Hats off to 2023 Winneshiek County Fair honorees

By Roz Weis,

The Friends of the Fair awards this year were presented to, from left: Ron Franzen, Bruce Hanson and Mark Olson.

The people of Winneshiek County have been recognized for their dedication and spirit surrounding the county fair for decades. 

Several additional honorees were presented with awards during opening ceremonies at the fair last Tuesday, July 11.

Distinguished Service

The Distinguished Service Award for 2023 was presented to Jerry and Beth Einck of Decorah.

During the presentation to the couple on Tuesday, Fair Board member Gary Sacquitne said, “Fair volunteers are made up of many different people. Some enjoy the limelight and are always center stage, promoting the fair; and some you never know are there. They are workers behind the scenes, making sure everything looks great and runs smoothly.”

For the past 14 years as Fair Auxiliary members, the Eincks can be seen scurrying behind the scenes at the fairgrounds. Both set up shop at the Fair for displays and signs, moving bleachers and tables, and much more.

“They are always there, willing to do any job asked,” Sacquitne said.

Beth Einck grew up as a 4-H member in Fayette County and became a teacher. She was instrumental in organizing the 4-HFFA dog program at the fair. She retired from being the Winneshiek County Fair Dog Superintendent, and has been inducted into the Iowa 4-H Hall of Fame.

Jerry grew up in Festina, working at the family service station. He has since passed the business on to family members.

Both are retired now, and they have three children, Russell, Ryan and Suzanne and they also have many grandchildren.

During the presentation, Sacquitne referred to the Eincks as “the Energizer Bunny and the Dog Whisperer”.

Friends of the Fair

Four individuals were honored with the 2023 “Friends of the Fair Award” this year.

The late Leon Brown was honored posthumously for his dedication to the Fair in the 1930s and beyond, having served as a board member of the Winneshiek County Agricultural Association (Fair Board) in 1933, and as fair secretary (fair manager) in 1940. He maintained that position for 24 years, until 1964.

Sacquitne said Brown was credited with the fair motto “The Biggest Little Fair in Iowa”. Brown reportedly hand-painted the label onto a large billboard on Highway 9 in an ongoing ffort to promote the fair.

During his tenure with the Fair, he was an entertainer, promoter and all-around showman. Under his leadership, new buildings were added, the fairgrounds was modernized, and an open class barn was constructed to house cattle on the grounds. Brown also was an inductee into the Hall Fame for the Iowa Association of Fairs.

Brown also was known throughout the Driftless area for his animal exhibit attraction – Brown Zoo, which featured exotic wildlife. Many years ago, the proceeds from his zoo went to the Winneshiek County Society for Crippled Children.

A new kiosk celebrating Brown’s dedication and support of the Fair has been installed at the entrance to the community building at the fairgrounds in his honor.

Bruce Hanson from Lang’s Dairy Equipment of Decorah was also named as a Friend of the Fair honoree for his support of the various awards and trophies awarded to 4-H and FFA exhibitors over the years. Sacquitne said Lang’s Dairy stepped up with equipment for a milking parlor at the fairgrounds.

Mark Olson of Olson Explosives of Decorah was another recipient of the 2023 Friend of the Fair award.

“Over many years Olson Explosives has been the first in line to sponsor something at the fair,” Sacquitne said of the firm’s dedication to the fair.

Olson Explosives is a third-generation business in Decorah.

Ron Franzen of Franzen Sales & Service of Fort Atkinson was the final recipient of the 2023 Friends of the Fair honor.

“The Franzens have stepped up and were one of the first sponsors of the fair,” Sacquitne said. “But not only that, for many years they have allowed us to use their equipment (tractors, skid loaders and more) to get ready for the rodeo and tractor pull and to help put things away after the fair.”

The honorees were thanked for their willingness to help in any way over the years of the fair.

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