Pardeeville — County fairs across the state and state fairs across the country lost a true friend this month. Bob Williams, “Mr. County Fair”, passed away on November 18 following complications of a stroke.
Growing up helping on his family’s 700 acre fruit farm at Montello, Williams also had a passion for agriculture and was an ag teacher for five years. He also worked in the grocery business and he ran Bob’s Food Market in Pardeeville, which he owned until 1975.
He was born on May 30, 1932, in Packwaukee, Wisconsin, to John R. and Alice (Heffner) Williams. On November 29, 1952, he was united in marriage to Ruth and the couple had four children. She preceded him in death in 2005.
From 1982-present, he was employed by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture as County Fair Coordinator (amongst other projects to promote Wisconsin’s agricultural industry). He was known as “Breakfast Bob” from taking his 5-foot frying pan all over the state, promoting Wisconsin products from apples to cranberries and feeding crowds of people during their local festivals.
Williams was one of the founders of Pardeeville’s annual Watermelon Festival, former Chair of the Columbia County Republican Party, and member of numerous organizations including The Columbia County Fair, Pardeeville Area Businessmen’s Association, International Association of Fairs and Expositions, The Pardeeville United Methodist Church and the Pardeeville Curling Club.
Over his career, he was the recipient of many awards, including the 40 in 40 award from WALSAA. But of all the awards and accolades, he was most proud of The College of Ag & Life Sciences Honorary Recognition, which he was awarded in 2004. This same award was presented to his father in 1938.
Williams spent more than 35 years with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection coordinating fair activities and working with commodity groups. He often said there was never a day he didn’t want to come to work – and proved it by attempting to retire in 2000 – only to return 3 months later in a part-time position.
Almost every fair in the state can point to an area – an exhibit – a program, that they’re using today that Bob Williams influenced. Logging thousands of miles in his pick-up truck, Williams documented challenges and improvements he saw in the state’s fairs – and shared it with others to help them improve. He didn’t limit his enthusiasm to county fairgrounds alone though. Williams was also in the crowd when county fair representatives traveled to the capitol to make their plea for enhanced funding.
As fair coordinator, Williams worked on a state level to increase fair promotion by developing the annual entertainment brochure in 1993 that features each fair. He helped bring the famous Veggie Races to the Wisconsin State Fair.
Williams is fondly remembered by many of the former Fairests of the Fairs who worked closely with him during their rein. They enjoyed his humor and found encouragement and inspiration from him as they travelled the state on behalf of fairs.
Williams’ work expands outside of the state’s borders. He always enjoyed learning from other states by participating in the International Association of Fairs and Expositions. He served as President four times for the National Association of Agricultural Fair Agencies.
Farm families remember him as the long-time MC of the Century and Sesquicentennial Farm Breakfast each year at the Wisconsin State Fair. He was noticeably missing from that position at the 2016 fair, having suffered a stroke just prior to the fair.
Williams was especially proud the year he accepted the award on behalf of his own family.
Funeral services for Robert will be held Saturday, November 26 at 2 p.m. at the Pardeeville United Methodist Church with Pastor Kerry Wilson officiating. Visitation will be held Friday, November 25 from 3 to 8 p.m. at Grasse Funeral Home in Pardeeville and on Saturday from 1 p.m. until the time of services at the church. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Pardeeville United Methodist Church or the Bob Williams Scholarship Fund.