Locals prepare for the Pierce County FairThe countywide event of the year kicks off this week at the fairgrounds in Ellsworth. It’s time again for the Pierce County Fair, Thursday through Sunday, Aug. 11-14.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
The countywide event of the year kicks off this week at the fairgrounds in Ellsworth. It’s time again for the Pierce County Fair, Thursday through Sunday, Aug. 11-14.
As several locals make clear, preparation for the annual fair begins right after the last one ends.
River Falls resident Frank Ginther has been the Pierce County 4-H Youth Development agent and a professor of youth development for the UW-Extension for 20 years.
In short, he’s the main “go-to” guy who organizes most of the 4-H activities and competitions.
Ginther has lived in River Falls since grade school, later obtaining from UW-River Falls a bachelor’s and master’s degree and working as a “summer agent” in Minnesota.
“We’re the educational support for the fair department,” said Ginther about the Extension’s role before, during and after the fair. “Our main role is education.”
He estimates working with about 350 adult volunteers and about 900 4-H members throughout the county. Ginther does everything from help put together the extensive fair catalog to compiling the entry lists, rules and regulations.
“It takes between 800-900 volunteers to put the fair on,” he said about the overall event.
He gathers feedback from fairgoers and volunteers about what worked and what didn’t, and talks to the other front-line people about different trends they see.
Wine making, for example, drew no entries a few years ago but now is a growing class.
Ginther also goes around during the fair assessing the grounds, the building and all the different pieces that go into setting up an area.
He and the groups of volunteers partner and talk together about everything from how to improve the fair’s infrastructure to how to enhance the overall fair-goer’s experience.
He said he’s closely involved in the youth exhibits.
“There are 35 different junior fair departments,” he said, and adds that they can include anything from dairy to ceramics.
Ginther says he and several UW staffers “move” to the fair in the weeks before it.
He maintains a good-sized supply room full of ribbons, judges’ forms and all the miscellaneous supplies a fair organizer could need: String, duct tape, writing instruments, display materials, hammers and other tools, and more, as well as space where the different 4-H clubs have a storage tub for needed materials.
Ginther makes sure superintendents have supplies, orients and follows up with judges, and generally keeps things organized and moving forward. That might include answering questions, correcting entries or making sure the judge-signed affidavits get sent to the state.
He emphasizes how great it is to work with the outstanding and professional fair staff who manages things like parking, admission, entertainment, the carnival and grandstand shows, and much more.
His spends a lot of post-fair hours assessing how everything held up and gathering feedback. And usually by September, he’s in meetings talking about the next year’s fair.
Ginther thinks a lot of 4-H.
“It engages young people in what 4-H looks for, which is life skill development,” he said, “and it engages people in what we call positive youth development.”
Whether young people are making a dress, readying a cow or other animal or cooking, he says, they learn a number of valuable lessons including decision making, problem solving, relating to others, interacting with adult partners, working as a team and leading activities.
Keith and Rita Bennett of River Falls both fulfill one of the superintendent roles. He oversees open-class photography, and she manages the open-class clothing exhibits.
“We check the stuff in when they bring it to the fair and make sure it’s presented properly,” he said.
Keith has been a project leader for the local 4-H club for the past 35 years and also judges horse and dog photography.
He thinks his wife has been doing her part nearly as long and says the two got involved in 4-H back when their kids were active in the organization.
As superintendents, they do everything from arranging for judges to making sure all the contest results are recorded correctly. Keith reports photography as a fast-growing area, with about 500 entries last year and as many as 700 this year.
He suspects digital cameras make doing photography easier, better and cheaper than it’s ever been.
He said the clothing exhibits aren’t as numerous as before. He suspects sewing may not be as popular either -- maybe because patterns are more expensive or kids are busier.
He says the couple’s work at the fair is interesting and that they see a lot of good ideas and unique items. He considers the experience educational.
“You never quit learning,” he says about the volunteer work.
He said he attends a few meetings throughout the year and during the event, he and Rita come to the fairgrounds just about every day the gates are open. He says they don’t need as much preparation time now that they’re well trained.
With a laugh Keith agrees that part of the fun of the fair is seeing people they haven’t seen since the last year.
Horse of course
Ken Giske of the Walk-On Therapeutic Riding School in town of Kinnickinnic has served on the fair’s horse committee since his daughters -- now in their 20s -- were in about the 3rd grade.
He said the rewards of involvement are great and, “The kids have a lot of fun.”
Giske estimates there are more than 100 kids involved in the fair’s horse project.
He describes the three basic classes of competitive riding: Pleasure, which includes western and English; gymkhana, which involves poles and barrels; and fun and games, which involves a timed run on a trail with different obstacles.
“Some classes judge the rider and some judge the horse,” he said.
Seven years ago, Giske also developed at-the-fair classes for special-needs riders. Giske said the special-needs kids who ride at the fair have typically been with the training program for many years, developing and improving their skills.
“They’ve developed their riding skills to become mostly independent,” he said of the students, adding that one of them has their own horse.
He said all the kids who ride at the fair work with their animals, sometimes all summer or more, and do a lot to prepare for the fair.
Those bringing an animal must prepare a stall, and everyone helps with overall preparation before the animals arrive, including things like painting boards on the outdoor arena, putting up fencing and taking care of signage.
Meet meat buyers
Ginther said the 4-H kids got out and solicit buyers for the meat-animal auction. They receive training in how to dress and conduct themselves -- mainly getting to the point and making “the ask.”
John Schultz of River Falls Tire confirms that he and co-owner Jeff Conwell usually buy a cow or pig from a young fair producer. He says the business pays to process the meat then distributes it to employees.
“Thirty years I think we’ve been buying them,” said Schultz, who adds that it’s a way to help out the 4-H members and also a nice little extra for employees.
Sue Langer of First National Bank of River Falls says her employer usually buys a meat animal from both fairs. Sandy Smith-Wurm remembers going to the auctions with her then-bank president grandfather many decades ago.
Sometime in the early 1970s, the bank would buy an animal from each auction then give it away to employees.
Langer said, “As the bank grew and employee count grew larger, it was decided to instead donate the processed meat to the local food shelves.”
She said the bank will be checking out this year’s auction and whenever possible, try to support a bank customer by buying one of their animals.
Many are the roles local people play at the beloved county event that includes something to interest just about everyone.
Check it out when gates open 7 a.m. Thursday until the fair closes 4:30 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit the fair’s website – www.co.pierce.wi.us/fair/fair_main.