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July 19, 2010 Despite its age, FdL County Fair is still going strong at 159

by heather stanek
The Reporter hstanek@fdlreporter.com

In 1906, a day at the Fond du Lac County Fair would have cost 25
cents.

There were horse races, daredevils and fireworks.

Forget about having an ice-cold beer — alcohol was banned on the
grounds.

Today, adult admission runs about $10.

The horse track is long gone. Only a small section remains in front of
the Grandstand, and it's used for demolition derbies and truck pulls.

Big name country and rock bands have replaced the trapeze artists and
contortionists.

A frosty alcoholic beverage is always within reach. Wisconsin brewer
Leinenkugel's even sponsors a music stage, the Leinie Lodge.

Cultural changes and financial challenges have forced the County Fair
to evolve. Since it's a community event, it has to reflect community
interests. Organizers say change is good, as long as it upholds the
County Fair's goal — education.

The 159th Fair will be held July 20 to 25.

Beginning

Like most new events, the Fond du Lac County Fair started small.

The first Fair was held Sept. 29 and 30, 1852, in Rosendale. More than
$260 in premiums were awarded, according to "Fairs — One Hundred Years
in Fond du Lac County," by Chas L. Hill.

The Fair moved to several locations over the years, including
Courthouse Square in Fond du Lac, Ripon and a field south of the
former courthouse, according to Hill.

The County Fair eventually moved to its current home, the Fairgrounds
on Martin Avenue.

The County Fair endured growing pains of numerous kinds in the early
1900s.

The Fond du Lac County Agricultural Society, the group responsible for
the event, put a greater emphasis on education and affordable family
fun. The Fair always had exhibits, like animals, vegetables and
handcrafted goods, but the arrival of groups like 4-H upped their
presence.

According to a local newspaper story, 55,000 people attended the Fair
in 1919. Attendance jumped to 59,000 in 1920.

In 1933, more than 40,000 people went to the County Fair, according to
records from the Fond du Lac County UW-Extension Office. It was the
first time in 17 years that the Fair was a financial success, despite
taking place in the midst of the Great Depression.

Entertainment

The Grandstand turned into a cultural center and moneymaker for the
County Fair.

Crowds turned out to see more than the cows, crops and canned goods;
they wanted to be wowed by crooners, dashing daredevils and beautiful
women.

In 1964, one of the Grandstand acts was Maryse Begary. According to
that year's premium book, she was "a comely French aerialist" who
doubled for Rita Hayworth in the movie "Circus World."

The Grandstand offered similar entertainment for about two decades.
But the 1970s and 1980s brought about extensive cultural changes on a
national level. Guitar gods and country balladeers had stolen the
spotlight once held by acrobats, clowns and dancing girls.

Since the Fair wasn't getting any cheaper to produce, the Fond du Lac
County Agricultural Society knew it had to act. It hired an agent to
bring in big-name musical acts, said George Stanchfield, president of
the Fair Board and former Fond du Lac County Fair manager.

The first major country acts performed at the 1985 Fair. They were
Conway Twitty, Jerry Reed and Janie Fricke, according to the Fair's
website.

There's been big-name entertainment ever since. Some of the artists
who have performed over the years include Martina McBride, REO
Speedwagon, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Styx, Kenny Rogers, Beach
Boys and Alice Cooper.

This year's entertainers are Neal McCoy, Billy Currington and Ted
Nugent.

With big names come big bills, and it's getting tougher to afford the
acts. Stanchfield said it may cost $100,000 or more, depending on the
performer, for a single artist. The artist fee alone ranges from
$35,000 to $75,000, but then the Fair needs to foot the bill for the
stage, lighting, sound, catering and an agent.

In 1985, the Fair put on three nights of big-name entertainment for
$20,000 to $25,000, he said.

The Grandstand has been included with gate admission for years, but in
order to support the entertainment, the Fair Board started offering
VIP seating in 2009. For an additional fee, spectators could get
priority seating, separate restroom facilities and a beverage stand.

