The 93rd annual St. Joseph County Fair ran from June 29 through July 8.
The nine-day fair is known for its 4-H involvement. According to the fair website, the fair board strives to foster, encourage and provide the means and facilities for the education of young people and adults in the methods of agriculture and related fields, with emphasis on the programs of national and local 4-H organizations.
“We are a 27-member volunteer board only having two full-time and three part-time employees, with all of us working diligently on one thing or another to pretty much pull all of this together for the 4-H program to have a successful fair every year,” says President Dennis Murphy.
Though the St. Joseph County 4-H fair has indeed been very successful over the years, the annual event does not come without its share of challenges, and this year had a couple.
For one, attendance was down by 18 percent, according to Murphy.
“The primary reason our attendance was down was due to extreme hot weather; the first four days of our fair had heat indexes of 104 to 110,” he said. “Our fair is a great nine-day event, and the last two days of the fair we had perfect, high 70-degree weather. If we had one more day of that condition, it would have been right on target as the previous record year, last year.”
Another dilemma the fair faces, like most county fairs, is finding that perfect blend of entertainment that appeals to everyone.
“Our biggest challenge is to find the right entertainment options that engage with families,” Murphy says. “Our fair has always been successful in being a family-friendly event and has plenty of continuous things to do, see and engage in for all ages. We do have some of the same things every year, but we do our best to get a blend of diverse entertainment venues and new 'outdoor' vendors that people will be interested in possibly purchasing things from for their actual homes.”
For example, this year the fair featured a local family company that sold custom sheds and outdoor furniture.
“The display they provided was incredible and got the interest of a lot of the adults,” adds Murphy. “The adults actually purchased the new sheds and furniture. Things like this also make the grounds look even better, due to the high quality of the product.”
The fair board worked hard to bring a great event to the community for 2018. Murphy says fair preparations had been underway since last year, and Murphy said he is already looking ahead to 2019.
“Our goals next year are to increase attendance, look at additional options for when the weather isn't going to cooperate, and expand new things for our visitors to experience,” he says.
Admission for 2018
St. Joseph County Fair admission was free for children ages 8 and under, as well as police officers, active military members, fire and EMT workers and disabled or mentally challenged children and adults. Senior citizens received $5 admission.
Additionally, admission was also free for all until 9 a.m. The cost of entry was $5 from 9 a.m. to noon and $10 thereafter.
On Monday and Thursday of the fair, visitors had the opportunity to purchase $1 ride tickets. Wristbands were available for $25; the fair also featured Munchkins on the Midway from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday, with wristbands available at a price of $12 per person.
Midway & Food
Midway entertainment was provided by North American Midway. There were 74 rides and games. New for this year was a monster truck kiddie ride that Murphy says was a huge hit with the very young children in the crowd.
Midway revenue was down by 20 percent this year due to the stifling weather conditions.
The fair boasted 43 food vendors. Some of the most popular included an authentic Mexican restaurant featuring a food booth, Jake's Italian Sausage, Fire in the Hole wood burning pizza oven, Nedderman's Steak Tips and the local Dairy Farmer Association's dairy bar ice cream.
Entertainment included DeWayne Spaw, Van Ingle Live, Justin McCormick, Monster Truck Throwdown, the ATV Big Air Tour Extreme Sports Thrill Show, the Sheriff's Posse Rodeo, the antique tractor pull, the horse pull, NTPA tractor pull, youth talent contest, car and truck show and the demo derby.
Fireworks were also featured five of the nine days.
There were also two main music acts that proved to be a big hit – country singer Colton Chapman was one of them, and he played every night on the main stage. The fair ended with “Here Come the Mummies,” a rock band act which is said to have a large following.
“We actually had people lining the stage waiting 12 hours before they were going to perform,” says Murphy.
In addition to the usual 4-H shows, Murphy adds that this year was special for 4-H. “This year we actually had two new extension agents for the 4-H program through Purdue University; they have never seen or been to our fair, but they did a wonderful job,” he says. “We are thankful to have them serving our county and community and enhancing the 4-H program for our youth.”
St. Joseph County does impressive things with advertising. The fair'sannual advertising budget is around $80,000. It is broken down across nine radio stations, four TV stations and throughout printed ads in the local and regional papers.
The board is also inventive in how it goes about reaching potential fairgoers.
“One of the other things we do is we have a parade committee that has built an incredible, beautiful float to promote our fair,” says Murphy. “We attend about 10 to 12 different parades in our and surrounding communities, for various celebrations. We have a great team of volunteers walking along the float, handing out discount coupon vouchers for our fair.”
Additionally, he says, there is a partnership with local chain store Martin's Grocery, which provides early discount tickets at 12 locations across the local region and places schedule fliers in grocery bags at checkout.