Anyone who grew up or lives in rural America likely has a pretty good feel for how county fairs — complete with 4H Club members, livestock judging, demolition derbies, tractor pulls, elephant ears, and much more — are an integral part of the fabric of their local communities.
“County fairs are really an annual celebration of agriculture and rural America,” said Defiance County native Nick Sheets recently of his county’s fair at Hicksville.
Those annual celebrations are also an opportunity to share agriculture’s story with a population increasingly removed from farming traditions and practices. However, in Defiance County fewer people are attending than in years past, which has had some community leaders concerned.
“At one time this was a great county fair, but over the past few years interest and attendance have dwindled,” said Tom Breininger, a retired school principal and farmer who agreed to chair a foundation board to raise funds to help rejuvenate the fair.
One of the first tasks the foundation undertook was to gather community input. The feedback on one point in particular — a resounding 99% — said the place to start was to replace the ancient grandstand, which had been built soon after the county’s first fair in 1877. Respondents also indicated that they’d like to get more mileage out of the fairgrounds by having it used more year-round.
Armed with these findings, the foundation quickly set about developing a plan of action, which included raising funds to build a new grandstand, and selecting a steering committee to spearhead the building project. One of those chosen was for the committee was Sheets, who is a financial services officer for Farm Credit Services’ Archbold office. Sheets soon found himself involved in the fundraising aspect as well, helping to facilitate a Farm Credit contribution of $10,000 (half from the local Farm Credit area and half from FCS’s corporate office in Louisville) which he saw as a natural fit for the ag lending cooperative’s stewardship program.
“A lot of our members are involved with the fair, and we really see the value in donating to things that cultivate agriculture, especially at the local level,” said Sheets. “At Farm Credit we try to help farmers be successful, and they in turn help us to do the same. We feel this contribution takes that process full-circle.”
With fundraising for the new grandstand nearly complete, Breininger stated that Farm Credit’s early gift had been instrumental in encouraging other organizations and individuals to donate.
“Farm Credit is recognized as a solid and reliable community member, and once they became involved at the level they did, that made it easier for others to come on board,” he said.
Construction on the new, fully-canopied grandstand is scheduled to start in October and be completed this fall. When finished, it will have a capacity of 1,800, and as more funding comes in, will feature new restrooms, ticket areas, and open patio areas — all handicapped accessible. In addition to enhanced convenience, appearance, safety, and positive image, the new facility should also help with the foundation’s goal of attracting events throughout the year.
“A lot of people have put a lot of time into trying to turn our fair around,” said Sheets. “It’s already starting to happen and we think this new grandstand is going to be a big part of that.”