The entertainment lineup has changed, too. Time slots once used for
concerts now offer demolition derbies and truck pulls. Fair Manager
Matt Immel said that's done in an effort to appeal to the masses; not
everyone stops out for the shows.

Other additions to this year's County Fair include a Run/Walk, cream
puff eating contest and lawnmower races.

"There's such a wide variety of people who come to the Fair," he
said.

No change

There are a few constants in the tumultuous sea of change. The County
Fair is — and has always been — about agriculture and education.

Judging is the highlight of the event. It's a chance for all ages to
show the fruits of their hard work, interact with their peers and
share their experiences with the public. Immel said the Fair is about
creating a fun, informative venue for local youth.

"We're a Fair, not a festival," he said. "There is a difference. A
fair is about the exhibitors."

Stanchfield said the Fair Board also wants to keep admission as cheap
as possible. Affordability has been key since the Fair began in the
1850s. Times are tough, and many Fairs have returned to charging
additional fees for Grandstand shows. Some have raised their gate
prices.

Fair organizers know weather is always a factor. Immel said cloudy
skies, rain and lightning keep the big crowds away.

"You hate to keep pointing a finger at the economy. You can only do
that for so long," he said. "You can have the best lineup, the best
vendors, and that won't change the weather."

And even though family farms are disappearing from the landscape,
Stanchfield isn't worried about the Fair losing sight of its focus.
There will always be people with an interest in animals, photography,
crafts and flowers.

"It's more than agriculture, and I think that will continue," he
said.

