Illinois Has Its Fair Share of Fairs
With two state fairs Illinois enjoys a tradition of corndogs, cows and carnival fun
y Denise Guttery

ICL Feature 0707

More than 150 years ago state fairs were created across the nation to offer a central location for farmers to share ideas and offer suggestions on how to increase farm productivity. As the nation evolved, so did state fairs. Following the Civil War, increased knowledge of genetics led to the breeding and showing of purebred animals and in the first half of the 20th century, agricultural machinery manufacturers took advantage of the large audiences to demonstrate new products and ideas.

State fairs not only offer agricultural education, but also provide thousands of memories of carnival rides, corndogs, parades, and in Illinois, the unique opportunity to visit two state fairs—one in Springfield and one in DuQuoin.

Kids at the Fair
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On August 9, the 155th Illinois State Fair will begin with the traditional twilight parade and continue for 10 days. Illinoisans have been attending the state fair in Springfield since the 1850s and State Fair Manager Amy Bliefnick hopes the trend continues in 2007.

“Our attendance has stayed pretty much in the same ballpark each year,” says Bliefnick. “Last year we had a slight increase and had around 750,000 people attend the 2006 Illinois State Fair.”

Bliefnick is in her second year as the Illinois State Fair Manager and is the first woman to hold the title. It is important to her to maintain the traditions that have made the Illinois State Fair so successful, but she also wants to make new traditions for generations to come.

“I wanted to continue the events that have been here for generations, such as the butter cow and the horse show,” says Bliefnick. “But we also wanted to add something new and we did that with the daily parade.”

Every day at 4 p.m. a parade begins in the Jungle and makes it way up Main Street, ending just past the Grandstand. Bliefnick added that she hopes those people who come to the fair early, will stay through the parade, and those who come later in the day will come out earlier to watch the parade.

“It is kind of Disney like,” said Bliefnick. “Nothing makes a person happier than hearing music down the street.”

Bliefnick says that the state fair in Springfield is more than just carnival rides and lemon shakeups, it is a chance to learn. Which makes this year’s fair theme “Celebrate and Educate” so appropriate.

“We really pride ourselves in being the lowest admission price in the entire nation,” says Bliefnick. “So you can come to the fair for almost nothing in the admission fee.”

Admission fees are $3 for adults, $2 for senior citizens and children 12 and under are free. That includes numerous free events for all ages, including Happy Hollow, where you can see five different animal acts; Kids Corner, to get your face painted or watch a puppet show; and 16 different entertainment stages.

With all the different events, activities and buildings, there is no one main draw at the state fair. It all depends on what you want to see or do. And with so many people attending the fair, it is no wonder that it has a major economic impact on the state.

Bliefnick says that in 2000, the University of Illinois completed an economic impact study and the state fair’s economic impact on the state was $39 million.

Bliefnick says vendors and exhibitors are an important part of the state fair and that they have a return rate of about 95 percent. Some of the vendors and exhibitors at the fair have been there for generations, and are some of the reasons why people attend the state fair.

“People come to the fairgrounds for different reasons whether it is a cattle show, a carnival ride, a race or grandstand event or just craving a Vose’s corndog,” says Bliefnick.

One of those returning vendors is Bob Vose, owner of Vose’s Corndog stand. Vose began working at the Illinois State Fair in 1948, delivering ice, and has made many friends. One friend, Bill Foster, would lead Vose down the road of operating a concession stand.

In 1966, Foster became ill and was unable to attend the fair and arranged for Vose to use his location. “I really didn’t know what I was getting into when I agreed to help out,” says Vose. “I had to call in reinforcements.” And Vose’s reinforcements consisted of his wife, Virginia, and six kids.

In 1967, Foster returned to his stand; however, Vose and his brothers decided to rent space and open their own concession stand. It took two years of sampling corndogs before the famous Vose’s corndog was created. When asked what makes his corndogs so tasty, Vose replied with a chuckle and a smile, “Grandma’s recipe. I don’t even tell my wife, as she might get rid of me.”

Vose went on to say that his brother-in-law was in the milling business and a friend of his helped them on their well-known corndogs, but in regards to the recipe, he left it at that.

Vose recalled his first year of selling corndogs and meeting everyone. “We had people stop by and they would say ‘see ya next year and we will send our grandkids here’ and then the next year people would come up and say ‘my granddad said I better stop by Voses’,” says Vose. Vose said to keep people coming back year after year, you have to treat people right and put out a good product at a fair price. And for 39 years, that is what he has been doing.

Vendors are not the only ones that keep attending the state fair year after year. Gene Bergschneider has been attending the Illinois State Fair in Springfield since he was a young boy. And the family tradition has been passed on to his children and grandchildren.

“It has always been an enjoyable time and something I get to share with my children and grandchildren,” says Bergschneider, who will attend his 59th Illinois State Fair in 2007. Bergschneider began showing cattle when he was 13 years old, showing Angus, Hereford and Short-horned steers, but now he focuses on Hereford heifers and steers.

The planning process for showing at the fair begins more than a year in advance for Bergschneider. “It is a year round job and we have already started to pick out the 2008 show calves,” says Bergschneider. Bergschneider added that the show calves are usually weaned during the fall and he starts to break them to lead right away. Currently, his focus is on preparing steers for the 2007 state fair.

“Right now, they just receive a little extra care,” says Bergschneider. “This year we will show three or four. I know that we do not have any grand champions, but we will be respectable.”

Over the years, Bergschneider has never won grand champion, but he has been close. He has had some division champions, reserve champions and Land of Lincoln champions. Winning is a nice feather to add to his cap, but Bergschneider just enjoys doing it.

