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Jelsing named Fair Person of the Year

By Staff | Nov 28, 2014

Submitted Pierce County Fair director Don Jelsing accepts the Fair/Event Person of the Year Award from Diane Schell, president of the North Dakota Association of Fairs.

Don Jelsing, vice president with the Pierce County Fair, received the North Dakota Association of Fairs Fair/Event Person of the Year for 2014 at the Dakota Fairs and Celebrations Convention in Bismarck.

The convention was held November 20-22 at the Ramkota Hotel in Bismarck with the award ceremony taking place at a banquet the final night.

Five other people were nominated, including Pam Jallo (Walsh County Fair); Jonathan Garaas (Red River Valley Fair); Ken Forster (Sargent County Fair); Greg Salwei (Tri-County Fair) and Diane Schell (McLean County Fair).

The award has been handed out each year since 1974. Thirty one fairs/events from North Dakota were represented.

The award was presented to Jelsing by Diane Schell, president of the North Dakota Association of Fairs.

“It just means an awful lot,” Jelsing said. “Like in a lot of situations like this, you’re being nominated by the people you work with. When you can get chosen by your peers in the North Dakota Association of Fairs, it’s nice to be honored. The president of the fair association, when he shook my hand. he said this should’ve been done a long time ago.”

In attendance to see Jelsing receive this award were fair board members, including Jelsing’s wife Paula, Don and Khloe Sobolik (directors), Greg Berginski (president), Paula Jelsing and Alesia Brinkmeyer.

When he received the award, he was very humble and that’s the type of guy he is,” Sobolik said. “He’s very deserving of the award.”

Jelsing said he was astonished and flabbergasted when his name was called.

“All the awards in the world don’t make any difference, if we, as a board, can’t accomplish the end, which is bringing a special event to the community that is fun for everybody,” Jelsing said.

Jelsing was nominated by Sobolik. The nomination letter follows.

– Tribune Staff Report

Living and

Breathing the Pierce County Fair

All people who commit themselves to be involved in fair organizations or community events are special. Don Jelsing on the other hand, is special beyond compare. His commitment and dedication has no end. His passion for the fair is beyond measure. The number of hours he puts in towards the fair in his spare time exceeds what many people put in for a full-time job. This alone makes Don Jelsing an excellent candidate for Fair Person of the Year.

There are a few things that Don lives and breathes: NDSU Bison Football, family and friends, and the Pierce County Fair, not necessarily in that order. At our annual fundraising event in February of 2014, Don raised more than $20,000 for the Pierce County fair. He acquired gift certificates, products and services, monetary donations and other items that were sold during a live auction and silent auction. Several items of interest were NDSU Bison helmets, footballs and jerseys, autographed by players and coaches of the three-time NCAA (FCS) football national champions. Don also received an autographed baseball bat from Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins and a football signed by Jim Kleinsasser, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings. How did he manage to get such a collection of sporting memorabilia? By writing personal letters to Joe Mauer’s mother and Jim Kliensasser’s mother, asking for their support. He reminded them that the Pierce County Fair is in an area with a huge fan base.

Don has a way of asking for things and making people feel like he is doing them a favor by letting them donate something to such a special event. He also has quite a black book of contacts and resources that he does not hesitate to use when something is needed for the fair. He has a special knack for making people want to help his cause and feel great about it. While traveling with Don, I’ve seen him stop at a business hundreds of miles from Pierce County and manage to walk away with a donation or gift certificate to be used for the fair, asking him to make sure he checks back with them next year too. He feels so blessed by the generosity of others towards the fair; he in turn is generous with his own resources.

Don also inspires others by his commitment and dedication. At times when other fair board members are a bit overwhelmed and would like to do things a different way because it would make it easier for the board, he reminds us that the fair is for the benefit of our attendees, not for us.

And don’t forget the hundreds of hours spent at the fairgrounds, preparing the barns, fixing equipment, gathering tools, putting up signs, moving stages and bleachers, putting up corral panels, mowing and weed eating, painting and hand loading 200 square bales of straw he managed to talk a local rancher into donating.

Many may not know that Don revived the Pierce County Fair in 1991 after it ceased in 1959. He was the driving force for nine years, until county funding for the fair came to an end as did the fair. He again was a driving force to revive the Pierce County Fair one more time in 2008. In those 16 years, he has been the constant; he has been the face of the Pierce County Fair, a model if you would. In February of 2013, Don underwent open heart surgery to remove a strawberry shaped tumor from his heart. He continued to be heavily involved in the planning for the upcoming fair in July, and sure enough, he was there driving the bobcat, moving equipment, and doing the work of two people, getting the fairgrounds ready.

It is the blood, sweat and tears that he sheds that make the Pierce County Fair what it is today. Rugby and Pierce County are forever grateful to have such a committed, generous and caring individual to lead us to such a successful event.

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