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In a league of its own

By Staff | Aug 26, 2011

More than 15,000 people flocked to northwest Iowa during the four-day run of the Marcus Community Fair, which was held from Aug. 11 to 14.

MARCUS – While Iowa is known for its many county fairs and the legendary Iowa State Fair, summer wouldn’t be complete in northwest Iowa without the Marcus Community Fair, a cherished, 75-year tradition in this Cherokee County town of 1,100 people.

“I just love this fair,” said Susie Jones, of Sioux City, who joined her sister, Barb Henn, from Cherokee, for lunch at the Grace United Methodist Church’s food stand, which has become legendary for its homemade fruit pies.

More than 15,000 people flocked to the fairgrounds during the four-day run of the fair, which was held Aug. 11 to 14.

This marked the 27th straight year of free gate admission at the fair, which spans 12 acres and hosts a wealth of open-class competitions, from baked goods and homegrown vegetables to 4-H livestock shows.

“There’s nothing like the Marcus Community Fair,” said Kristi Mason, a veterinarian at the Marcus-Remsen Veterinary Clinic who serves as president of the fair board. “The community has always supported the fair extremely well, and it offers a unique opportunity to highlight local agriculture, industry and businesses.”

For generations, families within a 60-mile radius of Marcus have turned out each year for the livestock shows, including the beef show.

Growth from 1936

Marcus’ fair tradition can be traced to the late 1800s, when the community hosted the county fair before it was relocated to the county seat at Cherokee.

The roots of the Marcus Community Fair date back to 1936, when a group of locals hosted a colt show. People liked the event so much that they added vegetable exhibits, livestock shows, games and more through the years.

By the 1950s, local leaders secured funding to construct some buildings at the fairgrounds.

“From there it really took off,” said Paul Wilkens, 46, a Marcus native who has served on the 21-member fair board for 15 years.

Susie Jones, left, of Sioux City, enjoys attending the Marcus fair with her sister, Barb Henn, of Cherokee. Henn's daughter, Larae Wendt, lives in Marcus and serves on the local fair board.

Years ago, businesses uptown would close so owners and employees could enjoy the three-day fair, which ran from Sunday through Tuesday, Wilkens added.

While times have changed, many things remain the same, such the popularity of the greased pig contest. Geared for kids ages 5 to 12, this time-honored spectacle attracted nearly 50 participants this year.

“The greased pig contest was around when I was a kid, and we always have a great turnout every year,” said Wilkens, who has volunteered on the Marcus Fire Department for 26 years.

For generations, families within a 60-mile radius around Marcus have also turned out each year for the livestock shows, including the swine show, lamb show and beef show.

“I started showing cattle here when I was 12,” said Wayne Maass, of Paullina, whose grandson, Jeremy Maass, 16, of Ida Grove, showed the reserve champion feeder steer this year. “It’s a fun time and we have a lot of great memories here.”

Joy Carlson baked two apple pies for the Grace United Methodist Church’s food stand this year and also entered a pie in the Marcus Community Fair’s open-class competition.

The fair, which attracts visitors from across the country, has also become an annual reunion where longtime friends, past winners of the Little Miss Marcus fair contest, high school classmates and families return to their hometown to reconnect and reminisce.

“It’s always good to come home,” said John Kauffman, of Eagle Grove, who grew up on a farm near Marcus. “People here are loyal to their community and to their local businesses and this is reflected in the success of our fair.”

You can contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

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