Dear Nebraska Neighbors:
The Nebraska State Fair has always been a great end of summer tradition. As the school year begins and the harvest continues, the fair provides one last opportunity for enjoying a summer festival as we transition into fall. Celebrating its 136th year in 2004, the fair has seen dipping attendance in recent years.
In effort to revive interest in the fair, the State Fair Board sought the input of Nebraskans. They received thousands of ideas to help in planning the 2004 Nebraska State Fair. One popular suggestion was to refocus the State Fair on agriculture; another was to bring back contests and premiums. Others wanted to see added value to the fair with lower gate fees and more entertainment.
Nebraskans saw all of these ideas incorporated into the 2004 State Fair. The return of ag included a display of the world's largest combine and other farm machinery - a first after nearly 20 years absence from the fair and a farm-themed playground for children; in addition to displays and booths highlighting all aspects of our state's largest industry.
Whether a result of the free concerts in the Open Air Auditorium and other entertainment, some unusually mild days and cool nights or simply the desire to show support for this longstanding tradition, it seems Nebraskans are responding to the improvements.
Attendance for the opening weekend of the fair was up almost 31 percent over last year's numbers. Participation in this year's fair was up by 15 percent with nearly 10,500 entries in all. And while the numbers are certainly important, among the biggest cause for celebration is the tremendous learning opportunity presented to our state's youth each year. The State Fair represents one Nebraska's largest opportunities for learning for kids of all ages. Programs such as 4-H and FFA help shape developing interests and leadership skills by encouraging participation in exhibition events at the State Fair.
These are truly two of the finest mentoring programs around, and I'm happy to be a part of an event benefiting these organizations. Each year Stephanie and I participate in the Governor's Celebrity Cattle Show. This is just one event for youth to showcase the hard work and dedication required to compete in the State Fair.
Finally, I would like to say thank you to the thousands of contributions received from Nebraska classrooms, youth organizations, corporations and individuals who wanted to see the fair continue. They showed creativity and generosity in their participation and did so because they care about the future of the Nebraska State Fair. Donations totaled $185,000 in the Treasure the Past, Envision the Future Campaign. The Legislature also deserves thanks for restoring $153,000 in premiums for award winners.
What has truly made this year's fair such a success I believe is the participation from groups and volunteers that came together to provide support - in particular the State Fair Board and staff and organizations like 4-H and FFA.
The help and involvement of everyone from government, industry partners and families once again showed that we can come together to celebrate the traditions that make life great here in our "Nebraska United."