COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON - Ella Rodgers of Scotts strikes a pose while riding in one of the car rides at the St. Joseph County Grange Fair’s midway Friday. The week-long fair had a number of rides, games and entertainment for kids of all ages.COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON - Marlene Cleveland of Kalamazoo (left) and Sue Jensen of Sturgis (right) pet a piglet recently born at the Miracle of Life Birthing Tent at the St. Joseph County Grange Fair Thursday. The piglet was one of a few animals born during the week at the popular tent.COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON - Felipe Velarde, the host of the Shark Encounter live show at the fair, holds a nurse shark during a show Friday. Velarde said holding a shark like this puts the sharks into a trance-like state and allows people who care for the sharks to administer medical treatment. However, he said to not try this at home.COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON - Gracelyn Sturgill (left) and Justin Sturgill (right), both of Howe, Ind., compete in the charity pie eating contest at the St. Joseph County Grange Fair Saturday. In the competition, teams of two were both blindfolded and had to eat as much pie in a clean manner in one minute, with one person feeding the other.

Fair officials tout success of 2022 edition

Questions, complaints linger about Heritage Park, ‘Kiddie Land,’ Old Engine Assoc. pullout

CENTREVILLE — By some measurements, the 2022 St. Joseph County Grange Fair can be considered a successful event.

The week-long county fair featured a number of different attractions, rides, vendors, and food, as well as being the grand showcase for 4-H kids, their animals and exhibits. It attracted thousands to the grounds during the week, with parking lots seemingly filled every single day.

“The fair went very well overall. We had perfect weather for the fair, and we had great attendance,” St. Joseph County Fair Board Director and the fair’s Marketing Director Mindy Timm said. “Everyone seemed to be happy, so it went great.”

Some of the big highlights from the week included the numerous grandstand events, notably the Petty-Nicks tribute band concert Thursday night and the NTPA modified tractor and truck pulls Friday and Saturday night.

“The grandstand events were attended very well this year,” Timm said.

Timm also highlighted the animal auctions, where more than $31,000 was raised for a memorial pavilion in memory of former fair board president Jerry Waltke, the events that took place at the Free Stage and Community Tent throughout the week, and the daily Shark Encounter shows next to the Free Stage.

However, despite the good weather, good attendance, and the relative success of some of the attractions, some notable complaints continue to nag at fair management even after the fair ended Saturday night.

Heritage Park, the new and highly-touted attraction at the west end of the grounds, was met with mixed reactions overall. The area featured the return of the fair’s garden, a forager demonstration, a blacksmith demonstration, an old-fashioned corn shelling machine, and a new open-class antique tractor display.

Touted as an area with a mix of agricultural and educational aspects with daily demonstrations, some people, mainly on social media, complained that the area replaced what used to be “Kiddie Land,” and criticized the overall quality of what was included in Heritage Park.

Timm acknowledged some of the mixed feedback from fairgoers on the new area, adding that you “can’t please everybody” when it comes to new attractions, and defended fair management’s vision of the area.

“People aren't going to understand the fair board's thinking behind things or the direction that we're going, and the first year you try something, it's a thing where you're not probably going to have a home run or a big success that people have when you change something. That's what happens when change happens,” Timm said. “We as a fair board have a vision, we are running with that vision. We know next year it's going to be better; it's going to be bigger. Yeah, we've gotten some negative feedback, but once again you can't please everybody, but we have a vision of what we want.”

Timm said the fair will look to improve the attraction for next year, mentioning the possibility of more demonstrations, a few more “older frontier things,” and growing the area with more agricultural-themed activities.

To the complaints about Kiddle Land not being where it has been in the past, at the west end of the fairgrounds and separate from the rides for older kids, Timm said there were attendees that were “more satisfied” by the arrangement of rides this year.

“Yes, we know that Kiddie Land wasn't where Kiddie Land normally is, but we listened to everybody and we placed the kiddie rides more in the same area and separated them from the big kid rides,” Timm said. “We know a lot more people were more satisfied with that than they were last year.”

However, Timm said they will be in discussion with Skerbeck Entertainment, the ride company for the fair, about the layout for the 2023 fair, but said she doesn’t know what will happen with those conversations as of yet.

However, the biggest cloud that hung over this year’s event was the pullout of the St. Joseph Valley Old Engine Association from the fair, which had brought a number of antique tractors for display for the past 40 years and were a familiar sight to those entering the fairgrounds.

The reasoning for the pullout, according to Old Engine Association officials, was due to different discussions they claim happened between their group and fair board members regarding the issuance of fair passes, insurance, communications about a proposed move to where Heritage Park ended up being, and claims that some fair board members told them the group was “costing them money” in passes and fair food. Fair Manager Missy Tefft has denied the claims, offering claims to the contrary of the Old Engine Association’s on the issues.

Timm said the fair board hopes to open up discussions between the two sides to try to bring them back to future fairs.

“Just like Missy Tefft said, we never wanted them to leave. We want them here. There’s discussion open on that,” Timm said.

Overall, Timm said there were many lessons the fair could take away from this year’s fair and consider for future ones.

“We always listen to that feedback we get, whether it’s positive or negative feedback from people,” Timm said. “We’ve received some suggestions about adding a few more courtesy carts back in different locations, possibly even some different things with the ride company and maybe offering earlier times for rides. There’s all this stuff that when we plan for next year, we’ll look at all the good and bad feedback that we received from fairgoers and work at making the fair a better place.”

Timm thanked those that attended this year’s fair, and reiterated that their goal is to create fun for everyone involved.

“We love that everyone comes out and supports the fair, brings their families and have a great time and makes those memories,” Timm said. “We want to see a family-fun atmosphere for people to come and offer all that free entertainment and things to do that you can see, do, learn and watch, and have that to offer to everyone.”

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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