Thursday, August 7th, 2008
By Margie Wuebker
On your mark, Get set...
New manager on the go preparing for opening of Mercer County Fair
Steve Schulte pauses to answer the latest in a string of cell phone calls amid the sound of hammers, voices and radios wafting across the Mercer County Fairgrounds on Wednesday - just two days before the fair opens.
"I used to come to the fair all the time as a kid," says Schulte, who assumed the post of fair manager in January. "It was like a plane flew overhead and magically dropped everything in place. I never realized, or appreciated for that matter, all the work involved in turning plans and visions into reality."
There is an air of excitement everywhere as workers set up rides and youngsters put the finishing touches on display booths. Tents are up and concession stands advertising blooming onions, sugar waffles and root beer have staked out spots along the midway.
The 156th Mercer County Fair opens at 8 a.m. Friday for a seven-day run.
Among the recently completed projects at the fairgrounds are a ramp making the grandstand handicap accessible and a 1,078-square-foot restroom addition to the Junior Fair Building. The second phase of the Junior Fair Building renovation project, slated to begin in the fall, includes the installation of new heating and air conditioning systems making the building available for year-round use.
Schulte said the fair board members are committed to taking the fair to the next level.
"Going to the next level involves being up there with the big guys - the Darke, Auglaize and Allen County fairs," he says. "Everybody has to work together toward a common goal and be prepared to think outside the box. If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always gotten."
The fair board has brought in a new ride company - Poor Jack's - which also services the Allen County Fair.
"We wanted something cleaner and more professional," Schulte says. "Poor Jack's is one of the players in the business and not one of the little guys."
More money has been channeled into entertainment this year at the entertainment tent as well as the beer garden. The fair manager believes the schedule provides something for everyone from "amazing pianist" Kenny Kidd to a T-102 Roadhouse Party complete with Rowdy Ron Ackerman. Three bands - Dry Ground, Goreloch and the Dustin Burke Band - will be featured at Sunday night's teen concert while various Christian music groups are slated throughout the week at the entertainment tent.
The fair board has brought back the lunch special, which enjoyed considerable popularity in the past. Visitors can enter the grounds weekdays between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. for $5. If they return the ticket by 1 p.m., the admission price is refunded.
"A lot of people like to come out here for lunch," Schulte says. "If they leave before 1 p.m., they get their five bucks back. Those who choose to stay longer make a donation to the fair board."
The fair manager is excited about the new Friday through Thursday schedule that returns the fair to a full seven-day run. That puts three big weekend days up front followed by weekdays equally jam-packed with activities.
"We have something for everyone," Schulte says. "Come out at least one day and check us out. You won't be disappointed."
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Mostly cloudy, rain, thunder