Fairest of the Fairs advocate for the agricultural community

Michelle Stangler
Over 30 Fairest of the Fairs from across the state gathered and shared ideas during the Wisconsin State Fair.

WEST ALLIS – Seventy-five county, district, and state fairs are held throughout summer in Wisconsin and many of them have an ambassador, also known as their Fairest of the Fair. While each Fair is different, these women come together during the Wisconsin State Fair for a reunion.

This year, over 30 past and current Fairests came together to share ideas of continuing to promote the educational, agricultural, social, cultural, and commercial opportunities at their respected fairs. For two young women, their passion was attending fairs at a young age as an exhibitor.

For Rose Gillis, her responsibilities as the 2021 St. Croix County Fairest of the Fair was to attend the rodeo, parades, agricultural events across the county promoting fair activities. Throughout the run of the fair, Gillis was busy making appearances throughout the day at the event's many activities. .

“My favorite memory was introducing some of the acts that I’ve grown up watching,” said Gillis. One of the most memorable was The Memories, a musical variety show that has been performing at the for 34 years.

Thirteen years ago, Gillis' interest in the St. Croix County Fair began with the Little Britches dairy show, a contest that allows 5 to 9 year old youth the opportunity to become involved with the fair regardless of livestock knowledge or animal ownership.

2021 St. Croix County Fairest of the Fair Rose Gillis, left, attended the Fairest Reunion Day at the Wisconsin State Fair with  2022 St. Croix County Fairest of the Fair Rachel Sanftner.

“The most rewarding part was handing out the medallion for our Little Britches dairy show,” she said, adding “It was honestly hard not to cry since that’s where I began my journey.”

While Gillis' role is finished, her childhood friend has stepped into this role as the new Fairest.

“Last year, Rose said I should check it out and see if I’d want to do it,” said 2022 St. Croix County Fairest of the Fair Rachel Sanftner.

Every year, Sanftner enjoyed coming to the fair to visit with people she knew. Now as Fairest, she is able to build upon those connections.

“I have learned to intentionally take in every experience and interaction,” Sanftner said. "The Fairest touches so many different people’s lives and so being mindful and aware of interactions is key to me.”

In the year leading up to the 2023 St. Croix County Fair, Sanftner will help to educate the public about the fair, raising awareness of why fairs exists, the event's role in the community and the myriad of opportunities available, in hoping to spark an interest among youth to become a future exhibitor.

Like Gillis, the week of the fair keeps Sanftner busy making appearances and connecting with many people of different backgrounds. Her experience as a longtime member of FFA and 4-H and fair exhibitor make her feel right at home.

Both Gillis and Sanftner attended the Fairest Reunion Day at the Wisconsin State Fair on August 8, a yearly tradition. The program included a behind-the-scenes tour of the Original Cream Puff Pavilion where the iconic cream-filled treats are made. The cream puff year celebrated its 98th anniversary at the fair this summer.

"It’s a winter wonderland as they add powdered sugar to the tops of the cream puffs.." Gillis said.

While the fair season is wrapping up with a few county and district fairs left to go in Wisconsin, the next step for the reigning Fairests are to compete for the Wisconsin Fairest of the Fairs in January. More information about upcoming fairs can be found on wisfairs.com.