By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
The secret of success for the Effingham County Fair is revealed long before summer kicks in.
Fair Board President Phil Hartke doubts any other fair board gives as much to preparing for their summer celebrations. Hartke said the dedication of the Fair Board was demonstrated last winter during an Illinois State Association of County Fairs in Springfield.
“For two days, we had all the fair board members up there, plus our fair queen and her family and some performers from our talent show. That shows me their dedication to the fair. I don’t twist their arms, either. They go up there to help get everything ready,” Hartke said. “I don’t think you’ll see every member of a county fair board from other counties doing as much as this board does long before the county fair.”
Of course, getting the fair prepared for its big week involves hundreds of other volunteers.
“It used to be the fair was a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle. Then it became a 500-piece puzzle. The Effingham County Fair now is a 1,000-piece puzzle. It’s amazing when you think of all the things needed to get ready when people start coming through the gate,” Hartke noted.
A pair of races are new for the 2018 edition of the county fair. Runners will stride into a 5-K Run, starting at 8 a.m. Saturday, July 28, at the Fairgrounds. Western quarter horse racing will be added to the saddled horse racing events at noon on Friday, Aug. 3.
“That event can determine the fastest saddle horses around here,” Hartke said. “We’ll have riders of different ages competing at different lengths of the track, starting at an eighth of a mile for riders 10 to 13. Then it moves up to a quarter mile for teenagers, up to 16; and then three eighths of a mile for 17 and up. Of course, we’ll also have the thoroughbred racing, too.”
This year’s fair will also feature a Whippoorwill Rodeo and they will have an expanded range of events, including bull-dogging, bull riding, calf roping and a rapid-fire set of chutes from different ends of the rodeo ring.
Another new feature of the county fair involves the Community Showcase that offers a series of free educational events for the public. The schedule starts out with Machine Embroidery, by Schallert’s Sewing Center ,from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., Sunday, July 29, in the air-conditioned Schuetzenfest Building.
Other Showcase events include: Pastry Making, by Hodgson Mill’s chef Josh Emmons, July 30; Gardening, by Illinois Master Gardeners, July 31; Fondant Cake Decorating, by Chef Lorene Lombardi, Aug. 1; Photography tips, by Ja-Fa photographer Jen Hecht, Aug. 2; and Art by Stang Arts, Aug. 3. All the sessions are scheduled from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. on those days.
“You not only learn about all this, but if you bring a recipe that wins the prize, it will be used by Hodgson Mill,” Hartke said.
The Fair will again offer some of its more popular events.
The annual Car Show and Ranch Sorting will start out the Fair on Saturday, July 28. The Lucas Oil Pro Pulling takes to the track at 6:30 p.m. on the first day. Other pulling events for trucks, tractors and lawn tractors continue Monday and Wednesday of fair week, each starting at 6:30 p.m.
Harness Racing starts at 1 p.m. Sunday and continues July 30 and 31, plus Aug. 1 and 2. The fair has a hefty offering of purses this year. The annual fair parade steps off at 4:30 p.m. by Altamont High School and ends the procession by the grandstand that afternoon. 4-H’ers will show their skills and entries, starting at 6 p.m. in the 4-H arena. The 4-H auction is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Sunday night ends with the Talent Show and Junior Miss competition. The Talent Show starts off at 6:30 p.m. on the new event stage, which has more lighting this year.
At 7 p. m. on Tuesday, contestants for the Miss Effingham County Fair Queen Pageant take the stage. The Little Miss contestants will also blow some kisses that evening.
The carnival opens Tuesday and continues through Saturday night. Hartke recommended families check on the arm band special offered by Luehrs Rides of St. Louis.
The bar on entertainment is high this year with Travis Tritt performing at 8 p.m. Friday. The Scott Marek Band will open on stage at 7 p.m. Throughout the week, many area performers will offer their best at the Free Stage on the fairgrounds.
And there is the food at the fair. The vendors, either connected with the carnival or from the area, offer tantalizing tastes each year. It’s hard not to find a favorite.
“If you can’t find something to eat at our fair, you’re pretty picky,” Hartke said.
Parking won’t be a headache this year with the rental of extra ground. New fencing and a clearer view of the tractor pull track are two other grounds improvements.
And speaking of better viewing, a new LED sign in the west lot will offer advertising and promotion of events. Some claim it’s so bright that some satellites might pick up its glow. That might be a touch of exaggeration.
But it’s true that the Effingham County Fair does gain bright reviews by many visitors. That’s why it draws a huge crowd each year.
And when the lights go down on Aug. 4, the planning will soon start on the 2019 County Fair. That will be a landmark event, Hartke said.
“It will be our 75th year. We’ll be asking the public what they want to see for that anniversary,” Hartke said.