County Fair A Great Asset Of Rural Life

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by Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News

In this day of electronic gadgets that keep people constantly connected, where people seem addicted to their cell phones, compulsively making calls and texting, attending the Swift County Fair can be a throw back to a time before the Internet. The experience isn’t entirely free of people with phones to their ears, or fingers flying over their screens typing out messages, but it seems a break from its pervasiveness in everyday life.

We attended all four days of the fair this year, taking photos, talking with people, and observing those who came to enjoy the quality free music, the carnival rides, 4-H animal competitions, the rodeo, eat the fair food, walk through the barns, and see the winners in the many garden, canning, and craft competitions. What we saw was a way of life that is missing from too many of our daily routines these days.

Parents and children, brothers and sisters, and friends all were enjoying the day and evening at the fair without having to be digitally connected. We watched as a group of 10 teenagers sat outside one of the animal barns talking and laughing together - not one had a cell phone out.

We watched as parents walked with children both eating chocolate or strawberry shakes, eating foot-long corn dogs, or hobo tacos. Kids with big smiles on their faces carried prizes they had won at one of the games as they followed their parents around the fair. At home, these kids would have been off in their rooms watching television, texting a friend, or on their computers. Their parents would have been doing the same thing, isolated in their own space.

We are always impressed with the 4-H program and the values it instills in young people. They learn confidence and persistence. We watched as young children handled farm animals weighing 10 to 15 times what they did. It wasn’t always easy. The animals don’t cooperate just because they are being paraded around the show arena. Some, in fact, seem to take pleasure in causing as much distress to their young handlers as possible. But the kids persevere.

We saw two kids get thrown from horses and two others stepped on by very large cows. Their pain and discomfort was evident. While their injuries might have sidelined them for a while, they were back involved in the competitions before long.

We see the sportsmanship and caring that 4-H members show for fellow competitors. When one is having a particularly difficult time with an animal, they will help them out. They mentor younger 4-H members, giving them helpful suggestions on how to best prepare and show their animals.

We have seen confidence and poise develop in these young people throughout their years of participating in showing their animals before the public and judges. Long before they are in the arena with their animal, 4-H members are learning as much as they can about it, caring for it and training it for display in the arena. During the process, they are learning skills that will serve them later in life whether it is in business or public service.

“I’m not aware of any youth program anywhere that contributes more to the training for future leadership and to give constructive activity to young people than 4-H,” the late Joe Robbie, general manager and owner of the Miami Dolphins, said. Robbie grew up near Sisseton, S.D., before going on to become an extraordinarily successful businessman and lawyer in Miami.

Kids involved in 4-H also learn to be gracious winners as well as taking defeat with character.

4-H is for more than country kids who live on farms with ready access to animals. For more on how your child can get involved with 4-H, contact the Extension office at the Swift County Courthouse by stopping by or calling 320-843-3796.

Much of the success of the Swift County Fair rests on the shoulders of the fair board and its President Jon Panzer. They are building on the work of others who brought back the fair from a time when it was in significant decline and its future in doubt. Among those who rejuvenated the fair was Chuck Wilts who served as president before Panzer. Elaine Mitteness, the fair’s long-time treasurer, has also been important to its success. He continues on the board today. Fair board members can be seen working late into the night and walking the grounds picking up garbage and cleaning bathrooms in the early morning light. They are constantly addressing problems and making sure the fair comes off smoothly with those attending never noticing the work they do.

It is a challenge to put on a fair these days. Carnivals are hard to get. There are fewer of them because of the liability issues that come with their rides. But the Swift County Fair Board has done a great job in bringing quality carnivals to Appleton – they are a big draw.

If attendance is a measure of a fair’s success, this year will go down as one of the best. Swift County’s Fair is truly one of the great assets of rural life.

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