The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Volunteers bring fair to life


August 7, 2019

Tom LaVenture/Daily Globe

Amy Wetzel, of Marshfield, Wisconsin, runs a few laps with I Want Revenge, a 10 year old champion standardbred pacer horse, also known as Copper, on Tuesday at the Gogebic County Fair. The fair runs Thursday through Sunday.


Ironwood - The Gogebic County Fair opens Thursday and the staff and board are praising the volunteers who somehow seem to get everything up and running in a few short days - and just for some donuts and coffee in the morning.

"We're thrilled that the fair is filling up with volunteers who are working, our vendors are arriving, the carnival is arriving, the harness racers are arriving and things are falling into place," said Terttu Anderson, fair coordinator. "The fair is a community event that is brought together by groups of people and we're so grateful and it's really coming together well."

A few of the volunteers have been around so long there is no need for instruction or supervision.

John Nelson, of Ironwood Township, has been volunteering at the fair for 49 years. He started out by helping the harness racers pick rocks off the track and now does it all himself.

"You've got to have volunteers otherwise you ain't gonna make it," Nelson said. "If you gotta pay everybody you might as well lock it up."

Kathy Bednar-Ghiardi, of Ironwood, is the volunteer painter and also organizes the antique exhibit in the exhibition hall. She's been part of the fair since she was 9 years old.

"I got started in the fair through my father who was the Gogebic County Extension director for many years," she said. "I just absolutely love this fair."

Bednar-Ghiardi said she raised animals and joined 4-H and learned to sew and knit as she raised $200 to buy her first horse at age 15 with money she earned picking and selling strawberries for 9 cents a quart.

She started volunteering for the fair selling racing programs as a child and still does today. Her father encouraged her to participate in any way that can help something she enjoyed.

"We just want to give people a reason to get out with their families and come to the fair to look at the exhibits or go to the shows, listen to music and look at the animals," Bednar-Ghiardi said. "We just really want to keep these fairgrounds going and keep it looking nice and inviting so that people come and enjoy themselves."

This year Bednar-Ghiardi was assisted by Mike and Lauana Drier, an Ironwood couple who helped with scraping and painting the grandstand railings and the trim on the entrances of several buildings all in one week. Lauana said she was involved with 4-H for many years and now that she's retired there is more time to help at the fair.

"I been coming to the fair since I was a kid and I want to help everyone else as a way to give back," Lauana said. "I just love being out here."

Some of the harness racing teams were already at the fairgrounds Tuesday. Christopher Frenzel and Amy Wetzel, of Marshfield, Wisconsin, said they attend around 10 county fairs along with para-mutual racing in Minnesota each season. But the Gogebic County Fair is special to them and they like to use their vacation time to add a couple of extra days here before their busy September racing schedule.

"I've been coming here since I was 10 years old, that's 37 years," Wetzel said. "It's just a fun fair to come to and it's relaxing. It's the atmosphere, the people and the track."

The fair's office building will have a small museum on the history of harness racing.

Bednar-Ghiardi, together with Mike and Cecelia Pisco, organized a display of antique horse drawn snow sleighs in the exhibition hall. The variety of restored sleighs show ornate differences in line rails, doors, upholstered seats or furs, springs and boot scrapers.

"Every year we do have something different as another way to get people wanting to come to the fair," Bednar-Ghirardi said. "Last year the exhibit was antique farm equipment."

Joe Rimkus and his brother Mike Rimkus, both board members of the Aurora Club, were at the fair early Tuesday to start work preparing the club's food and alcohol booth.

"We're just trying to get a head start on this," Joe said. "We just happened to have the day off and so we came early."

Mike said the fair is the club's biggest fundraising activity and the fund help support youth groups and pay the property taxes on the clubhouse. There also scholarships, trail authorities, special donations and the big remodeling project that was completed last spring.

Selling liquor at the fair presents a lot of responsibilities but it's all fun, he said. There is a cordoned off beer garden with a shade/rain tarp and club volunteers also set up a portable booth at the grandstand, he said.

"We get a lot of people to volunteer during the fair to cook and sell," Mike said. "We've been lucky as our membership has actually increased over the years."

Over at the 4-H Market Animal Club, Peter Gallo, 13, Adrianne Balchik, 10, her brother John Balchik, 13, and Carter Atalanta, 14, all volunteered to unload sawdust and place it around the barn. The kids will also be showing calves, cows, lambs and hogs along with auctioning some of them at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

Some of the fair highlights include Lonnie Hammer at 7:30 p.m. Thursday; harness racing at 1 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Uncle Fester Classic Rock and the Rich Roth Project 3:13: The Music of REO Speedwagon at 7:30 p.m. Friday; The Tired Iron Antique Tractor Pull at 3 p.m. Saturday; David Walters & The Old Pine Road Band at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, followed by Tom Catalina & Highway 41 at 9:30 p.m .; and on Sunday there are three lumberjack shows, the 1 p.m. mud truck meet and greet; the 4-H awards at 1:30 p.m., and the 15th annual Mud Run at 2 p.m., followed by the vintage tractor parade at 3 p.m.


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