Rock County 4-H Fair Board president wants to mix things up

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Catherine W. Idzerda
July 25, 2010
— If you just grow corn and soybeans, all you’ll get is corn and soybeans year after year.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

But Bob Arndt, La Prairie Township farmer and new president of the Rock County 4-H Fair Board, thinks it’s a better idea to mix things up, both at the farm and at the fair—even if it means spending money.

“You want to try a new crop. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t,” Arndt said.

In the case of Arndt Farms, that might be mint, sweet corn or a canning crop.

In the case of the fair, the new “crops” this year will include two rodeo shows, cheaper ticket prices on Sunday, and—brace yourself—a midget wrestling show.

“What’s that expression? ‘If you don’t stick your neck out, it’s never going to get chopped off,’” Arndt said.

That’s typical of Arndt, 55, who has been attending the fair since he was a child, spent time as a 4-H beef superintendent and was a fair board member years ago.

Arndt and his brothers, Allan and David, their mother, Donna, and Arndt’s son, Austin, all are a part of Arndt Farms. Each year they raise about 1,600 steers and grow corn, seed corn, sweet corn, soybeans, mint and a canning crop.

The whole family has a history of service to the community, but Bob is the relentless, loquacious, Type A personality. He conducted a phone interview with a reporter from a tractor in the middle of a field of soybeans, for example.

Although he’s in favor of change, he’s not advocating the fair board take the kind of risk that guarantees that the fair board’s metaphorical head ends up in a basket. But he does want to infuse the fair with a new energy while at the same time preserving the event’s primary purpose: showcasing the talent, leadership skills and positive qualities of local youth.

‘Out of the box’

Arndt replaced Wayne Flury, who had served as fair board president for 18 years. Officers can serve unlimited terms, but fair board members are limited to two consecutive three-year terms. They can run again after a year.

“We’re talking about term limits for officers, now,” Arndt said. “It doesn’t mean anything bad about Wayne, I think he did a good job.”

But Arndt said he values fresh viewpoints, and change means new voices, ideas and maybe even conflict—again, he said, that’s not always such a bad thing.

“Now the rodeo, that’s a little out of the box, we’ve never done that,” Arndt said. “Everybody got behind that.”

After the musical entertainment Saturday night, the area in front of the grandstand will be plowed under and fenced.

Only 2,500 tickets will be sold for each of the two shows, and for the first time an additional ticket will be needed to get into the grandstand.

Rodeo tickets will be $6, but all gate tickets on Sunday will be reduced to $5, making the total cost $11.

As for the midget wrestling, Stephanie Gassen, one of the younger fair board members presented the idea to the board.

“Not everybody liked the idea, but I thought, ‘We’ve got to let her run with it a little bit,’” Arndt said. “We don’t to discourage ideas.”

The Mirco Wrestling Federation show will be at 3 p.m. Wednesday. Despite the R-rated language and activity on the website, microwrestling.com, Gassen has promised the fair board a family-friendly show.

“She’s got it all under control,” Arndt said.

The reduced gate prices on Sunday are another new feature, and it’s not just because of the rodeo.

We’re trying to make it a little more family friendly, and Sunday is family day, anyway,” Arndt said. “It’s hard in this day and age to find something affordable for the whole family.”

‘Get it done’

Arndt would also like the fair board to consider its “rainy day” fund of nearly $600,000, the amount it keeps in reserve to recovery from a disastrous year.

“I don’t know how much we should have, but I think $600,000 is excessive,” Arndt said.

He’s concerned about the upkeep of the buildings, a duty the fair board shares with the county.

His theory: Maintain it now, or you’ll have to tear it down later.

To that end, he’s worked to establish a better relationship with partners in county government. Arndt is one of the few fair board members, past or present, who attends the Rock County Agriculture and Extension Committee meetings. Arndt calls committee members “very receptive” and a “real asset” to the fair.

The committee has to approve all capital improvements on the grounds. Improvement costs are shared by the fair and the county. The county’s portion of improvement expenses comes from cell tower rental.

But what happens if the county decides to move the fairgrounds?

“They’ve been talking about moving that fair since I was little,” Arndt said.

Almost two decades ago, board members worried that building a new fair office on the grounds would be a wasted expense if the fairgrounds were moved, and now it’s become an indispensable part of the grounds.

The board has been tossing around the idea of building a small, open pavilion to replace the “Craig Avenue Stage,” an overheated tent that was put up behind the grandstand every year.

“They started working on that a couple of years ago, and they were still talking about it,” Arndt said.

His response? “Let’s get it done.”

The county paid an estimated $5,300 for excavation, site preparation and electrical work.

Arndt, the board and ag and extension committee also moved forward with plans to put vinyl siding on the grandstand and replace the oversized wooden doors that lead to the vendor areas beneath it.

The county contributed nearly $10,000 to the project.

John Quinn, a long-time fair supporter, volunteered to installed the garage-style roll-up doors.

“Our ultimate goal is to give kids opportunities to exhibit their entries, to show their leadership skills,” Arndt said.

“The 4-H motto is to ‘make the best better.’ That’s what we’re trying to do here.”

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