BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DONNELLSON – Starting Wednesday, the 176th Lee County Fair will take to life at the Lee County Fairgrounds in Donnellson.
The smell of fair grub and the calliope music has been historically enticing to people at one of southeast Iowa’s annual traditions. And, although you’ll have the traditional fair barn activities and events, Lee County Fair Board Chairman Brock Westfall said there’s something for everyone this year.
“We’re becoming a younger board and we’re coming up with some new and exciting ideas and trying to reach out to different crowds of people,” Westfall said Tuesday.
“One of the biggest comments we got last year was on the harness racing. We put together our own races last year and the crowds loved it so much we’ve expanded on that this year and will be bringing the Iowa Harness Racing Association in from Des Moines. We must have had 300 or 400 people ask us to bring back that event. I would think we’d have some pretty good attendance on that.”
General admission to the races will be $5 and enthusiasts can also buy a pit pass for just $5 more.
Also new to the fair this year will be a human foosball tournament. Westfall said the fair board has actually built a 14 foot by 40 foot six-on-six table out of plywood to be used for the tournament. The tournament will be held with games on Thursday and Friday at 6 p.m. with the championship starting on Saturday at 6 p.m.
“The fair board members actually built this and it’s portable. We’re actually going to try to keep this portable and rent it out to groups for area events,” Westfall said. “Something different. Every year we try to add something different. When I go to fair conferences in Des Moines every year they have vendors who share these ideas with us.
The fair has also added nightly BINGO starting on Thursday and a fish fry to kick off the fair on July 5 starting at 5 p.m. in the FFA Building on the fairgrounds.
Improvements fans will see this year include new roofing, lots of LED lighting, and a new public address system for better sound and visuals at the fair.
Westfall, who’s in his second year as president, said the fair is also looking for new members to serve on the board. He said serving on the board is a very rewarding experience and you get out of it what you put into it. The board meets monthly to coordinate and plan the upcoming fair and is comprised of 18 members.
“We have seven members that could rotate out of the board this year, so we’re gonna need probably four or five, possibly more, people to step in and fill those roles. Our attendance has been increasing each year and this work couldn’t be done without those people. We’re becoming a younger board. I’m 30, there are several people I went to high school with on this board. It can be hard work, and it can also be rewarding work. Again, it’s like anything else – you get out of it, what you put into it.”
Westfall also said the contributions of the sponsors are absolutely invaluable as the fair continues to grow.
“Our sponsors have allowed us to put a lot of money into making this a great event,” he said.
The 13th Annual Kevin Young Memorial Run and 10th Annual Kay Junkins Memorial Walk are back and will be held on Saturday at 8 a.m. The Queen crowning will be held Wednesday night beginning at 6 p.m.
Westfall said it’s the carnival that really brings people in.
“This is the fourth year having a carnival. We brought it back my first year as chairman,” Westfall said. “It’s getting bigger and bigger each year. This year we pushed to have a ferris wheel. We’ll have a great midway with lots of LED lights to attract people.”
Friday, July 7th will feature the annual Kid’s Day from 1 p.m to 5 p.m. with special games and activities for children including Southeast Iowa STEM Coding activities and $25 armbands for an all-you-can-ride carnival experience.
Captain Geech and the Shrimp Shack Shooters hit the Entertainment Pavillion at 9 p.m. for a 21-and-over show.
Saturday’s chock full of events highlighted by the ever popular Demolition Derby at 7:30 p.m. with a Power Wheel derby for kids at 7 p.m. A kid’s Pedal Pull will take place beginning at 5 p.m. Throughout the day breakfast, lunch, and dinner will be served including a wine tasting and expo beginning at 2 p.m.
Madd-Hoss Jackson will be the pavilion entertainment on Saturday night.
Sunday is highlighted by the free Classic Farm and Tractor Show on the grandstand. The livestock auction wraps up the event on Monday.
The fair is also bringing back the annual chess tournament and senior day. The Fair Board is also holding a Night of Mayhem race on Aug. 5. A complete list of events can be found by clicking the links for the Lee County Fair brochure below.