Oneida County Fair seeks independence, growth
By Eileen Persike
In the midst of a pandemic and the dark days of a snowy autumn, the Oneida County Fair Committee is looking to make some positive changes. Changes fair coordinator Thomas Barnett said will benefit the annual summer fair and the entire county throughout the year.
“We want to move forward, we want to grow the fair bigger than it has been in the past and part of that is taking responsibility for our fair,” Barnett said.
The fair is a county entity. The committee is working with the county board on a separation agreement that is beneficial to the fair committee and the county, Barnett said, especially during budget time.
“We know that there are some things that are high on the list to cut, and the fair has always been high on their list to cut funding to,” Barnett said. “We kind of see the writing on the wall, decided to be proactive and take a positive step forward for ourselves.”
The committee has leased a suite on the second floor of the Curran office building and will be moving out of the space provided by the county in the basement of the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport.
A separation agreement is necessary, Barnett said, noting the committee hopes to retain the equipment the fair has used for years.
“If we cut ties completely without an agreement, we lose any carry-over money, we lose the trolley, we lose the big tents, the sound system – everything is county owned at this point, so we need that agreement.”
The committee is also in the process of achieving 501c(3) status which will allow the committee to apply for grants and seek funding from larger sponsors. Another goal is for the fair to have its own fairgrounds.
“We would love the county to work with us and let us lease a bunch of land that they have…for like a dollar a year, which is what most counties do with their county fairs,” Barnett said. “They don’t fund them financially but they give them land to do with what they want.”
With that land, Barnett said the fair can put on year-round entertainment, bring in rodeos and demolition derbies, have a closed-off grandstand area to bring in some big-name bands and charge admission, all to help fund the fair. The end goal, down the road, is for the fair to be self-supporting by renting out facilities and bringing entertainment to the county.
“All we want is for the fair to succeed,” Barnett said. “We want this family event that’s been around for over 100 years to continue and to bring entertainment to our community and some light heartedness, especially during these times.”
Not wanting to cancel the fair completely, the committee organized a virtual fair instead. It included contests, live-streamed events, recorded historical video presentations and music. And it got the Oneida County community involved.
“We got a lot of great feedback from that,” Barnett said. “We’re glad it was able to give some entertainment to some people and that was the main goal of the virtual fair and I think we succeeded big time.”
In addition to incorporating some of the virtual fair events into the real event going forward, Barnett said the committee will be active throughout the year, talking with people, participating in fundraising events and being visible to the community.
“This isn’t a one-weekend summer gig for us, we do this year round,” Barnett said. “We work our butts off all year to bring a four-day event to the county.”
For more information on the Oneida County Fair, contact Barnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.