BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DONNELLSON – A cooling breeze blew in from the north under the arching wooden ceilings of the Lee County Fair’s newest addition and through the hair of Tricia Denning, who stood with her hands folded as a prayer was said commemorating the new structure.
Denning stood with her husband Jeff and their family as fair officials dedicated the new shelter house that was built in memory of her daughter Abigail ‘Abby’ Denning. Denning died as a result of an ATV accident near Pilot Grove on June 23, two weeks before the 2018 Lee County Fair.
The pedestal shelter house was built with funds donated from the sale of her brother Caleb’s steer at the 2018 Fair Jr. Auction and then donations that came pouring in from around the area.
“I guess our thought process was that Abby….she really liked people being around and so we just thought we could put up a building that she could watch the people….”
“Congregate,” said Tricia, finishing the sentence for her husband as he struggled with the emotions of the day.
“We wanted something really nice where people could do this… just hang out and talk,” Jeff said leaning against a counter, while others milled about the shelter.
Tricia said people who knew Abby knew their daughter loved kids and loved being around people and the shelter house allows her memory to be folded into generations of people gathering together with children.
Jeff said the idea was originally to sell a steer and use the proceeds to build something small in Abby’s name. He thought the steer would bring in about $15,000, but it sold for $40,000. He said total donations are now close to $100,000. A memorial was set up and bracelets were sold to help raise money for the structure.
Tricia said she hopes the final plans include some playground equipment on the east side of the shelter, and then possibly a sidewalk to the learning center on the fairgrounds.
Brock Westfall, the county fair president, said the family came to the fair board and asked if they could put up a building in Denning’s memory.
“We just worked closely with the family three or four times and it all just came together. The fair board put in a sidewalk and will put in some more tables and finish the landscape after the fair,” Westfall said.
“It’s a beautiful building… a beautiful design – gonna be maintenance free. It adds to the fairground. We have a lot of good shape buildings, but this will be the focal point of the fairgrounds from now on.”
The shelter sits on a cement slab with treated wooden timbers that arch toward the center of the top where a large fan and lights adorn the timbers. Gray brick pedestals support the massive shelter that sits just south and east of the show barns. Close to 150 people were inside and around the structure that has no walls.