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Perfect weather graces Illinois' Kane County Fair

8/8/2014

By Linda McNatt

Photo courtesy of Courier News

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You could still hear the excitement in Larry Breon's voice several days after the conclusion of the 2014 Kane County Fair .  Breon, president of the Kane County Fair Board in St. Charles, Illinois, was grateful that the fair came off without a hitch and that the weather had been fair enough to accommodate all of the activities during the fair's July 16 through July 20 run.

"It certainly wasn't that way last year", Breon said. Two days of solid rain set in for the five-day event, he said. There was another two days of near tornado-like winds that devastated the activities. The fair was opened only intermittently during the entire time, he said.

Last year wasn't good. But this year was different.

"The fair this year went well, very well," said Breon, who has been attached to the fair since he was a child and PresidPhoto By Courier Newsent of the fair association for more than 20 years. "One of the nicest things was the weather. We're grateful for that. I'm sure we did well because of the weather."

Breon estimated that about 92,500 people attended this year's fair, and he estimates that number is about an 80 percent increase over last year. The fair has averaged between 75,000 and 150,000 attendees for the last several years.

The 2014 fair marked the 146th edition of the event.  It started way back in 1868 and has moved several times until it settled in its current location in 1952. The fair occupies a 40-acre site in the city of St. Charles, a metropolitan Chicago suburb. Breon said the trees, grass and shrubs give the area a park-like feel.

St. Charles, with the Fox River running through its center, has a rich history in the American Indian culture and an even richer history in the area's agricultural roots. Breon praises the 4H programs in the surrounding area and credits those programs for much of the Kane County Fair's success over the years.

"We have great 4H programs here, our open animal shows are always a huge success," he said.

For Breon, the fair is all about 4H, the youth organization administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He said the first Kane County Fair he attended was in 1952 and since the,  62 years later,  the nature of fairs has seriously changed.

The fairs used to be all about agriculture, he said. Farmers would attend the fairs and learn about new farming techniques or new fertilizers. And although fairs have certainly evolved and adopted more modern forms of entertainment, 4H remains a big part of the Kane County Fair.

Today, he said, the fair gives youngsters a chance to show the public what they have been working on. And 4H certainly helps to draw crowds.

Admission to the fair was $5 on Wednesday and Thursday and $10 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Members of the military, with proper identifications, were admitted for free on Wednesday and Thursday until 5 p.m. Senior citizens over the age of 62 were also admitted free on Wednesday and Thursday until 5 p.m. Children were also free.

The Kane County Fair is operated by a not-for-profit fair board and gets some funding from the state, said Breon. The fair was advertised in newspapers, on radio and on social media. Breon said the board does not divulge its advertising budget.

Breon said the board organizes surveys and utilizes social media to gauge local interest for events. If he could say one thing to members of the public who may not have visited the fair in recent years, it would be, "We have a world-class facility," he said in a press release.

Breon said he thinks it's important to stay on top of popular trends and set up events that people want to see. ESPN started to show bull riding on TV and made the sport popular around the country, Breon said, highlighting the success of the main show scheduled for Friday night and 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday night.

The fair offered several specials for those attending.  Both Wednesday and Thursday were Customer Appreciation days. Gate admission was $15 with unlimited rides from 3 p.m. to closing, if the admission ticket was purchased at the gate. Friday was Super Saver Day, which offered $20 unlimited rides from noon until 5 p.m. On Saturday, Community Day, there were unlimited rides for $20, from noon to 5 p.m. That same offer went through Sunday, Fair Finale Day. Later in the day on Sunday, from
6 p.m. to close, those attending the fair could get in for $5 and unlimited rides until close cost $12. 4H members, on Thursday, could get unlimited rides all day for $15.

The midway at the Kane County Fair was operated by Fantasy Amusement Company of Prospect Heights, Ill. The company has been in business since 1985.  Fantasy provides midway services for the greater Chicago area, central Illinois,  northern Illinois and northwest Indiana.

Fantasy Amusement Company was started by Bill and Mary Johnson with only eight rides, some games and a popcorn wagon. The company now has more than 40 rides, games and concessions. It's a family-operated business. Oldest daughter Katie manages a game and assists in the office, along with owning a game and a ride. Son-in-law Ivan is a team leader and middle daughter, Kelly, runs the funnel cake concession.

Kelly's husband, Vincent, is also a team leader and owns the slushie stand. Youngest daughter, Alyce, helps with the popcorn wagon and with game breaks during the busy fair season.

Nephew Bob has worked for Fantasy for over 20 years and is a partner in a game. Concession manager Mike, now general manager, has been with the company for 28 years along with his wife Laurie, who helps run the show's office. Team leader Rick has been with the company for over 20 years, along with his wife Gina, who runs a game. Most of the company's employees have been with Fantasy Amusements for more than 10 years.

The Freak Out, new Wacky Worm Coaster, the Matterhorn, Pharoah's Fury, the Super Shot, and the 1001 Nachts were all part of the midway at the 2014 Kane County Fair.  In addition, Fantasy also booked in several independent operators including Blake McDonagh with his Alpine Bobs and Wisdom Beetle Bobs and Patrick Sheridan with his Monkey Maze, Winky the Whale, and Balloon Race kiddie rides.  The schedule works in favor of the independent operators who are coming out of the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar, CA enroute to the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis, WI.

Breon continued to praise the weather they experienced during the 2014 fair.

"This was one of those years you dream about but don't see very often," he said.


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