WISCONSIN DELLS — Each year, thousands of people attend county, district or state fairs, sharing with friends and family the great times they had. Maybe it was their first encounter seeing a cow, riding the Ferris wheel, eating a corn dog, serving as superintendent for 30 years or even getting engaged — whatever the memory, it happened at the fair.
For the past five years, the Wisconsin Association of Fairs has asked fairgoers to submit their Wisconsin fair story each November for the “Every Person Has a Fair Story” contest, held in honor of Bob Williams, former Fairs Coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Williams was known as one of the great story tellers in the fair industry but also enjoyed hearing the stories of others who had attended the fair.
A handful of stories were submitted for the fifth and final year of the “Every Person Has a Fair Story” contest, with the winners announced at the annual Wisconsin Association of Fairs Convention on Jan. 6 during the opening session. Entries were divided into districts and judged, with four fairgoers receiving $50 in prizes as district winners, and two other fairgoers awarded the titles of Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion, plaques designating their honors and $250 and $150 in cash, respectively.
This year’s Grand Champion fair story was written and submitted by Lori Ripp of the Lodi Agricultural Fair. In her story, Ripp shared how 11-year-old exhibitor Thea Collins approached her and asked if she could enter her peacock after the unfortunate death of a new breed of chicken she had planned to bring to the Lodi Ag Fair that year. After searching the premium book, Ripp gave the exhibitor the OK and then consulted Donnie, the fairground’s “Mr. Fix It,” to build a large cage for the fair’s first ever peacock entry.
“On entry day, Thea came to the Lodi Agricultural Fair holding her peacock’s head and body covered by a guinea sack and the tail extending to the back and curving round the inside of the family mini-van,” Ripp wrote. “Thea exhibited her bird and got a big blue ribbon, and the judge was so impressed with the cage that Donnie earned a blue ribbon too.”
The story continued as Collins also entered two very unique projects in the Junior Exhibit Hall: a picture frame with shed peacock feathers inside and a 3-foot metal peacock garden art piece. The pieces were considered “must see entries” at the fair that year, earning Thea Collins two more blue ribbons.
Collins ended up taking her garden art piece to the Columbia County Fair, where she exhibited it one final time. Ripp later learned that Collins had donated it to the fair’s meat/animal auction to raise funds for the poultry exhibitors to travel to different meat judging competitions.
“At 11 years old, Thea Collins could have given up, but this fair exhibitor didn’t and showed us what lessons fair exhibitors learn, sometimes at a very young age. Truly, there are life lessons beyond blue ribbons.”
This year’s Reserve Grand Champion fair story was written and submitted by Elizabeth Cook, representing the Sauk County Fair. Cook shared the story of three youngsters, Dakota, Lora and Grace, who wanted so badly to be able to show goats at the fair and the $32 she spent to ensure they were able have a great experience.
“After seeing the excitement in the eyes of each child as they practiced during fair week, I just couldn’t fathom only one going home with a trophy,” Cook wrote.
She called the trophy shop and asked if they could make two more trophies. They informed Cook that they could complete them in time for the fair; however, they didn’t have the goat statue to put on the top of each trophy. So Cook phoned her son to see if she could “borrow” two goat tops from the trophies he had won in the past, telling him not to worry as she would replace them.
“As the first trophy was awarded to the top exhibitor, a mix of feelings passed through the audience, the excitement clearly present on the face of the winner and the shear disappointment in the eyes of the other two as sadness and defeat sunk in,” Cook said. “Then, another trophy appeared, and then another trophy...the crowd roared with delight, watching the looks of happiness come across the youths’ faces.
“These littles carried the symbols of their hard work, sweat and achievement with them the rest of the week. One insisted on a new shelf and little Grace, she slept with it all week.”
Receiving $50 for being selected as district winners of the “Every Person Has a Fair Story” contest were Jane Weideman Borchardt, Central Wisconsin State Fair; Lorry Erickson, St. Croix County Fair; and Judy L. McGlin, Calumet County Fair. Ripp also received $50 for being selected as a district winner.
Weideman Borchardt shared her story about meeting Western hero Gene Autry and his sidekick horse Champion at the county fair in Marshfield; Erickson recalled her experiences as a 4-H and fair judge, following in the footsteps of her father; and McGlin wrote about Great Grandma’s white bread recipe, particularly one year where her “golden girls” ate loaves of hot bread destined for the fair.
The “Every Person Has a Fair Story” is sponsored by The Country Today, Farm Report with Pam Jahnke and the National Tractor Pullers Association Inc.