Barn fire challenges Dodge County Fairest of the Fair

Gloria Hafemeister


It has been an exciting but challenging year for Karoline Twardokus, the Dodge County Fairest of the Fair who crowned the new Fairest, Anna Boschert, at the fair.

Twardokus has had a busy year travelling around the county to parad,es and events, promoting the upcoming fair. She also did something that hasn’t been done before, hosting an ice cream party for candidates for the Fairest so they can get acquainted and have an opportunity to learn more about what it takes to serve as Fairest of the Fair.

“Being the 2015 Fairest of the Fair impacted me greatly," she said. "Being able to speak to a wide variety of different audiences on the radio, on stage or at an event, serving as a positive role model for my community, as well as having the opportunity to give back to the county are just a few of the ways that being Fairest has impacted my life.”

Part of the role of the county Fairest of the Fair is to compete at the state level for the honor of serving as Wisconsin Fairest of the Fairs. This is a paid public relations position that lasts one year.  Most of the work put in by the state Fairest of the Fair is during the summer months when she writes press releases and promotes the Wisconsin State Fair and county fairs. She travels thousands of miles around the state, visiting many fairs and she also serves as the official ambassador for the ten-day Wisconsin State Fair.

Competition for the state title takes place in January at the state Fairs Association Convention.

The convention was a traumatic time in Karoline’s life because the night before she was to be at the three-day convention, her family’s barn burned down.

Losing a barn in a fire is much more than just losing a building. It means the loss of their livelihood and numerous animals. It is a very emotional event that takes years to get over. It also meant losing cows that were more than just animals that produce milk. They had names and were almost like family members on a family farm like this.

Karoline went one day late to the convention at Wisconsin Dells and still took part in the interviews.

“It was very difficult, though," she said. "At times I’d break down and cry. I didn’t want the other contestants to know what happened because I didn’t want them feeling sorry for me.

“It was so hard for me to be there because I kept thinking of my family at home and wondering about my animals.”

Word got out, though, and later, when the contest was over, she let the other contestants know why she was not her usual, friendly self.

A student at UW-Platteville, she took a week off of school when the second semester started so she could be home with her family, regrouping after the disaster.

Karoline has 15 cows in her family’s herd, and she lost two of them in the fire.  Her family lost a total of 34 animals out of their herd of 62, and they are currently rebuilding their herd after rebuilding their barn earlier this year.

Karoline built her herd through her involvement with 4-H and FFA. Her dad houses and feeds the cows in exchange for the milk they produce.She started with her first show animal and also purchased an animal through the Share Basis program. As they have heifer calves, they reside at her family’s farm and eventually join the herd.

She financed her college with funds from selling bull calves that are born to her cows and from money she got selling animals at the Dodge County Meat Animal Sale. She sold animals at the sale several years and one year sold the reserve champion dairy steer.

Karoline said it was really different this year not to be busy preparing for the show.  While she came to this year’s fair to crown the new fairest, she also is just completing a summer internship as a field representative for Grande Cheese.

“I’ve been involved in showing since I participated in the Little Britches showmanship at the fair," she said. "Last year I wasn’t eligible to show any more, but I helped my brother and sister get their animals ready and of course I was very involved at the fair as Fairest.”

This year, she still helped her brother Kevin get his pigs, steers and dairy ready for his last year of showing.  He is 19 and will be attending Fox Valley Technical College in fall.  He hopes to return to the family farm full time.

Katie is a senior at Hartford High School and showed pigs at this year’s fair.

All three in the Twardokus family also showed at the Washington County Fair for five years as members of the Hartford FFA.

Their parents, Dale and Kathy Twardokus, are still struggling to replace things that were lost in the fire. They hired an Amish crew to rebuild their barn after the fire. Most of the lower portion was saved. They had to replace 14 steel panels on one of the Harvestore silos that collapsed in the fire. The feed inside the silo was lost together with all the hay that was upstairs in their barn.

A pile of hay with pieces of wood and nails and debris in it still reignites occasionally as it smolders in a field, a constant reminder of the fire that changed their lives.

They are back to milking again in the 60-stall barn.

“We did not choose to replace the barn with a parlor because at this time we are still not sure if our kids will join us in the farm," Dale said. "There is no room for expansion here. We crop 250 acres and that’s enough to support the animals we have here.”

All three children plan careers in agriculture but are uncertain which direction they will go. The family also owns a second farm across the road where they keep their steers.

They are very thankful for all the help they received from community and friends and continue to be amazed at the things people thought of to bring and to do to help.

Besides all the food that neighbors brought to feed those fighting and cleaning up from the fire, they said someone showed up with milk replacer and buckets to feed their calves, knowing they had lost their supplies. Someone came with a heater to warm their garage where fire fighters came to warm up. People also showed up to get animals out of the burning barn or came with cattle trailers to haul animals to area farms where they were housed until the cleanup was done.

Thirteen fire departments responded to the fire. Kevin was so impressed with the response that he joined the Iron Ridge Fire Department and first responders squad, knowing the importance of volunteers.

The family held an appreciation party earlier in summer with 450 people coming to see their rebuilt barn. Dale and Kathy said they are so appreciative of all the help they got that they wanted to do something to show the people that their sympathy, donations and help did not go unnoticed.

Teyenna Marx Loether, who served as Alice in Dairyland last year and spent a lot of time in Dodge County, came to the Dodge County Fair this year to see friends she had met through the event.

She understands exactly what it was like for the Twardokus family to lose their barn and livestock as her parents lost their machine shed in the early hours of Aug, 9.

She said the Marx family woke up to find their machine shed in flames. Unfortunately, despite all the amazing efforts by neighbors and emergency crews, the end result was a large pile of ash. Fortunately, no animals or people were harmed during the extremely destructive fire.

With a rough estimated damage total at around $300,000, the most difficult loss wasn't the entire crop of hay from the year thus far or the new equipment that was recently purchased, it was all of the memories that were tied to some of the things in the shed.