Blank Wins Fair Story Contest

The Wisconsin Association of Fairs teamed up with the Mid-West Farm Report to capture fair memories across generations and across the state this past year. The effort honors the “Every Person Has a Fair Story” contest which was started by the great Bob Williams, former fairs coordinator for the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection more than seven years ago.

Fifty-one fair stories were received this year. Thank you to everyone who submitted their fair story.

Kori Blank won Grand Champion and $500. Sara Hagen was named Reserve Grand Champion and won a $250 cash prize for her story.

Also listed in the top five were Linda Degner, Shelli Hagerty, and Matt Immel.

Kori Blank

It was a typical Saturday morning at the Monroe County Fair. As the sheep superintendent, I was busy
getting things ready for the sheep show, everything from getting the ribbons and trophies together, to
welcoming our judge, to making sure my table helpers (my mom and Chris, my boyfriend at the time)
were all set. The show went on without a glitch and the champions were selected. I was relieved that
another sheep show had come and gone smoothly. I just had to escort the judge to the fair office to get
paid, and then I could join my family and friends to celebrate another successful fair. It was also my best
friend’s last year showing, so we had planned to take some group pictures after the show. While I was in
the fair office I received multiple texts and even some calls asking what was taking me so long to get
back to the sheep barn. By the time I was done and headed back to the barns, I was a bit annoyed and
didn’t understand what the big rush was! My friend Marisa was all ready for our pictures with her,
myself, and my mom, and my aunt was all ready with the camera. Then, right as my aunt said cheese I
heard Chris say my name. To which I turned around to see him on one knee in front of my lambs that
Marisa had shown, holding a ring and a champion banner which read “You will forever be my Grand
Champion. Will you marry me?” I was in disbelief and obviously said yes! Later that day I learned that
not only did Chris line up my Aunt to take the pictures, but he had driven 3 hours that morning from his
home county fair to go to my family’s dairy farm in Cashton to ask my dad’s permission to marry me,
then drove 40 min back to Tomah to help me at the sheep show, all before 8 am! 7 years, one wedding,
many new sheep, and 3 children later, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect way to get engaged!
Fairs have always been Chris and I’s favorite places to go. And we are so excited for our children to show
in the same barn that we got engaged in!

Sara Hagen

Growing up on my family’s dairy farm in Viroqua, WI meant we had a front row seat to the Vernon
County Fair. Coming from a long line of dairy showmen, I had a halter in my hand going in circles around
the ring as soon as I became 4-H age eligible. This also meant I had high expectations to perform well
and consistently found myself at or near the front of the line in both animal and showmanship classes.
My favorite memory from all my years of showing happened back in Middle School at the county fair
when Bob Hagenow was our dairy cattle show judge. I had just won Grand Champion with my prize
home-grown cow, so I knew my girl looked good and I had shown her well. As the Intermediate
Showmanship class got underway, a few kids were pulled into line shortly after making the first loop. I
figured I would get pulled in soon and I could slowly make my way to the front before final assessments
were made. As more and more kids were selected ahead of me, my confidence began to drop, and I
silently wondered what I was doing wrong. Soon there were only a few of us left and I tried even harder
to make sure I wasn’t in the dreaded last place. My eyes were starting to glisten as I was finally pulled
into line behind every. one. else. As I waited to hear the judge’s comments on what I could do next time
to improve, fighting the urge to hang my head and cry, he surprised us all by reversing the order
meaning I had actually won the class! His goal was to find those who kept showing to the best of their
ability and didn’t give up when logic and self-doubt told them otherwise. My perseverance had paid off;
I received a big trophy that now collects dust on a shelf, renewed confidence in my abilities both inside
and outside of the showring, and a fantastic memory to help me know when to dig in and keep giving it
all I’ve got.

Linda Degner

The swine show begins as I slide into a seat on the bleacher. I look around the show ring for Jack wearing
his pig butt hat. Sadly, I knew he wasn’t there, nor would he ever be again.

Jack, large in stature usually wearing a white t-shirt, jeans, and suspenders was a man of few words. Like it or not he simply told you what he thought. Yet he had a heart of gold and would fight tooth and nail for any youth in our fair program. If an exhibitor and animal couldn’t find a ride to the fair, he would see to it that they got there even if it meant hauling them in his car. He raised his children and helped raise his grandchildren in the 4-H and fair programs. As time went on his body began to show the years of hard work and abuse that most farmers inflict upon themselves to feed the world. Movement was painful and there were many things that he had done in the past that he could no longer do. Still, he never missed a day of the fair.

