of hard work and the importance of learning something new to become better each year,” she said.

Upon graduating from Wrightstown High School, Buechel began attending UW-La Crosse, where she is currently a junior studying microbiology and pre-occupational therapy. She has ambitions to graduate from UW-La Crosse in 2020 and be admitted into graduate school for occupational therapy.

She is currently employed in the UW-La Crosse microbiology lab as a lab assistant and also works at Gundersen Health System as a rehabilitation technician.

She is the daughter of Bill and Jen Buechel of Wrightstown.

In her opening speech at the awards banquet, Buechel spoke of her connection to her clients, who have taught her the only limitation one can have is a poor attitude.

“Working in therapy settings, especially those involving persons with varying abilities, has brought me so much joy in the past and continues to do so today,” she said. “This passion of mine is rooted deep within me, which is why I dream of becoming an occupational therapist.”

Just this past year, Buechel participated in volunteer work as a physical activity mentor for people with disabilities, volunteering to assist at a special needs group called “Picky Eaters Anonymous” and assisted children receiving horse therapy at an equine center.

As this year’s Brown County Fairest, Buechel was even able to cross her career with her role as Fairest, escorting a group of clients from a local adult day service facility — her personal VIP guests — around the fair on an outing of theirs.

“It was the most heartwarming, personal thing that I have done as Fairest, and a memory I will hold dear to my heart forever,” she said.

While becoming an occupational therapist is a goal of Buechel’s, another goal of hers is to remain involved at her local fair. And while becoming Fairest was a great first step toward that goal, Buechel has other ideas too.

“I would love to stay involved by promoting the fact that ‘fairs are for all,’” she said. “Part of this goal includes working with fair board members to create a ‘Special Abilities’ division at the Brown County Fair.”

As Brown County’s Fairest, she logged more than 1,000 miles and attended nearly 30 events for a total of 166 hours. She said she feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to spread her own fair story and loved having the chance to tell others why they should love telling their own stories too.

In her new role as Fairest of the Fairs, Buechel is looking forward to meeting a whole score of new people from all around Wisconsin.

“This state is pretty great and I can’t wait to see what it all has to offer, especially the people,” she said.

She wanted to thank her family, friends and boyfriend for their support and help as she prepared for the competition, as well as Brown County representatives Kevin Ress and Nicole Nohl.

“It has been an honor to work with Meghan and see the world through her eyes,” said Nohl, who serves as the Brown County Fairest of the Fair program coordinator. “I’m thrilled for the journey she will embrace this coming year as she connects with people throughout the state.”

Sharla Boehlke of the Ozaukee County Fair was named this year’s runner-up. Boehlke is a junior at UW-Madison, studying nutritional sciences with an emphasis on dietetics. She was active in her 4-H club as a youth and continues to give back by serving in various capacities, including as a 4-H youth summer camp counselor and adult volunteer.

Following Boehlke as second runner-up was Northern Wisconsin State Fair’s Molly McIlquham, a senior at UW-River Falls studying soil science. She has ambitions to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and to share her passion for soil health with others in the future.

The third and fourth runners-up were Morgan Rynish of the Outagamie County Fair and Emily Ranke of the Fond du Lac County Fair. Other Fairests who made the top 10, in no particular order, included Kaylie Schnelinske, Sheboygan County Fair; Emily Matzke, Lodi Ag Fair; Avonlea Odling, Walworth County Fair; Tori Timme, Marquette County Fair; and Kellie Kjeseth, Polk County Fair.