Fair brings smiles, joy to many
Carnival rides, concerts, a petting zoo, demolition derby, rodeo and more. There was a little bit for everyone at this year’s Pierce County Fair – the 98th edition – which ran July 2 through July 6.
Fresh attractions like the demolition derby and Young Guns Wild West Show, and returning hits like Thomas Carnival rides and Fargo band 32 Below, kept crowds of people crisscrossing the fairgrounds.
“In general, we thought that the fair was very well attended,” said Don Jelsing, fair board vice president. “We had a little slack on Saturday when it got so hot in the afternoon. The carnival figures were right up there with last year and we thank everyone for the support.”
Jelsing said 32 Below, the concert headliner on July 3, drew more than 700 people – on par with the band’s strong showing last year. He said the final day’s Ranch Rodeo drew about 300 fans and the carnival earned a touch less than last year’s $17,000. The fair gets about five percent of that and Jelsing figures Thomas Carnival may have exceeded $20,000 without the sweltering Saturday heat. The fair doesn’t charge a gate admission, so official attendance figures, though in the thousands, are difficult to pinpoint.
“It’s looking good that we’re going to be all right financially on this,” Jelsing said. “This is 100 percent coming from our sponsors. If we did not have the sponsors we have, I could not say that. Everyone from rural people to the people downtown to the chamber and convention and visitor’s bureau and Eagles Club.”
Jelsing’s list could fill an entire page and that would include generous citizens.
“They say it’s so nice that there’s no gate fee and we can come down and eat and watch the stage shows for free,” he said. “We had so many people open up their hearts and wallets and some even gave me 200 and 300 dollars and said buy some carnival tickets for some kids who might not be able to afford it. Two people from the rural community did that this year.”
Fair event newcomers also received praise for giving patrons new stuff to do. Among the new event organizers are Theresa Kifer, of Theresa’s Quilting lodge, who organized a quilting contest; Jennifer Zachmeier, of Jennifer Zachmeier photography, who organized a photo contest; and Julie Grove, who organized Kid’s Got Talent. All three have already discussed ideas for expanding and improving their attractions.
Lawrence Mattern organized the first demolition derby at the fair in years and received help from B&J Excavating to construct the derby grounds.
“Lawrence changed the rules back to when the demo first started, which left out the people with big engines and big tires,” Jelsing said. “We wanted to let the little guys back in to compete and not just have people who do it for a big hobby.”
The fair board takes a break in December, but organize for the fair more than 10 months a year. The board operates with a budget between $50,000 and $60,000 each year and receives $10,000 from a county levy. Members meet each November at a fair convention and start meeting with vendors and booking entertainment.
Though many ideas come from interacting with other fair organizers, Jelsing emphasizes the board’s willingness to listen to the community’s ideas. Even before the fair ends, new ideas are seriously being discussed.
“Just because we go through all this work, it doesn’t mean the board isn’t looking for suggestions,” he said. “Someone wants to have a lefse contest. We might even get into an ethnic (food) competition of German vs. Norwegian. So we’re looking to add some suggestions to the chamber for the parade too, like best sporting float, like Bison vs. Sioux, or Rugby Panthers vs. Bison to see what fans make the best floats.”
The fair Sunday is bittersweet for fairgoers, volunteers and organizers, but the thought of how to improve for next year keeps people energized.
“It’s the warm, fuzzy feeling of the whole thing,” Jelsing said. “That’s why we do this. It’s not that we make a couple thousand, or whatever, it’s because of the screaming of the kids on rides and smiles at petting zoos.
“It’s such a mixed bag of emotions when it ends. I don’t have children of my own, but for me the event is over and you have such an empty feeling when you sit on the fairgrounds and yet it’s that feeling of satisfaction that we did it and we made it through it. Everybody is tired and stiff and sore and sweaty, but we did it. It’s not just us. The community did it. In all the county fairs I’ve gone to, I absolutely think we have one of the best county fairs in North Dakota.”
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