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County Fair In Wausau Offers Simple Pleasures, Relief From Partisan Politics

Wisconsin Valley Fair Celebrates Its 148th Year

Ashlee Walters of Merrill with Larry the Lamb, a popular children’s attraction. WPR/Glen Moberg

For almost a century and a half, the Wisconsin Valley Fair in Wausau has brought people together to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. This year, it also provided a sanctuary for those who are tired of partisan politics.

One hundred and forty-eight years ago, Wausau was a frontier outpost of lumberjacks and lumber barons. The first Wisconsin Valley Fair that year was dedicated to Marathon County farm animals and the people who raised them. Some things haven’t changed.

In an exhibition hall filled with the cacophonous cries of caged roosters, Poultry supervisor Linda Ploeckelman praised the 4-H children who raised them.

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“Beautiful, beautiful birds here,” Ploeckelman said. “I’m very impressed with what the kids are bringing in. Some of the white birds, they just about glow. The kids have them cleaned and polished, it’s beautiful.”

Sixteen-year-old Morgan Jogwiak, of Hatley, won a blue ribbon for her bird, despite having to overcome a case of the jitters during the showmanship competition.

Jogwiak said she gets a spiritual lift by “making animals feel happy, and making sure they don’t get hurt by anything.”

Outside the hall, Ashlee Walters showed off Larry, a baby lamb who she had bottle fed after it was abandoned by its mother.

“For kids that don’t have animals at home that their parents bring to the fair, this is a lot of times their only opportunity to be up close and personal with them,” Walters said.

Many people still come to the fair for the food. The First English Lutheran Church has been serving complete meals here since 1919.

“People love to come and eat, especially Lutherans,” said Neil Juedes, who has been part of the tradition for 30 years.

Elsewhere, volunteers and young helpers were selling pork chops on a stick, corn on the cob and elephant ears.

“Cream puffs, cream puffs, come and get your cream puffs,” sang Laurel Hoeth, a member of the Sweet Adelines female barbershop quartet. The group has been selling the homemade delicacies at the fair for 38 years.

The kids came for the rides, proving their bravery in a traditional rite of passage. Jack Bobinski and Nicholas Sloan, both in their early teens, had just gotten off of the Orbiter.

“I just liked the speed and the height and the constant spinning,” Nicholas said. “It makes you really dizzy and throw up,” Jack added.

It takes 80 people to run the carnival rides, and 46 trucks to transport the attractions from fair to fair, said Pat Repp, general manager of North American Midway Entertainment.

Repp said county fairs like this one provide a welcome relief to people who are burned out by partisan politics.

“There’s not a lot today in this world, if you watch the news or on Facebook, that’s happy stuff anymore,” Repp said. “Our job is to get people away from the news channels and the election, and enjoy themselves.”