FOND DU LAC - They may be fair, but are they the Fairest of the Fair?
For 50 years, judges have been making that determination.
Fairest of the Fair made its way to Fond du Lac County in 1966, the same year that the program began at the state level. It has since served as a way for both men and women of at least 18 years of age to represent the fair as ambassador.
Growing up at the fair, for Susan Boyke, the first Fond du Lac County Fairest of the Fair was about making sure that the event was represented well.
“Back then, 4-H was everything to my family, and we worked all year planning for the county fair. Because I had been in the fair for all those years, I felt the fair ambassador should be someone who could promote and know about the fair,” Boyke said. “I felt it should be a 4-H person and I want to represent it the best I could because I was very proud of being a 4-H member.”
In its first year, Boyke recalls the small-town feel the event had, with 13 women taking part in it. After participating in interviews with judges at the old Retlaw, competitors took to the fairgrounds for crowning. Although she says she “had no prospect of winning,” Boyke took the crown.
“It was probably one of the highlights of my life,” she said. “I still have my scrapbooks and my crown.”
While the event has evolved over the years — losing the swim, formal and talent aspects at the state level, as well as becoming focused on public speaking and professionalism — what has not changed is Boyke’s belief of positive representation, still present in 2003 winner Tiffany Venne — Boyke's goddaughter — and present title-holder Alexis Newton.
“As a 4-H member, it was a great way to give back to the fair for everything it had gave me over the past 10 years,” said Venne.
“Ever since I was younger and showing in 4-H, I always looked up to Fairest of the Fair,” said Newton. “I wanted to show younger members what it was and inspire them to do the same thing.”
Serving as face of the fair, the Fairest of the Fair has become a marketing and public relations position, with the top three contestants receiving scholarships from Horicon Bank.
Like those who participate in judging and showing, Fairest of the Fair contestants begin preparing long before the part of competition visible to the public. Similar to 50 years ago, contestants participate in interviews with judges, now at the Holiday Inn over lunch. Eating a course with each judge, contestants answer questions about Fairest of the Fair.
Leading up to the fair, contestants create a public service announcement for the fair to be presented at the event, as well as participate in a radio interview with KFIZ. Venne, coordinator of the event, also has them assist in acquiring sponsorship and donations, working on advertising, and using social media.
“They get behind the scenes to see how the fair works and how hard it is to put on,” Venne said. “It’s an all-involved position. We want them to take the position and use it to further school, education and future careers.”
When the crowning takes place from 5 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, five contestants — Amanda Hollander, Rachel Bock, Kati Kindschuh, Madison Supple and Diane Meister — will give a memorized self-introduction about themselves and then be asked an impromptu question, before the winner is proclaimed.
Kindschuh was crowned as the 2017 Fond du Lac Fairest of the Fair.
Following being crowned, the Fond du Lac County Fairest of the Fair, Kindschuh will participate at the state-level competition in January, where, at a four-day conference, contestants answer questions from judges at every meal.
“It was difficult,” said Newton. “But it was a really good experience to have to be on toes, and to get to meet everyone who representing the fair and loves the same thing as you.”
Back in Fond du Lac, the Fairest of the Fair promotes the fair all-year long, attending events and spreading the word. Simultaneously, no matter their desired field, the winner gains skills and experience that benefits them in their careers.
“It kind of helped to choose a path I wanted to take in college,” said Venne, who currently serves as Fairest of the Fair coordinator. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted my major and career to be. Working on marketing and public relations, working with people, I found I liked doing those things through working with Fairest of the Fair.”
For Newton, who is working with adults with developmental disabilities and hopes to go into animal therapy, she’s found that the skills, such as those gained from communication with people from different backgrounds and with crowds, will be helpful in the future.
In addition to learning from their roles, one of the main goals of Fairest of the Fair is to educate the public on all the fair entails.
“I’ve definitely gotten to see a different side of the fair and I don’t think that’s something a lot of people understand,” Newton said. “A lot of people don’t understand the importance of spreading the word about fairs. There’s a lot of kids who don’t really understand where their milk comes from and we’re educating the public and I’ve gotten do a lot of that and I’ve enjoyed it a lot.”
For Boyke, she believes this desire to educate and promote is what has maintained the Fairest of Fair since her crowning — and will continue to in the future.
“Every function, whether it’s the state fair, or the cherry festival, always has to have a queen, you need that ambassador. You need someone out there promoting it, welcoming people, saying ‘we’re glad you’re here,’” said Boyke. “Every fair needs that person, needs that hostess, needs someone to speak for them, not just during the fair, but throughout the year.”