Bergschneider says he should quit showing, but just doesn’t want too. He is having too much fun.

“I like a lot of the other parts of the fair, not just showing cattle,” says Bergschneider. Whether it is attending horse races or eating a pork chop on a stick, Bergschneider enjoys what the fair has to offer. And he especially appreciates what it does for the agricultural industry.

“You would be surprised at how many people I have talked to that do not know where their breakfast cereal comes from,” says Bergschneider. “You ask them and they think it just comes from the store. Well, it has to come from somewhere.” Bergschneider says the general public is able to get a better understanding about agriculture and where their food comes from because the fair is putting the information out there for everyone.

With 150 buildings covering more than 300 acres, the Illinois State fair is a great place to spend a summer day, or even 10 summer days, to “Celebrate and Educate.”

Springfield and DuQuoin are not the only places in Illinois where you can enjoy the typical fair events and activities. The county fairs in Illinois have a lot of entertainment value as well. Although the first 13 county fairs in June have passed, there are 92 fairs still ready to supply all the fun you can stand from July until September 14.

For more information on the Illinois State Fair visit www.illinoisstatefair.info and for a schedule of the county fairs in Illinois go to the Illinois Association of Agriculture Fairs Web site at www.illinoiscountyfairs.org or the Illinois Department of Agriculture Web site at www.agr.state.il.us/fair.

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Take your children to the FFA Barnyard to see farm animals up close.

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Numerous fair goers wait for a Vose corndog.

DuQuoin – The Other State Fair
One man’s vision creates a second state fair for Illinois

The Illinois State fair is not the only state fair held annually in Illinois. The DuQuoin State Fair is held each August in DuQuoin. It began as the vision of William R. Hayes and has continued on to this day.

A trip to the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 with his mother and sisters left a lasting impression on Hayes and probably sparked his interest in creating the fair in DuQuoin.

Before starting his dream of creating a fair Hayes started out peddling soft drinks from a pushcart and eventually becoming the patriarch of the DuQuoin Coca Cola Bottling Company, the Midwest Dairy Products Company, and a chain of 19 movie theaters.

Hayes was fond of saying, “If you’re going to do something, do it all the way.” And he did that by convincing investors to contribute to his vision of creating the “state” fair.

On 30-acres south of DuQuoin, Hayes’ vision became a reality. In 1923 the first fair drew more than 60,000 to witness harness racing, auto racing, a dog show, an auto show and a speech by Len Small, then Governor of Illinois. All of those events plus many more were done without electric lights.

The following year, another first occurred at the DuQuoin State Fair. Under newly installed electric lights, the fair staged the first night horse show ever held.

In 1939 Hayes bought the Old Black Gold Strip Mine that joined his original 30 acres and turned the fair into what it is today: more than 1,200 acres with 12 lakes and ponds, 30 miles of winding roadways, showplace mansion and stables, 18,000-seat grandstand, and the mile oval track that yearly showcases the World Trotting Derby.

Some Illinoisans might not know that the first and most prestigious event in the United States Trotting Triple Crown races called Illinois home from 1957-1980. The Hambletonian, an annual United States harness racing event for three-year-old trotting standardbreds, was held at the DuQuoin State Fair until it was moved to its present location in The Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Even though the Hambletonian is no longer held at the DuQuoin State Fair, harness racing is still a tradition. People travel across the country to DuQuoin to see the World Trotting Derby, the international harness racing championship.

For the first 63 years, the DuQuoin State Fair was privately owned, but today is owned and operated by the State of Illinois. The fair educates the public about agriculture, as well as entertaining the public. There are a variety of highlights to the 2007 DuQuoin State Fair for everyone in the family such as daily livestock shows, exhibits, a petting zoo and Conservation World.

The fair runs from Aug. 25 to Sept. 3. The fairground opens daily at 10 a.m. and carnival rides begin at noon on the weekends and 3 p.m. on weekdays. Parking and admission is $5. Other entertainment acts and events are being finalized. For more information visit the DuQuoin State Fair Web site at www.agr.state.il.us/dq/ or call the ticket office at 618-542-1535.

World’s Largest Rodeo

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There are events throughout the year at the fairgrounds, and the past two years the fairgrounds have hosted the National High School Finals Rodeo, known as the “World’s Largest Rodeo.”

From July 22-28, more than 1,500 contestants from 39 states, five Canadian provinces and Australia will attend the 2007 National High School Rodeo Finals. Contestants will compete for national titles, awards and scholarships. The new $9.3 million Multi-Purpose Arena hosted the 2000-2001 National High School Finals.

This is the fourth time since 2000 that Springfield has hosted the annual rodeo and the benefits have continued to pay off.

In 2000 the University of Illinois completed an economic impact study on the rodeo and found that 10,000 hotel room nights were used, creating an economic impact of $6.3 million.

The rodeo added $500,000 in state sales taxes. In addition to traditional visitor expenditures, rodeo participants and their traveling parties also required feed, bedding and veterinarian and blacksmith services to accommodate 3,500 horses and livestock.

For more information, visit www.nhsra.org. Charlyn Fargo, Bureau Chief of County Fairs and Horse Racing for the Illinois Department of Agriculture office is also helping the National High School Rodeo Association try to find horses to lease for the upcoming National High School Finals.

Fargo says, “If you know anyone with a rodeo-experienced horse that would be available for lease, please call our office at 217-782-4231. We’re putting together a catalog of horses available for contestants who cannot bring their own horses with them.”

In order for horses to be listed in the 2007 Horse Leasing Catalog, call for an application or go on-line and print one at www.illinoisstatefair.info.