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County Fair introduces new Endowment Fund

It was snowing outside Tuesday, but Phil Hartke had his mind on horse races, tractor pulls, 4-H shows and other Effingham County Fair events next August.

Hartke, who heads the Effingham County Fair Association Board of Directors, was talking about laying a foundation for keeping the county fair events going at the fairgrounds for years to come. It won’t involve a backhoe or a cement mixer, either.

But the new County Fair Association Endowment Fund will need some investors in coming months. The fair board has already committed $5,000 to the Endowment.

“The goal of this endowment is to have a pool of capital to invest in the county fair. We plan to use 4 to 5 percent per year for whatever we choose. It can be for maintenance or capital improvements,” Hartke said.

This effort is different from the sponsorship program that helped fill the gaps in state funding to ensure Effingham County maintained a full schedule of entertainment and events last summer. The Endowment Fund has the county fair working with the Effingham County Community Foundation, which assists with many other foundation efforts.

“The Foundation will take care of the paperwork on our funds. There is a certain amount of expertise they bring to this kind of work,” Hartke said. “This way all donors can be confident everything will be done right and donations can be tax deductible.”

The first goal of the Fair Association is to gain donations of $100 or more from at least 50 donors, Hartke said. This will continue the long tradition of community support for the Effingham County Fair. Without it, the local fair could lose some of its events.

The fair each summer at Altamont has some bragging rights nationally.

“We are the only county fair in this country with seven days of horse racing. That’s because we have six days of harness racing and then offer racing for thoroughbreds and quarter horses. It is hard to sustain that schedule because the state of Illinois is not supporting the horse industry like it did. We are facing tough competition from Indiana, Kentucky and other surrounding states. They are drawing a lot of racers out of Illinois,” Hartke said.

The state budget crisis in Springfield has hurt many organizations across the state, including county fairs. Some counties have had to cut back on events. The foresight of the Effingham County Fair Association with its sponsorships last year made sure it maintained a fair week full of events, Hartke said.

“We don’t want to get to the point where we just survive with two or three days of events. We want to remain a showcase county fair covering nine days. That means having the horse racing, the tractor pulls, the fair shows and the Demo Derby, too. And we want to have the money to keep the fairgrounds ready for other events like the Hob Nob and Threshermen events,” Hartke said.

That is why he and other fair directors are asking fair lovers to provide a shower of donations this winter and beyond. Donating by December 2017 will offer charter membership to investors to the Endowment Fund, he said.

“Where else can you see so much in one day? That’s what this is about. It’s having the kids see something with their parents and grandparents, whether it’s the horses, the displays, the tractors, the cars or even those bunnies and llamas,” Hartke said.

For more information on making a donation to the Effingham County Fair Association Endowment Fund, just call 217-342-4988 or log on to or contact any Fair Association director. 

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