Front gate rededication one highlight of Fillmore County Fair

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE The 1919 Fillmore County Fairgrounds front gate has been restored and will be rededicated on July 16.
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

It’s fair to say that they’re not quite the pearly gates, but they sure are shiny.

“We have to finish the gate,” stated Fillmore County Agricultural Society Secretary Kathy Tesmer, as ag society President Aaren Mathison agreed, “The gate has been the main thing we’re spending our resources on to commemorate that it was built in 1919. It’s been 100 years. A few people showed interest in it, and we got some grants.”

“The gate” that’s garnered their attention for the past year is slightly pearly now that it’s got a fresh coat of white paint, a new roof and restored turnstiles. Yes, indeed, this is some gate. And it’s made even better by what awaits on the other side – the 2019 Fillmore County Fair, this county’s 160th annual get-together set this year for Monday, July 15, through Sunday, July 21.

Tesmer outlined that the agricultural society has put in worknights at the fairgrounds to prepare for the fair – a grand endeavor of 4-H cattle, horses, pigs, goats, sheep, chickens and rabbits; open class livestock, artwork and jams, jellies, pies and brownies; grandstand shows featuring lumberjacks, tractor pulls, musicians and demolition derbies; cowboy church, free bounce houses for the little ones, and even a zoo of wild animals. She said the crown of the fairgrounds is going to receive the most attention on Tuesday, July 16, as the original entry gate is rededicated in honor of all Fillmore County members of the military.

Mathison began telling about the work that has been done to restore the fairgrounds’ front gate. He said, “The deteriorated blocks were removed and replaced with new ones.”

Tesmer took up the listing, “There’s a new roof, shingles, paint. We refurbished the turnstiles. Hopefully, it’ll last another 100 years.”

Mathison added, “It was all repainted two years ago. There were new lights put on it to light it up at night.”

Tesmer highlighted the celebration that will come with the gate’s restoration being complete, from the foundation to the two square cupolas on its rooftop. “We’ll rededicate it on Tuesday, July 16, at 6 p.m. and honor the American Legion’s 100th anniversary and all military people in Fillmore County. There’ll be a march of the color guards across the bridge, speakers, music and refreshments.”

She’s certain the sky will remain blue that evening, as plans for the rededication do not include a rain date later in the weeklong fair schedule. Mathison remarked that there is a rain plan, however. “If it’s raining,” he said, “we’ll move inside the end of the demonstration building. People will be able to see it from inside the west end of the building.”

This year’s fair, just beyond the restored turnstiles, features some pretty unusual things. For starters, Fillmore County’s fair is home of such a robust 4-H program that other counties’ fair boards are asking the agricultural society’s members for advice on how to boost participation in their 4-H competitions, according to Tesmer. “They’re tailoring more to us, always asking questions about how we do what we do.”

And then there’s the flying axes. None to grind, but plenty to throw. Mathison elaborated, “There’s the lumberjack show as our Wednesday night grandstand event, and the open class horse show has more people coming.”

Tesmer explained, “They do ax-throwing, tree-cutting, log rolling and climbing poles.”

Admission to see all the flying axes is $5 per person, just like the tractor pull, but the rodeo and demolition derby are $10 each to get in.

Tesmer pointed out some of the events in the schedule, saying, “Tuesday through Friday, there’s the 4-H livestock competitions during the day and the open class livestock show on Saturday, Thursday night is the tractor pull, Friday night is the rodeo with the popular mutton-busting ahead of it, Saturday night is the demo derby, and Sunday is cowboy church in the entertainment center. There’ll be bands in the beer barn on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.”

There’s lots to do between now and opening day on July 15, from checking lightbulbs to welcoming helping volunteer hands to assist with last-minute tasks — one can be certain that the Fillmore County Agricultural Society’s members will be busy repairing and readying the fairgrounds right up to the very last minute, as Mathison observed, “When we get one thing done, two more things come up that need fixing.”

Tesmer concurred that keeping the fairgrounds in shape is a large undertaking. “Maintenance and repairs. Every year, we have maintenance and repairs. Winter is hard on these buildings.”

Mathison was pleased to add that the 4-H livestock shows in the livestock barn will have better lighting and sound, and that the frost boils that reared up over the winter have been tamped down so that there are no fairground road mishaps.

They’re especially proud of their restored front gate, and Tesmer reiterated that the ceremony set for July 16 will be a rain-free event marked by a stout turnout of veterans and their families, as well as friends and fair-goers who want to witness a centennial moment. She stated determinedly, “It’s not going to rain.”

The Fillmore County Agricultural Society’s officers are President Mathison, Vice-President Dennis DeVries, Secretary Kathy Tesmer and Treasurer Doug Lind.

Fillmore County district representatives are Kurt Raaen, Mathison and Deb Haugstad for District 1 – Sumner, Jordan, Chatfield, Spring Valley and Fillmore townships; Kyle Chiglo, Lind and Mike Fenske for District 2 – Arendahl, Holt, Norway, Rushford and Pilot Mound townships; Tesmer, DeVries and Sheila Craig for District 3 – Bloomfield, Beaver, Forestville and York townships; Jennifer Pickett, Colin Winslow and Greg Dornink for District 4 – Carrolton, Carimona, Bristol, Fountain and Preston townships; and Lowell Drinkall, Karl Housker and Derek Lange for District 5 – Amherst, Canton, Harmony, Newburg and Preble townships, and at large members are Justin Johnson and Andy Craig.

University of Minnesota Extension Fillmore County staff includes 4-H program coordinator Rebecca Lofgren, ag Extension coordinator Michael Cruse, support staff Kristi Ruesink and 4-H regional Extension educator Nicole Pokorney.

Fillmore County’s board of commissioners includes District 1 Commissioner Mitch Lentz, District 2 Commissioner Randy Dahl, District 3 is vacant and awaiting election, District 4 Commissioner Duane Bakke and District 5 Commissioner Marc Prestby.

Volunteers are always welcome to assist with fair activities and events, as Mathison cited, “We wouldn’t be able to do this without the support of the community, people who have ideas and are willing to volunteer. We’re always willing to listen.”

Tesmer concurred, “We need volunteers, and we’re open to ideas.”

Mathison contributed, “I think, when everything is said and done, our annual celebration is an annual showcase of agriculture. Fillmore County is very well-known for the quality of its fair.”

Tesmer invited, “Come and join us. It’s fun for all.”

For more information on fair activities or general questions regarding the 2019 Fillmore County Fair, contact Kathy Tesmer at 507-272-2261, log onto the Fillmore County Agricultural Society’s website at or check out the society’s Facebook page. The fairgrounds are located at 413 E. Fillmore St., Preston.