Celebrating past fairs, looking towards future
In early June, the Wright County Fair Board released a statement that announced the postponement of the 150th Fair until July of 2021. With most other fairs being postponed or canceled as well, the summer months have felt a little different with the absence of fair festivities. While the fair, which was scheduled to take place this week, will undoubtedly be missed, the Fair Board is refocusing their attention to making the 150th Fair next summer a great celebration.
In March, the Fair Board began to take a hard look at the COVID-19 pandemic and how it would affect the fair. Fair Board President Ward Westphal explained that, while they were hopeful the fair could still go on, the possibility of canceling was kept in the back of their minds as they watched other county fairs cancel.
“We saw them closing, and it was an inevitable reaction to the virus and government restrictions,” Westphal said. “The rules make it impossible to put on something this large.”
While many other fairs announced their cancellations much earlier this year, the Fair Board decided to wait until they were closer to the date in case of any changes to the pandemic and restrictions.
In the years since the fair was founded in 1870, there have only been two other summers that the fair was canceled. These were during World War II, where the fairgrounds in Howard Lake served as a P.O.W. camp for captured German soldiers.
Postponing the Fair
While the news that there would not be a fair was a disappointment for many, Westphal knows the decision, not made lightly, was the best option.
“It wouldn’t have been the kind of fair people would want to go to,” Westphal explained. With capacity limits, restrictions on exhibits, strict sanitary procedures, and more guidelines in place, the fair would not have been able to truly celebrate 150 years to its full capacity. For a normal Friday night at the popular demolition derby, people are turned away because it is quickly sold out. With COVID restrictions in place, this would heavily limit the crowd and not allow even more people to enjoy it.
“We felt bad enough turning people away on a Friday night,” Westphal said of the derby.
These restrictions would also take a toll on the fair’s budget, as their fairgoer numbers would have dropped dramatically, whether it be from limiting the number of people or safety concerns keeping people away.
“We had to ask, do you put on a fair and lose money?” Westphal explained. “Or, do we preserve what we have?”
This year’s fair had a solid budget, and since the cancellation helps them avoid losing money from less participation, it is one that can now roll into next year.
With their focus now on preparing the 150-year celebration of the Wright County Fair, Westphal said they are planning the same schedule they had for this year. The special additions for the 150th celebration include a firework show that Saturday night, an aerial circus, and pro wrestling in the Grandstand; the Mitch Gordon Band will also return next year.
While Westphal was grateful that the deposits for acts were able to roll over into next year, the process of booking, then canceling a few months later, was a bittersweet realization that the Fair should never be taken for granted.
“You take some things for granted, that you can put it on every year,” Westphal said. “Just going out to the grounds, it’s surreal to realize you can’t put it on. For many of us, this is like a second job, a hobby; it’s what we do.”
Celebrating Past Memories
Though this summer looks a little different without a Fair, the memories of times before cannot be erased. The photos included with this story take a look back on past Fairs and the good times shared. Enjoy the reminiscing, mark your calendars for July 21-25, 2021, and get ready to celebrate 150 years of the Wright County Fair.
“We’re excited to welcome everyone back!” Westphal said.