Fair time means influx of visitors and lots of fun for locals

Lorna Marquardt

Soon, local longtime fair goer Erv Bartz will be proclaiming, “There’s a fair in the air.” Opening day is Aug. 28.

The earliest records of the Shawano County Fair appear in the Sept. 5, 1874, issue of the Shawano County Journal. “Fifteen acres of land was leased on the farm of John Wians for the very low price of $50 per annum. J.M. Robinson has been appointed to superintend the work of fencing, building sheds, and of constructing a trotting course.”

In October 1882, the Shawano County Journal reported, “The exhibition consisted of four-horse wagons, a full-blooded Jersey bull, full-blooded Berkshire pigs that were daisies, a yearling colt, and a display of vegetables good enough to convince the most skeptical that Shawano County can produce the best of vegetables.

“Also on exhibit were harness, millinery, stoves and tinware, and showcases of fancy soaps and perfumery. Gus Wurl of Belle Plaine and a graduate of Oshkosh Business College exhibited fine specimens of his own pen and pencil drawings and penmanship. Sewing machines were on display. Fred Remick, the agent for the Kimball organ, gave impromptu concerts during the day.”

The Shawano County Journal reported, “Despite the grand success financially and otherwise of the 1882 fair, the directors felt there should have been greater participation by farmers.” It was decided a new location was necessary.

In 1883, the executive committee acquired a tract of land from Herman Naber on the south side of Green Bay Street containing some 32 acres for a fairground. The ground was level with plenty of good water and shade for the cattle.

The Oct. 11, 1883, issue of the Shawano County Advocate reported, “Never before in the history of young and progressive Shawano was our town so completely filled with amusements of every kind; shows, theatres, dances, horse races, as during Fair week.”

Today, local businesses profit from the influx of visitors during fair week. It is the time of the year the nonprofit groups raise money for their annual budgets, and area youth proudly display their projects/animals.

Like many others, I am fair enthusiast too. I started attending the fair decades ago when I was a young girl. I stayed at Grandma and Grandpa Robenhagen’s during fair time. I was allowed to keep a few dollars from my bean picking money to attend the fair.

My aunt, Elaine Grosskreutz, worked in a cotton candy trailer owned by Reggie Bodart. She always made my cousins and me a huge sugary treat.

I remember winning a Kewpie doll on a stick at one of the games. She was covered with pink feathers. I have seen the same doll on eBay. I wish I had kept mine.

My hubby and I have great memories of taking our two children to the fair. Our son loved the games, and our daughter liked the rides.

Attending the stock car races during fair time was a must for hubby and me. “Yay Schulz, boo Schulz” could be heard above the roar of the cars as they raced around the track.

When I was elected mayor, I was invited to the opening ceremonies. Norm Habeck always did a wonderful job of welcoming visitors to the fair. He was such a dear man and dedicated veteran. Standing beside him was one of my proudest moments.

Of course, I always make my way over to the bingo tent for a few games. I still smile as I fondly remember Don Schoedel saying “O-66, clickity click,” and I-16, oh how I wish.”

I remember the first time my son’s wife went with us to the Fireman’s Stand. It was the first time she ever ate chili with peas. She thought they had been put in the chili by mistake. My son just grinned; he grew up eating Shawano chili with peas.

Buying a fair pass was a good purchase. We have attended the fair for many years and it has more than paid for itself. Currently a lifetime pass costs $275. It admits the holder, spouse and children up to 16 years of age.

The fair is primarily run by volunteers and area nonprofit groups. This year I am planning on listening to one of Shawano’s own, Aaron Wallrich, as he joins his band “Stage Hoggs” on the midway stage on Labor Day beginning at 12:30 p.m.

Aaron is active in our community serving as president of the Shawano Rotary Club, member of Public Works (field committee) and treasurer of the Elizabeth Street Complex (job center) board. It will be nice to see him as a drummer, entertaining the community he serves.

Of course, the food; tasty cheese curds, fry bread, cream puffs, gyros, fries, cheeseburgers, chili, corn dogs, caramel apples and cotton candy keeps people coming back for more.

Then on Monday night, hubby and I will drive by and see the rides being taken down and the volunteers cleaning the stands, and we will look at one another and say, “Let’s hope we are both here next year when the fair is in the air.”

Lorna Marquardt is a former Shawano mayor.