Terry Stibbe grooms the grounds of any large stones Monday in preparation for the Marinette County Fair in Wausaukee. The three-day event begins today. EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Terry Stibbe grooms the grounds of any large stones Monday in preparation for the Marinette County Fair in Wausaukee. The three-day event begins today.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
WAUSAUKEE - The Marinette County Fair is a labor of love for many volunteers who have helped make sure it has taken place every year since 1928.

The popular family event that begins today and continues through Sunday at the fairgrounds in Wausaukee is the culmination of nearly a year of planning and work by the Fair Board and a bevy of other persons.

Lisa Witak, secretary of the board, and David Gross, president of the board, have been involved with the fair since they were children, showing exhibits as members of 4-H clubs.

"We just don't show up the week of the fair," said Witak, who has been on the board for eight years. "It takes a lot of volunteer hours.

"Its definitely a year-round thing. Basically we'll start planning for next year's fair right after this one is done. In January there's a convention for fairs throughout the state and we go there and book some of the entertainment and get ideas."

Gross has been involved with the fair for about 29 years.

"I've been on the board of directors since 1998 and I've been involved with the fair since I was about 12 years old," he said. "I used to be the dairy barn superintendent or the assistant superintendent and then kind of helped out in the grandstand. Then they got me on the board of directors."

He said the goal of the 12-person board is to make the "fair a big family experience with something for everyone."

Witak said the "primary focus" of the fair remains youth and their exhibits, but that the board strives to make it a well-rounded event.

"We try to have a good variety of entertainment in the grandstand, not just the agricultural exhibits, to draw the people," she said. "It's not a music festival or anything like that.

"We try to have a variety of things for people to come and see. We always try to get a little change each year."

"We try to make the fair as diverse as we can," added Gross. "The past year we got a new board member from Marinette - Abby Olsen - that has added diversity to the board.

"She has never been part of 4-H or the fair. She has been very helpful to the fair board. She's a really good individual. You want a diverse board - everybody's view is valued."

Witak and Gross said grandstand events like the super-modified truck and tractor pull on Saturday night and the demolition derby on Saturday and Sunday afternoons draw big crowds.

Gross said other big draws include carnival rides, musical entertainment, which this year will include "Daze 2 Nights" and "Star Six Nine," and children's entertainment from "Nick's Kids Show and "In Capable Hands," a comedy juggling act.

Last but not least, he said the judging of animals and other exhibits in three classes - junior, open and senior - attracts a lot of attention.

Persons aged 6 to 19 years may enter the competition in the junior class if they are involved in 4-H, FFA or other accredited youth programs. The open class is open to everyone else, except seniors who compete in another class.

According to the UW Extension office at the Marinette County Courthouse, at the 2012 fair there was 166 junior exhibitors with 2,350 exhibits, 93 competitors in the open class with 582 exhibits and 37 seniors with 226 exhibits.

"The last couple of years we've been getting a lot of open exhibits," Gross said. "We're also seeing a lot of senior citizens showing at the fair."

Gross said the organizers of the fair strive to make it an affordable family event.

A daily pass costs $5, a weekend pass costs $15, children 5 and under are admitted free. Wristbands for unlimited carnival rides during certain periods of the fair cost $15. The fee for parking directly east of the fairgrounds is $1. There's an extra charge for grandstand events.

Gross said the time wristbands can be used is being expanded for this year's fair.

"It helps out the families a little more," he said. "It brings the price down and hopefully brings more people to the fair.

"The grandstand, there's a fee of course. We try to keep the free stage going, there's entertainment on that all day, and there are many different programs going on the kid's stand."

Gross said the goal of the board is for the fair to attract about 30,000 people.

"Last year attendance was down a little bit primarily because Sunday was a rainout and a lot of stuff had to be canceled and on Saturday it was really hot, it was in the low-to-mid 90s and that kind of deterred quite a few people from coming during the day," he recalled. "We were about 27,000 or 28,000 attendance last year.

"The 30,000 mark is where we've been striving to be. Two years ago we were right around that."

Gross and Witak said the major project to the fairgrounds undertaken between the 2012 and 2013 events was major repairs to the office area.

"Last year we had significant amount of vandalism at the end of October," Gross said. "The office was broken into.

"We had to redo that area this year, put all windows in and fix and clean up the rooms. Food stands also got broken into and we had to do quite a bit of work on them."

Gross said as a result of the vandalism more lighting was installed on the fairgrounds along with a security system that was donated.

"We're trying to make the fair more handicapped accessible and safer," he said. "We're trying to make it a better experience."

Gross was quick to answer when asked what motivates him to keep being involved in the fair.

"Probably the thing that keeps me going is seeing how everyone works together," he replied. "The drive of everyone to make a wonderful fair better and to make it more of a family experience.

"Another thing is to see all the families at the fair having a good time. I always strive to make our fair a family experience."

Witak is hopeful the fair will be blessed with good weather.

"It's kind of like the end of summer because schools start in a week or two," she said. "It's kind of like the last hurrah for some people, their last big event of the summer."