On my way to Exhibition Hall, I saw Jack sitting at a picnic table. I walked over and sat down. He grinned
and said, “It’s hell to get old.” By now Jack was on oxygen and every breath was a gift. I smiled at him
knowing how badly he wanted to turn back the hands of time. We talked about how things had
changed since we started working together. When there was a lull in the conversation, he looked at me
and said,” You need to be somewhere don’t you?” As I got up, I said, “I do but I wouldn’t pass up a
chance to spend time with you.” He chuckled. As I walked away, I said, “You have a great day at the fair
Jack!” He smiled and said, “Oh you know I will.” I left a piece of my heart at that table that day.
As I now look around the show ring, I see snippets of Jack. His daughter is announcing the show and his
son-in-law is wearing that well used pig butt hat. The baseball styled cap isn’t as bright as it once was,
but it’s still making the exhibitors laugh. Jack’s love and passion for our little county fair will live on
through the generations.

Shelli Hagerty

Carol and I were in the fair office when it began to storm and the races had to be cancelled. The Fair
Coordinator asked us to bring some cash to the multipurpose building to refund people. She said to
bring a police officer with us. He ran out into the rain to his vehicle and we thought he was going to pick
us up by the door. We saw a police vehicle pull up, ran out and Carol was able to open the back door
and get in. I went around to the other side but the door was locked so I proceeded to try all the doors
which were locked and I noticed nobody was in the driver’s seat. I ran back into the office, completely
soaked and opened the door a little bit to hear Carol knocking from the inside of the police vehicle
unable to get out. Tried calling her, but her phone was in the office. Soon we saw a police officer get
into the front seat so I ran back out and tried to get in, but the doors were still locked. Finally the officer
let me in and as I hopped in he said, I don’t know what is going on here as I just came to get some
cheese curds for the jail staff. Carol was in the prisoner side with plexiglass between us and just kept
repeating “what just happened?” The officer then asked are you with the fair administration? He drove
us to the building and dropped us off in what seemed like knee deep water. We went running into the
building to a very long line of people waiting for refunds. I was laughing so hard I couldn’t even talk.
The fair coordinator had no idea what was going on and said get it together we have hundreds of people
waiting for refunds! It must have happened that Carol opened the police car door at the exact same
time the officer was getting out or the door would have been locked and in the dark, pouring rain,
thunder and lightning, we did not see him get out and walk away and he did not see her get in so when
he returned to the vehicle he was startled beyond belief to find a “prisoner” in the back seat and then
another lady knocking on his window to get in!

Matt Immel

Fairs run deep in my family’s heritage. Growing up, the month of July was off limits for parties,
weddings, birthdays. July was fair month!

As a kid, I looked forward to fair week as if it was Christmas. The fair was my summer vacation. As I grew up and entered into 4-H, the fair became more about learning, competition, and making friendships and memories. I have so many fond memories of working in my grandfather’s workshop in the summer making my woodworking projects with him. My grandparents also taught me how to raise and show hogs. By the time I began showing hogs, grandma and grandpa no longer raised hogs of their own, so I bought my feeder pigs from a local farmer. I never spent much on a hog. I was taught to pick the best-looking hogs from the litter and then do my best to raise a quality product for the fair.

After 4-H, I worked for several summers for my grandpa in the treasurer’s office. Grandpa was treasurer and manager of our fair for a few decades. While working with him, I was able to see a different side of my grandpa that I now know many respect. I was able to see the leader he was, the passion he had for the fair and the youth, and the passion for which he served his community.

Fast forward to today. I’ve been serving on our fair board for 20 years now mainly as treasurer just like
grandpa did. My twin boys were born on the opening day of the fair 16 years ago and now work side by
side with me each year doing whatever is needed to make the fair a success. I lost my grandfather three
years ago and grandma joined him in heaven last fall. This summer was my first fair without both of my
grandparents by my side. I miss the little things…like breakfast at the Farm Bureau stand each day with
grandpa and how grandma would always stop in my office each morning to vacuum, take out the trash,
and tell me she was proud of me. This year I ate breakfast alone and my office carpet was dirty, but my
heart was full with the memories of grandma and grandpa that I will cherish forever. Their heritage and
passion for fairs will go on through me and my family.