“Come Home” to the Centennial Clay County Fair
The Clay County Fair Association, established in 1917, held its first fair in 1918 and a tradition commenced. With an attendance of 30,000, it was Iowa’s largest county fair that year. By 1932, statistics proved that it was the largest county fair in the world, and the slogan “World’s Greatest County Fair” was adopted and has been used ever since. Contrary to the fact that the Clay County Fair is no longer the largest county fair, according to attendance, the logo that it is the greatest is still maintained. General Manager Jeremy Parsons explains what the term “World’s Greatest County Fair” means to him, “I think that whenever something is called the ‘World’s Greatest’ that sets a really high standard. Everything we try to do here at the fair is at that ‘World’s Greatest’ standard.”
The Clay County Fair, located in Spencer, Iowa, on a 260-acre fairground, will celebrate its centennial year September 9-17, 2017. Parsons indicated that a committee has been planning the Centennial Fair for over a year. The emphasis for the hundred year party is tradition and how much people love the Clay County Fair. The 2017 fair theme is “Come Home,” which is an invitation for everyone to come home in September for the celebration. In anticipation of this idea, areas on the fairgrounds have been assigned for tents that can be rented for private reunions. The goal is to reunite families and even 4-H clubs at the fair. Parsons mentioned that an area school district that is no longer operating is considering locating their class reunions at the fairground. He said that is quite extraordinary, adding that getting together at the fair is what the intent really is. The fair wants to provide these opportunities for everyone to “Come Home” to the fair.
Family time and tradition combine for the #1 reason that people do come back to the fair, according to an annual survey of fairgoers. Historically the fair is most known for it’s emphasis on agriculture, especially it’s farm machinery and agriculture equipment show. The agriculture display at the Clay County Fair is the largest farm machinery show at any fair in the United States. Representing agriculture and being able to promote it at this level in Northwest Iowa is a responsibility that the Clay County Fair takes a lot of pride in. Agriculture at the Clay County Fair is a long-standing tradition that the fair will never change. In Parsons words, “That’s what we do.”
The Clay County Fair, however, doesn’t just feature machinery for their agriculture experience. Parsons affirms that without the livestock exhibitors, the fair would not be showing the whole story. He conveys that it is important to have a good relationship with the exhibitors and to work together. Despite the rules that need to be enforced and followed, the fair tries to be accommodating by providing a place for the exhibitors to show their ‘best.’ Jeremy inserts, “That’s what a fair is all about. It’s about providing a place for people to showcase their exhibits. We want to be good partners and be a good platform for people to showcase those exhibits.”
The Clay County Fair is more than an agricultural showcase, as it also provides a place for people to learn about agriculture. Anyone in agriculture is aware of the divide between what people think about agriculture and what it really is. Information like where does milk come from and what are GMO’s. Jeremy states that this is the area that the fair wants to improve, educating people about agriculture. Grandpa’s Barn is a venue that offers fairgoers hands-on-opportunities to interact with both large and small farm animals. Ag-Citing and Sci-Citing offer classrooms on the fairgounds for area 3rd and 4th graders. The two programs are under the direction of ISU Extension and coordinated by the Clay County Extension. Approximately 1,500 students from 15 school districts participate. This is how the Clay County Fair, which occurs in September when school is in session, incorporates school-aged youth while working with area schools.
Youth involvement is also shown through 4-H participation. Last year, more than 800 4-H members exhibited at the Clay County Fair from 45 counties in Iowa and Minnesota. Actual Clay County 4-Her’s have a unique county fair experience. They have to share their fairgrounds during their fair. Before the fair, they use the grounds all summer long. A great example is the Conquistador 4-H Club. This horse club uses the arena once a week to practice. In mid-July an Achievement Day is held where all the static exhibits are judged to determine if they go to the Iowa State Fair prior to their own county fair. Similarly, the Clay County Fair Queen is selected in April and represents Clay County at the Iowa State Fair before taking on her responsibilities at the Clay County Fair.
