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Wadena County Fair to celebrate 128 years, June 22-26

The Wadena County Fair, which celebrates its 128 fair in 2022, will open on Wednesday, June 22 and continue through Sunday, June 26.

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Rides filled up nicely for those hitting the midway at the Wadena County Fair Thursday, June 17, 2021.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
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WADENA — It's the Wadena County Fair's 128th anniversary this year, and the county's Agricultural Society is planning to celebrate with a wide variety of events old and new including wrestling, car racing, a rodeo, demolition derby, truck and tractor pull, live music, dancing, storytelling, food and fun for all ages.

More than 40 different shows and events are planned, along with a carnival midway, 4-H and FFA project displays, a kids' petting zoo and of course, plenty of food options to choose from throughout the weekend.

Gate admission is free, as is parking, which is a bit of an anomaly for county fairs in this area.

"We are one of the very few fairs that have both (free parking and gate admission)," said fair organizer Kylene Lehmann, adding a plea for visitors to please respect those areas designated as no parking zones.

"We have very limited parking so we ask people to be mindful when (and where) you park," she added.

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Many of the events are offered free of charge also, but there is a cost involved in attending the grandstand shows and enjoying the food and carnival rides.

Grandstand shows this year include Wojo's Rodeo on both Wednesday and Thursday nights; enduro racing on Friday; a truck and tractor pull on Saturday; and a demolition derby on Sunday.

This year's rodeo shows will feature a special guest: "How to Be a Cowboy" star Cheech Nation, also known as champion roper Jesiah Zapata.

"Cheech will be the announcer for both shows," said Lehmann, adding that his inclusion resulted from a random message that her son had sent to Zapata via his Instagram account, asking if he would be interested in being a part of their rodeo.

To their surprise, he responded affirmatively. "He is qualified to do it," she added, noting that Zapata is a professional rodeo announcer with the PRCA.

Enduro racing will be returning as a fair event this year as well, she added; the Friday night event is actually the second of a five-race series hosted by the Wadena fairgrounds this summer.

Justin Berg, who is the organizer for the enduro racing events, said the series typically draws about 50-60 racers across the large and small car categories.

"We usually get about 40 racers for the big cars and another 20 or so for the small cars," he said.

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Enduro racing involves the use of "street cars," he added, with the small car category including those who have 4 or 6 cylinder engines, while the larger cars all have V-8's. The main difference between the racing cars and the ones you might drive back and forth to work is that they have roll cages added, Berg said.

New to this year's fair will be the addition of Midwest All-Star Wrestling on Saturday; Lehmann noted that they had been receiving inquiries from as far away as Wisconsin, with people planning to bring a busload of spectators just for the wrestling event.

"It's a free event, but it will be held inside the beer garden," she said.

Another new event this year is the Blue Horse Theatre, which will be doing three shows a day on both Thursday and Friday, at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

"It combines horses and art," said Lehmann of the Blue Horse show, which provides an "interactive equine experience" with the aim of promoting "a better understanding of what horse communication is through art, dance, theater and horsemanship."

Another new event this year is the Family Dance at 4 p.m. on Thursday, featuring "Chopper, the World's Nuttiest DJ."

"He actually asked if he could come and do a dance geared more toward families," Lehmann said, adding that the DJ interacts with the crowd and uses some fun props to enhance the family-friendly atmosphere.

Chopper will also be doing an evening show at 8 p.m. in the beer garden, said Lehmann, noting that the second show will be geared more toward adults.

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Another new addition this year is the inclusion of FFA and open class exhibitors for all of the fair's livestock shows.

Kristen Betts, who is heading up the livestock shows for the first time this year, said she's "really excited" by the changes to the format.

"FFA has been very big in a lot of different schools around the area, and the fair board really hasn't done a lot with the FFA," said Betts, noting that she began working closely with Verndale ag teacher Hanna Milligan this year on including FFA students in more fair events.

"The shows are basically the same, but we're opening them up to a wider variety of kids," Betts said.

Including FFA and open class competitors in the shows isn't the only change this year, she added.

"All of our livestock shows this year are 'show and go,'" she said, which means that no pre-registration is required; competitors can show up the morning of the show and register, compete in their event or events, then go home at the end of the day.

Livestock show participants can choose to stall their animals at the fairgrounds for the shows, and have their registration fees waived, Betts added — but this means that they must keep their animals stalled at the fairgrounds for the duration of the fair.

Another addition will be a Sunday youth livestock auction that is open to all competitors who received blue ribbons in their respective divisions.

"We've had livestock auctions in the past," Betts said, with about 20% of the proceeds from those auctions going back to the University of Minnesota Extension, which runs the 4-H programs.

For this year's auction, which includes FFA and open class competitors, "100% of the proceeds will go back to the kids," Betts said.

"This is my first year doing open shows and putting everything together, so I’m hoping we don’t have any bumps in the road — but we probably will," she added.

Nevertheless, "I'm very excited," Betts said. "I've been doing a lot of advertising through Facebook and multi media, talking with a lot of people and putting out fliers. My goal is to double, or even triple our numbers from last year, and it's kind of looking like that's where things are going."

A complete schedule of events, including details about the carnival, the new FFA petting zoo, grandstand events and free entertainment, can be found online at wadenacountyfairmn.com .

"The website is new this year too," Lehmann said. "We did a big overhaul of the site; there's much more current information on there."

One constant, for this year's fair and in years past, is the need for volunteer help.

"We're always looking," said Lehmann. "Some of the needs are physical, and some are not — like sitting at the information building and helping people, giving them directions or telling them what time a show starts."

Anyone who is interested in volunteering can reach Lehmann at 218-639-5364 or by email at wadenacountyfair@gmail.com — or they can reach her via the website listed above, which has a "contact us" feature at the bottom of the main page.

Fair board members also volunteer their time and talent for the fair; none of them are paid for their work, Lehmann said.

"Our fair board is 100% volunteer," she said. "We don't get any money; we get paid in smiles and 'thank yous.'"

A reporter at Detroit Lakes Newspapers since relocating to the community in October 2000, Vicki was promoted to Community News Lead for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and Perham Focus on Jan. 1, 2022. She has covered pretty much every "beat" that a reporter can be assigned, from county board and city council to entertainment, crime and even sports. Born and raised in Madelia, Minnesota, she is a graduate of Hamline University, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in English literature (writing concentration). You can reach her at vgerdes@dlnewspapers.com.
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