Southern Iowa County Fair Shines in July

A scene from the Southern Iowa Fair 2020.

by Justin Burtis

Oskaloosa — When the last horse-racing carriage crossed the finish line on the track Monday, the 2020 edition of the Southern Iowa Fair officially ended. Months ago, such an event would probably have not been thought possible. Despite a large hurdle to jump, the organizers and planners meticulously figured out a way for Iowans to still get a fair experience, despite the State Fair being canceled for the first time since the Second World War.

Trying to talk to Erica Antolik last week would have been all but impossible as she whizzed around the grounds making sure that everything went off right. But after the events ended Monday, she got time to pause and speak about the success of this year’s edition.

“It was good. We did not know what to expect this year, but it turned out great. Since we do not charge for admission, we do not have a headcount, but it seemed more full than previous years.”

With almost a full week of action around the facility, Iowans came from all over to participate in the many events and competitions.

The stables were full for all the judging events, while plenty had time to submit different exhibit hall items. In fact, the fair had more to offer this year than in previous years.

“We had so many vendors that wanted in this year. Even ones from the State Fair wanted in. We had more food vendors this year than we normally do; the vendor building was full. The location under the grandstand was full, which it had not been in a few years, so that was good.”

Planning the fair is typically a time-consuming job for Antolik and her entire staff, but the pandemic certainly threw another hat in the ring to complicate matters.
“We started back in March, and we met once or twice a week. We did lots of the online meeting calls with our State Fair Director, and we decided to sit back and hang out tight to not make a decision too fast, which we are glad we did.”

As places in Iowa started to open up, the possibility of the fair going off got better and better.

“We knew we wanted to decide by June 15th, as we needed roughly 30 days to pull everything together. So, it was a little after the 15th; I want to say it was the 22nd or so, that we made the decision and decided that we were going for it and never looked back.”

The staff recognized that they had to make sure that people would be safe and feel safe if they chose to attend the fair.

“A lot of signage and a lot of sanitizer were important. With the insurance, we followed all of their guidelines, and sanitizing the bathrooms was perhaps the biggest key to the event. We sanitized the pavilion where we had the livestock competitions every night. The enter at your own risk signs at the front entrance, along with signs on the buildings; we even had some on the ground. We provided sanitizer at every entrance. Masks weren’t required, but they were recommended, and we did see some people with masks.”

By providing as many safety measures as they could, the fair felt confident that the people would show up.

Iowans certainly responded. Along with good crowds for the events during the days, the nights were also sizzling.

Two amazing nights of racing got the grandstands packed, as the USMTS series and the Caleb Hammond Memorial each thrilled the large crowds in attendance. Sunday night featured a country combo highlighted by Diamond Rio. “The Caleb Hammond night was great. It was a huge success. The concert night was also a huge success.”

While the fair can draw some bigger names, it was a little out of the ordinary in these times to get a better-known group like Diamond Rio. “We were both open to having it, which we are thankful for. We had around 1,500 people in attendance for the show, and we were hoping for 1,000, so that was good!”

With numbers like that and a general sense that numerous people were attending, Antolik concludes that this year was one of the best despite the pandemic.
“It was a success and definitely worth doing. We have people say it was one of the better fairs in the last few years. We had a lot of free entertainment, and there is something for everyone here.”

While some of the measures for this year are for the here and now, Antolik acknowledges that many lessons were learned this year, and some things might be here to stay.
“I think the signage and the hand sanitizer will be good from here on out. Just something to have up. We proved that we could do it during a pandemic, and we pulled it off. It was good.”

While the closing day meant that the fairgrounds would be quiet during the days, there are still plenty of big events coming up that they are preparing for.
“We have our racing again coming up tomorrow night, Saturday is our big Monster Truck show. August 9-10 is the sprint car event, and August 22nd is a demolition derby. We will have a bluegrass festival on August 5-8 in there as well. September 11-12 is our Red Neck Rally, while October 16-17 is our season championships.”
Check out the website for the fairgrounds and the Southern Iowa Speedway to stay connected to the upcoming events.

“A big thank you to all the vendors, all the people that attended the fair, all the 4H and FFA families. It was a great week!”

Posted by on Jul 29 2020. Filed under Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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