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  • June 17, 2009 Fond du Lac County Business Development News
  • June 17, 2009 Sign Up To Receive Air Alerts for Fond du Lac County
  • June 17, 2009 McNeilus Steel, Inc. breaks ground on new facility
  • June 12, 2009 State Budget Bill AB75 Update; June 12
  • June 10, 2009 DNR Proposal to change Shoreline Regs
  • June 9, 2009 Governor signs 3 bills into law
  • June 8, 2009 Proposed legislation re public land use
  • June 8, 2009 Wi Windpower opportunities blowing away
  • June 4, 2009 Hunting Ash Borers
  • June 3, 2009 Haulers garbage fees to be passed to consumers
  • June 1, 2009 New landfill charges
  • May 27, 2009 Trash haulers worry about tipping fee hike
  • May 5, 2009 Panel OKs closing walk-in centers for hunting, fishing licenses
  • May 1, 2009 Legislators introduce wind siting bill
  • April 29, 2009 Citizens file appeal of Rosendale Dairy Permit
  • April 27, 2009 Rural residents w/o high speed internet
  • April 26, 2009 New broadband technologies can connect even the most remote places
  • April 23, 2009 Emerald Ash Borer
  • April 21, 2009 Governor Doyle Approves Transit Projects for Federal Recovery and Reinvestment Funding
  • April 21, 2009 Prevailing wage measure worries municipalities
  • April 20, 2009 Mowing the Lawn and What To Do With Grass Clippings
  • April 20, 2009 Stimulus money could bring broadband to rural homes - Complete an Online Survey To Help Distribute Grant Money
  • April 20, 2009 Town of Ashford Liquor Applications for 2009-2010 Licensing Period
  • April 14, 2009 Officials: Landfill plan stinks
  • April 13, 2009 Uniform siting rules for wind power projects sought
  • April 11, 2009 Wind turbines complicate weather monitoring
  • April 9, 2009 Legislation regarding wind energy production being circulated
  • April 8, 2009 Managed Forest Law Getting Another Look
  • April 8, 2009 Spring Election Results
  • April 7, 2009 Emerald ash borer jumps across state
  • April 6, 2009 Notice of Town of Ashford Board of Review Meeting 5/11/2009
  • April 6, 2009 Town of Ashford Open Book Notice
  • April 6, 2009 Notice of Town of Ashford Board of Review Meeting 5/11/2009
  • April 6, 2009 Town of Ashford Annual Meeting April 11, 2009
  • April 5, 2009 Informational tools aim to protect wetlands, help landowners.
  • March 26, 2009 Update on State Budget by Senator Joe Leibham
  • March 25, 2009 Fond du Lac County Candidates and Referendum Questions for April 7, 2009 Election
  • March 25, 2009 Fond du Lac County Spring Roads Posting
  • March 23, 2009 Governor’s proposed budget includes farmland preservation
  • March 18, 2009 Wasps May Help Locate Ash Borers
  • March 17, 2009 Fond du Lac County Current Highway Projects
  • March 16, 2009 Mapping Wisconsin Communities Workshops
  • March 9, 2009 DOT Implements Spring Thaw Restrictions
  • March 9, 2009 Gottlieb and Hopper Introduce Transportation Fund Protection Amendment
  • March 9, 2009 Government Accountability Board
  • March 5, 2009 Bill Proposed That Would Eliminate Spring Electrions
  • March 2, 2009 DNR approves expansion of Rosendale dairy farm to 4,000 head
  • February 28, 2009 Shared revenue cut hits communities unevenly Wealthier areas to lose a larger portion, lower dollar amount
  • February 26, 2009 Milw Journal on Fed Transportation monies
  • February 26, 2009 Online Voter Registration Suggested
  • February 20, 2009 Old Shingles To Cover New Roads
  • February 19, 2009 Low turnout prompts call to move spring vote to fall
  • February 19, 2009 Low turnout prompts call to move spring vote to fall
  • February 16, 2009 Town Of Ashford and Auburn Water Testing
  • February 11, 2009 Outline of Plan From Governor Jim Doyle
  • February 2, 2009 Some lawmakers want to ditch spring elections
  • January 27, 2009 Oregon Farm Receives Dane County Agricultural Grant to Grow, Market Healthy Berry
  • January 26, 2009 WDOT Seeking Comment
  • January 26, 2009 Mega dairy hearing draws hundreds
  • January 25, 2009 PSC Final Report on Great Lakes Wind Energy
  • January 15, 2009 Minnesota, Wisconsin consider sharing to cut costs
  • January 12, 2009 Purchase ensures wetlands preservation
  • January 9, 2009 Southeast Wisconsin Woodland Owners Conference
  • January 7, 2009 KOHL & ISRAEL INTRODUCE WEEKEND VOTING BILL
  • January 5, 2009 Statewide Solar Power Project Possible
  • January 5, 2009 DNR Hearings on Proposed Rosendale Dairy
  • January 2, 2009 2009 IRS Mileage Rates
  • January 1, 2009 2009-10 Assembly GOP Committee Assignments
  • December 28, 2008 Midwest States May Work Together To Buy Road Salt
  • December 26, 2008 Wisconsin Manure To Energy
  • December 19, 2008 Rosendale Dairy denied variance
  • December 17, 2008 Frozen road law goes into effect Dec. 22
  • December 16, 2008 COMMERCE OFFERS WINTER SEASON MAINTENANCE TIPS FOR PRIVATE ONSITE WASTEWATER TREATMENT SYSTEMS
  • December 15, 2008 Cedar Ridge Wind Farm begins producing emissions-free energy
  • December 14, 2008 Give Wind Farms a Fair Chance - A Wisconsin State Journal editorial dated December 12, 2008
  • December 9, 2008 Waste Morphs Into Energy - More Methane Could Reduce Costs
  • December 9, 2008 Wisconsin Boasts Most Manure-To-Energy Projects
  • December 2, 2008 64 more acres sought for Harrington Beach State Park
  • November 11, 2008 Doyle: Deficit Could Reach $5 Billion or More
  • November 7, 2008 PSC Adds Two New Area Codes to Supplement the 715 and 920 Area Codes
  • October 29, 2008 New Factory Farm in Rosendale Threatens Significant Impact to the Environment
  • October 22, 2008 Governor Doyle Dedicates Major Addition to Kettle Moraine State Forest