For the past two months, Ashton Wuennemann has been working two hours per day to create a wooden laundry basket to show at the Dane County Fair — 2020 will be the first time in seven years that he won’t be showing a project.
The Dane County Fair, scheduled for July 16-19, was canceled due to the novel coronavirus, according to a May 13 news release from the Dane County Fair Association, Inc. Held each year at the Alliant Energy Center grounds, the area has since been utilized as a COVID-19 testing site for the county.
In 2019, there were more than 7,150 youth exhibits from a little over 700 exhibitors in categories such as photography, Animal Sciences, clothing and Foods and Nutrition.
Dane County isn’t the only county in the state to have canceled its fair for the summer. Fairs in Sauk and Brown counties have also been called off for this year.
There are 38 different 4-H groups from around the county and roughly 40,000 people attend each year, Danielle Ziegler, Dane County Fair general manager, told the Hub in an email.
Ron Russell, who is a Dane County Fair board member and has had six children involved in a neighboring 4-H club, The Brooklyn Might Mites, said there were a number of factors that played into the cancellation.
“The fair board did not have much of an option — it is the way this year is going,” Russell told the Observer. “One of the things that obviously plays a role is that the fair is located in Madison which is more densely populated.”
Russell also said there was a concern that attendance would be low if the fair was not canceled. The fair was already operating in a fiscally conservatie stance, he said, noting that a couple years ago the fair was reduced by a day to save costs.
Wuennemann’s bedroom is filled with woodworking projects, which he created for the Dane County Fair including a “live edge” end table and a shelf. He is a member of the Kegonsa Hustlers and what he is really going to miss, he said, is the opportunity to improve on his projects and grow.
“4-H has given me more experience with things I want to do and with things like public speaking and sharing my mind. And the fact the fair is canceled – it kinda hurts because it helps me improve on my projects each year,” he said.
Organizational leader of the Kegonsa Hustlers, Denise Pigarelli, said she has been a fair girl her whole life.
She has only missed her hometown fair in Walworth County three times in her life. She was involved in fairs in high school and college — and her two children grew up in that same environment.
And although she is disappointed Dane County Fair is canceled, and it will be a surreal summer for her and her family, she said the mission of 4-H hasn’t changed.
“As a leader I have been trying to instill this for the past couple of months in our club….4-H is about learning,” she said.
It is great that students get to exhibit their projects at the various fairs, but they can still develop those life skills and lessons, even if the fairs are canceled, Pigarelli said.
She is encouraging the members of Kegonsa Hustlers, which was founded in 1925, to have virtual project meetings, and continue with their projects such as photography, clothing and art.
Families in Kegonsa Hustlers have also been doing their own individual projects — such as cleaning up a public space for one hour and reporting back to the group, and a photography scavenger hunt.
Pigarelli’s oldest son Alex aged out of 4-H four years ago. Her 17 year old daughter, Shae, has been showing for 11 years and said it is sad because the fair is a big part of her life. For the past two years Shae has been a camp counselor where she learns leadership skills through guiding younger students in the weeks after the fair at Upham Woods.
“It is kinda sad I always look forward to the fair because I get to see all my other 4-H friends,” Shae said. “My summer won’t really be a summer.”
The fair board is hoping to allow students whose last year of showing would be 2020, to participate in the 2021 fair, although this has not been confirmed yet.