The 4-H building will feature a historical connection to the Centennial theme, “Come Home,” with a display. A special category for the 100 year celebration is the Barn Quilt Challenge. Each 4-H club will design their own barn quilt, which will be judged. The barn quilts will hang above the entrances to each livestock barn. This will be an added contest for the centennial, but will also result in a permanent improvement for the fairgrounds.
Most people will be able to note various improvements on the fairgrounds during the Centennial fair. The goal is that the Ag Building will be gone. It will be replaced with Centennial Plaza, a park on the fairgrounds. The park area will contain fountains accompanied by places for people to sit, rest, and eat lunch. A newly constructed building, named the Tower Gate Pavilion, is situated on the East end of the grounds and will be open for the 2017 Clay County Fair. The photography department will relocate to the Industrial Building, which will also host this year’s special historical exhibit.
Other departments are considering their own historical displays. In the dairy barn the exhibitors are contemplating a display containing old milking equipment. It’s possible that this theme will be portrayed throughout the entire fair as vendors like John Deere or Case IH may incorporate something 100 years old along with their modern equipment. The fair will have several art type sculptures depicting the centennial assembled throughout the fairgrounds. Also arranged throughout the fair, will be large blown up photos/posters that will provide a visualization of the fair a century ago. The fair is expected to permeate the essence that the Clay County Fair is celebrating it’s centennial.
To ignite this celebration feeling, the fair is planning a kick-off event. On Thursday night, prior to the annual Saturday start of the fair, there will be a gathering on the courthouse lawn. The event’s purpose is to thank the community of Spencer for their support as well as getting everybody excited about the upcoming fair. There will be free food and entertainment. Another special element of the fair will be the last night of the fair. Parsons expands on fair history as he describes old grandstand events as big spectaculars, pointing out that concerts only date back to the 50’s and 60’s. The past big spectaculars included lots of fireworks, circus type acts like high wire acts and a human cannonball, with some musical entertainment. Likewise, a modern big spectacular, or Centennial Birthday Bash will be a throwback of the 1920’s and 1930’s grandstand shows featuring a whole lot of fireworks at the end.
Andrea Wiesenmeyer handles the fairs marketing and sponsorship. She articulated on the effect that social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have had on the way that they advertise. A big change that social media brought about was the process in which concert tickets were sold. In the past, an individual received their brochure about mid-June and ordered all their concert tickets at that same time. Now, the first concert is announced in mid-January with tickets going on sale shortly after. Staggered concert announcements continue until mid-May, followed by the corresponding ticket sales. Without doing any paid advertising tickets are being sold immediately.
Yet the Clay County Fair remains solid on tradition even in advertising. Wiesenmeyer points out that the Clay County Fair brochure that comes out in July is still their #1 marketing tool. The brochure presents a little overview of each day, which people like to hold in their hands. They get excited about the events that are listed in it. Statistically, 360,000 brochures are inserted into about 80 newspapers. Wiesenmeyer communicates, “We expand through radio, newspaper, some of the traditional methods still to reach father out to get people to come.”
The Clay County Fair is consistently trying to reach out and expand it’s area, making Iowa tourism a vital factor. As a result, the Clay County Fair is the second-largest tourism event and fair in the state of Iowa, ranking behind the Iowa State Fair for both categories. The all-time attendance record for the Clay County Fair was set in 2013 with 334,565 fairgoers. The Fair Association is proud that their Northwest Iowa town of only 12,000 is able to attract that many people and grandstand entertainment like Allan Jackson, Justin Moore, and Little Big Town – just to name a few. Quality entertainment fused together with the largest machinery and agricultural fair display in the United States sustain the Clay County Fair’s status of the “World’s Greatest County Fair.”
Again with the “World’s Greatest County Fair” concept, Parsons asserts that we’re very proud of our fair, enthusiastically repeating the theme, “Come Home.” He reiterates the notion that fairgoers genuinely love and are passionate about the Clay County Fair. This is Parson’s favorite part because it boils over into every area producing an environment composed of people who are always excited about the fair. The fact that every year people come back to the Clay County Fair is the definition of tradition. “Come Home” to experience the Centennial Clay County Fair! https://claycountyfair.com