One week before the Story County 4-H Fair was set to begin, fair board president Jeff Longnecker was riding around the fairgrounds in Nevada on a tractor that came into existence in the same year he did.
Longnecker, 56, using a 1960 John Deere tractor from his fifth generation farm family, was smoothing out the roads through the fairgrounds, which is just one of the things that has to be done to prepare for the fair, especially since the land is now owned and managed by the fair board/association.
Upkeep. “It’s our biggest challenge,” Longnecker said. “The land used to belong to the county, then to the city of Nevada and then the city gave it to us (Story County Fair Association) for a dollar.” And while that was a great price for the property that houses the Story County 4-H Fair every year, Longnecker said, “so much work came with it. Thanks to the Story County board of supervisors and generous donations, we’ve been able to make this (ownership and all that goes with it) happen.”
Sitting at a picnic table under a tree near the Extension Office building, Longnecker was conversational about his years of working with the county fair. He’s been on the fair board a dozen years and served as president of the board for the past 10. This will be his last fair in that capacity, as he will step down from the president’s post and the board in March 2018.
“I told ‘em last year, find somebody else,” he said. It’s time for him and his wife, Twila, who’s been coordinating the fair queen competition for about the past five years, to both step down and be able, as grandparents of seven, to enjoy watching their grandchildren show and take part in the county fair.
“I’ve got five bucket calves here this year with my grandkids,” Longnecker said. “Next year, instead of worrying about what’s going to break down, I want to pull up a chair and watch the grandkids.”
Longnecker can trace his history in 4-H and fairs back to his childhood, when he and his two older siblings were all involved in 4-H and the fair.
He attended Maxwell schools, graduating in 1979, and lived in the rural area on his family’s farm until he made the move to the only other place he’s ever lived. “I’ve only moved once, and I had two grocery sacks and had to go to K-Mart to buy towels,” he laughed. He moved seven miles northwest of his parents’ place and that’s where he and Twila raised their family and still live today.
“I went from a Maxwell address to an Ames address, a Nevada phone number and lived five miles north of Cambridge,” he said. If you ask him where he’s from, he usually answers Cambridge, “because I’m rural.”
He and Twila spent 25 years of working with 4-H while their own kids were growing up and beyond. They were leaders of their kids’ 4-H club, Grant Guys and Gals, for 20 years. “We just resigned from that two years ago,” he said.
When Longnecker agreed to be the Story County fair board president, he had just finished a 10-year run as president of the Story County Cattlemen’s Association board. “I said I’d give this (fair board presidency) a year,” he laughed.
Being part of the fair board, he said, has had some great moments. He remembers several years back, putting up the horse barn. “These two little girls came up with their (horse) ribbons and they were on cloud nine, wanting to thank me for the new horse barn.” He accepted their thanks on behalf of the entire board and association, marveling at how absolutely thrilled they were about that new barn. “I feel sorry for kids that have never had that experience in their life,” he said. “That’s why I want to see this — (he looks back over his shoulder at the fairgrounds area) — in 100 years still be here.”
When asked about what he’s excited for during this year’s fair, it doesn’t take any time at all for him to answer.
“We used to do a parade of champions,” he said, noting that at some point in the past it was discontinued, because it was too much work. But this year, Longnecker pushed to bring it back for the last night (Wednesday, July 26) of the fair. “I said I’d carry it on my back if I had to, because I wanted to see it one more time.”
So, it’s happening. It will be held in the horse arena, and after the entire parade of champions, the grand champion beef — both breeding beef and market beef — will be crowned. It’s a show that Longnecker hopes will bring in many fair enthusiasts, and he adds that the cattlemen serving a steak sandwich supper that night only makes the evening better.
Tuesday night, he said, will also be fun. Not only does it feature the ice cream social that the cattlemen put on, but it’s also the night when 53 bottle bucket calves will be shown…a fun, family night, he said. Longnecker said the bottle bucket calf show will be held in the horse arena, unless there is extreme heat, in which case they’d move it to the pavilion and set up the huge fans to keep air moving.
To say he’s pumped about the last two evenings of the fair is an understatement. He can’t wait.
As he looks to the future of the fair board, Longnecker really hopes to see new people step up to the challenge. “We need new blood, new ideas all the time. Life in general and the world are changing; if you aren’t ready to change, you’re falling behind,” he said.
He loves the fair, loves that it’s a team effort and a community effort. “I saw a guy down here the other night picking up garbage on the grounds,” he said. “I asked him if he was working for us or what. He said, ‘No,’ he just likes to make the fairgrounds look nice because he wants to.”
That’s the kind of “community” thing that Longnecker loves to see and has felt in his years of service on the Story County fair board, and it’s something he fully believes will continue. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s really rewarding work.”