As the numbers guy for the Vernon County Agricultural Society and Fair Board, treasurer Bill Marohl has his fingers crossed that from Sept. 13-17, the Coulee Region is blessed with good weather, which equates to strong attendance, which equals a healthy financial gain in 2017.
Marohl said fair entries across the board are up this year and the addition of the Badger State Truck and Tractor Pull on Friday evening should result in increased ticket sales.
The Vernon County Fair has been a tradition for 161 years. Marohl said the Vernon County Fair is a “family-friendly fair” and has a strong following. He added that the Vernon County Fair is also earmarked as the last annual county fair held in the state, but noted that Milwaukee County actually holds a fair later in the month, but because they don’t hold it annually it allows Vernon County to hold those bragging rights.
Looking back in history, the first Vernon County fair was a one-day event organized by pioneers and held in September 1856 on Main Street in Viroqua. The fair was set up on a vacant lot downtown, with two stallions, three bulls and two cows exhibited. Inside the courthouse were displays featuring three woven rugs, some patchwork quilts, and a few jars of home-churned butter and sorghum and maple syrup.
Visitors to the one-day fair enjoyed two events: a morning plowing match and an afternoon speech. Between events people could enjoy lemonade and stick candy, the only concessions sold.
Since then, the fair has grown to five days and offers a wide variety of exhibits, food, vendors and other attractions.
In 2017, fair visitors will have the opportunity to view a large variety of Open Class and Junior Fair exhibits. Marohl said there are 469 Junior Fair exhibitors (up from 442 last year) and 372 Open Class (up from 345), with a total of 12,251 entries (up from 11,765). He said the largest increase in Open Class entries was in antiques and photography, while the Junior Fair numbers in photography entries has been on the rise for the past few years.
All exhibitors were required to submit their entries by Aug. 2, with all 4-H and Junior Fair exhibitors required to make their entries online. Open Class had the option to submit entries online or by paper form, with 75 percent utilizing the online entry option. As for entry fee payments, Marohl said the fair board had considered developing a credit card payment system for 2017 exhibitor fees, but costs associated with such a payment system proved to be too costly at the present time.
An all-inclusive season pass for visitors is new this year at a cost of $25. The all-inclusive ticket allows the holder entry onto the fairgrounds and into all grandstand events, without paying a separate fee. Marohl said he did not have any numbers available yet to see if the new ticket option was a popular one or not.
“The all-inclusive pass gives visitors another option, but we still have our old price system in play as well,” Marohl said. He noted that all ticket and pass entry options and fees are available online at www.vernoncountyfair.com.
Since the fair ended in 2016, the fair board has been busy planning for this year’s event with a couple improvements completed. Since last year, the goat barns have been painted and new skylights were added in the Junior 4-H Dairy Barn. In addition, the fair board was able to set aside $20,000 into a money management fund as they look to construct new offices and restrooms on the grounds.
Marohl said the cost of the office/restroom combination project is pricey and won’t be done overnight, but blueprints have been developed for future development.
Food vendors remain intact of 2017, with the exception of one. The former Wild West food stand will be replaced by the Viroqua Masonic Lodge.
New on the Bob Fredrick Free Stage is The Dolli-Pops (interactive youth music), Holy-Rocka-Rollza (1950s rock ‘n’ roll band) and Gypsy Rattle Can (spray paint artist), along with the popular cricket spitting contest on Sunday and local homegrown talent daily.
Vernon County Fair Board secretary, Ken Deaver, said fair-goers can also enjoy a wide variety of commercial exhibits on the grounds. He said the number of commercial exhibitors has been steady for years, with everything from hospitals, schools to Bible camps participating. The Vernon County Cooperative Association also has a building where visitors can learn how a cooperative works, plus don’t forget to stop by the Senior Building while you’re at the fair.
“If someone bows out, there’s always someone else that steps up to fill the void. We try hard not to turn away any local exhibitors,” Deaver said.
If you’re looking for Deaver and his wife, Kay, at the fair you might see them near the Ferris wheel, which holds a special place in their hearts. They had their first date at the Vernon County Fair in the 1960s, and were married in 1964. Now 53 years later they still reminisce about the Ferris wheel ride they took so many years ago. Ken Deaver said neither one of them were fond of heights at the time, but they both still enjoy all aspects of the fair yet today.
Wristbands for Mr. Ed’s Magical Midway are $20. They are good for Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 10 p.m. and Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wristbands can be purchased through Mr. Ed’s on Wrist Band Days during fair week.
Marohl said there are so many special memories made every year at the Vernon County Fair. He said some of the most popular events are the exhibits, animal shows, meat sale, draft horse show, tractor/truck pulls, demo derby, harness racing and of course, the carnival and food.
“There is something for everyone, no matter your age at the Vernon County Fair. Don’t miss it,” Marohl said.
For up-to-date fair information, visit www.vernoncountyfair.com.