Jerome Hertel began his new position as Manager of the Alaska State Fair on December 14, deep in the heart of winter. But if you think that Alaskan winters are all about hibernation, well then, you just haven't been to Palmer.
According to the City of Palmer website, winter recreation abounds. When not out skiing, ice skating, snow shoeing, snow machining, dogsled mushing (!) and the like, you can while away the hours "at truly Alaskan gourmet restaurants, and shop at many unique and surprising retail stores."
Then every summer, Palmer's surrounding Matanuska Valley becomes "a garden hub for the state." In fact, the Palmer community began as a 1935 New Deal "farming adventure" in which 203 "drought-starve
d" Midwest families "drew lots for individual 40-acre tracts."
From those humble beginnings, things in the Matanuska Valley have literally grown immensely. Nowadays, Palmer not only features an airport, golf course, library, ice arena, businessdistrict, museum association and arts council, but also showcases some of the largest vegetables that you'll ever want to chomp on.
Palmer's strong agricultural roots make it a natural home for the Alaska State Fair. The Fair's website explains that in 2014 alone, the following state vegetable records were set: a 15.50-pound spaghetti squash; a 9-foot, 10 ¾ inch dill; and a 5-foot, 7 ¾ inch fennel.
This past year's Alaska State Fair boasted many other grand achievements. As part of the "Good Time Fun!" theme, there were 460 vendors, 8,253 entered exhibits, 82,000 visitors to The Age of Dinosaurs/Living Legends exhibit alone, and 293,827 fairgoers in total.
There were "new paved walkways in the carnival area," an interactive hand-washing station that was custom-built in order to "address animal/human disease transfer," an improved sewer system, and a "new Farm Exhibits roof."
The grand opening of The Gathering Place also occurred in 2014. This venue is dedicated to the experiencing of "Alaska's rich Native cultures and traditions." It represents "all 10 of the Alaska Native groups from the five regions." Entertainment included "54 Native dance performances" and "36 traditional storytelling sessions."
All in all, it's no wonder that ace administrator Jerome Hertel has been drawn to Alaska and its wonderful State Fair. On the heels of nearly seven years of highly successful South Dakota State Fair management, Hertel is now very excited to hitch his wagon to the North Star.
Nevertheless, he hasn't forgotten his South Dakota roots. "Deeply grateful" for everything "learned at the South Dakota State Fair," Hertel looks forward to utilizing this knowledge in Alaska. During a recent Plainsman interview, Hertel explained that his State Fair experience "runs the gamut from cooperating with local and state governments to marketing and programming, and from camping to vending."
The 2014 South Dakota State Fair also went exceedingly well. Its "attendance of more than 210,000" was "up 15 percent from the year before." During Hertel's overall tenure, the number ofoff-season events at the Huron fairgrounds rose "by 30 percent." Such year-round events have been "good for the state fairgrounds, good for the community of Huron and good for the state."
Hertel explained: "There's kind of a romance to Alaska for me. I'm an avid outdoors person and sportsman, so Alaska's always been attractive to me. It's been just wonderful getting to know the Palmer area firsthand."
He continued, "I grew up across the street from the Turner County Fair, the oldest county fair in South Dakota. That's where the interest and love of fairs began. From there I went on to the university and graduated with a business degree."
"Afterwards, I went down to Houston, Texas for two-and-a-half years and worked at a sports arena, then came back to South Dakota and worked about two years at a newspaper. Then I took a position with the Sioux Falls Arena and Convention Center, which also had a football stadium for high schools that we kind of oversaw, so I learned a lot from these experiences."
"After many years at the Sioux Falls Arena, I went to the Sioux Empire Fair, the largest fair in South Dakota. I was Operations Director there for nine years, and from there I went to the South Dakota State Fair for seven years."
"Because each fair's unique, I'm working on getting to know the Alaska State Fair more and more. It has had a great reputation of being a very well-run fair, and it has a really good staff.
I'm getting acclimated and learning about the fair and its history, looking back upon what's worked over the years and what's been a challenge."
"My wife Stephanie and I are empty-nesters now with two grown children. I'm living just about one mile from the fairgrounds, and Stephanie recently joined me here for nine days. She's a teacher and is finishing up this school year in South Dakota."
"So far it's been kind of an unusual winter here in Alaska. The average temperatures in Palmer have recently been warmer than the average temperatures in South Dakota!"
Hertel concluded, "I'm just excited to be here. I look forward to helping preserve the traditions and culture of this great state of Alaska."
"I'd like to mention that I've walked into a fair that has been very well run. The Alaska State Fair staff is very blessed to have such a wealth of collective experience."
"Together we can continue to build on our strengths of sound fiscal management, utilization of resources, standards of customer service, capital projects, unique programming, and off-season events."
The 2015 Alaska State Fair will run from August 27th through September 7th. The Palmer fairgrounds are just "an hour's drive north of Anchorage at mile 40 on the Glenn Highway."
With the combined talents of Hertel and his wonderful team, it will surely be worth a trip from anywhere, even the lower 48!