Past Fair Secretary Van Loon looks forward to 140th Waushara County Fair
With the Waushara County Fair approaching Aug. 13-16, former Waushara County Agricultural Agent and Fair Secretary Lester Van Loon is looking forward to once again walking the midway and visiting every exhibition building at least once. “It’s still one of the best fairs in the state,” he said.
Van Loon, who was employed as the Waushara County agricultural agent for 28 years, until he retired in 1979, also served as the country fair secretary for 35 years, “hanging up his hat” in 1991 at the age of 67.
“Every year, right after the Fourth of July, Arden Pomplun and Charlie Simonson, who both worked at the Speed Queen Factory, would come to the fairgrounds after work and we’d work out there until near dark, five days a week, getting things ready for the fair,” said Van Loon.
“Back then each display was taken apart following the fair and then rebuilt the next year before the fair so we’d have room to store the carnival rides,” he added.
The carnival rides were stored in the empty buildings every winter and have been for approximately 90 years, even back when the rides had to be transported by the railroad and horse-drawn wagons. “We sawed, hammered, and painted,” said Van Loon. “We didn’t own tables like they do now. We built sawhorses and put plywood on top.”
Van Loon also remembers some years literally having to make hay on the fairgrounds to get ready for opening day of the fair.
Once the fair began, Van Loon was at the fairgrounds from 7 a.m. until late at night each day. “Sometimes, when the tractor/truck pull lasted until after midnight, I wouldn’t get home until 1 a.m.,” he said.
At the end of each day, Van Loon also counted the money from the day’s beer stand sales. Half of the money went to the organization that provided the volunteers to work in the stand, while the other half went to the fair association. “Most of the time, the money was wet, so I’d take it home and put it in the clothes dryer before I could count it,” laughed Van Loon.
Working at the fair was a busy one for the entire Van Loon family. His wife, Jean, helped with judging, and other tasks in the secretary’s office, while their children, Lesla, John, Alan, and Linda, ran messages and other errands to and from the office and helped in any way they could.
Van Loon was responsible for booking the grandstand entertainment at the fair each year and worked with a booking agency in Chicago. “We’d book musical entertainment, demolition derbies, and numerous other acts,” he said.
The Lucky O’Hara Thrill Show was a popular act at the fair for a number of years. It involved precision driving, rollovers, stunts involving fire, and other death-defying stunts. However, one year, when the show was booked for the Waushara County Fair, Van Loon received devastating news that O’Hara’s son had murdered the entire family. Even though it was a tragedy, the fair had to go on, so Van Loon contacted the booking agency in Chicago and they were able to get a replacement in time for the fair.
“Saddle horse racing at fairs started right here in Wautoma,” Van Loon recollects and laughs, stating that he’s got a big trophy in his basement that’s engraved: Horseman of the Year.