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Fast times, kids, music and unions: welcome to the fair!

John H. Croessman
Posted on 8/31/2015, 12:01 AM

Illinois bred harness horses routinely shaved three to five seconds off their personal best records on the lightning fast Magic Mile at the Du Quoin State Fair. A million brilliant lights from Miller Spectacular Shows painted the night sky south of Du Quoin. Nearly 1,000 children and their families attended the 30th annual foster and adoptive parents picnic hosted by State Representative Terri Bryant and DCFS Acting Director George H. Sheldon. And, dozens of state workers and union employees followed Gov. Bruce Rauner to the Republican tent to protest layoffs and budget cuts following Friday’s ribbon-cutting before the start of the twilight parade.
Welcome to the 2015 Du Quoin State Fair, the 93rd fair, which runs through Labor Day.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner Friday welcomed all of Southern Illinois to the 2015 Du Quoin State Fair. He encouraged the entire region to enjoy a truly great fair. The governor said he will be in Du Quoin and stay in the downstate mansion for four of the 10 days. He quipped that the mansion on the grounds--formerly the Hayes home--is in much better condition than the governor’s mansion in Springfield, which Mr. and Mrs. Rauner are paying to have restored.  During the ribbon cutting he commented, “These fairs  great revenue. It drives great economic activity and increases the prosperity all around Illinois." In attendance at the ribbon cutting were: Governor Bruce Rauner and Du Quoin Mayor Guy Alongi. Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti Philip Nelson, Director of Agriculture; Rep. Terri Bryant ; Patrick Buchen, state fair manager; Norm Hill, assistant fair manager; Randy Dunn, president, Southern Illinois University; and Sadie Gassmann, Illinois State Fair Queen. The ribbon-cutting was followed by the annual twilight parade.
Like Springfield, it’s a fair that is trying to overcome losses approaching $400,000 in each of the last two years. Du Quoin is faring better, however, posting $250,000 in non-fair revenue  gains last year.
 And, it’s a fair with a renewed focus on agriculture.
Fair publicist Fred Huff: “While checking out the highlights you might want to keep in mind tht more attention has been directed to agricultural related exhibits and events this year than in past years. Almost every tie you turn your head you might see another that you hadn’t noticed before.”
Grandstand entertainment opened with Colt Ford on Saturday and Trace Adkins Sunday night with the homegrown favorite “We Got It Covered” band opening for Adkins. Pre-fair ticket sales were down, but have quickly picked up as the fair becomes top of mind for families.
On the midway, Freddie Miller of Miller Spectacular Shows, was sitting in a tent near the office talking to his dad and Fair Foods owner Ron Porter about the week ahead. He was waiting for some software to light a new ride just north of the office. His father, John Miller, commented that the carnival business has gone from $50,000 a ride decades ago to millions. “You can spend $500,000 or $600,000 on some of these rides. I’ve seen them go as high as $800,000. I like to get the rides that nobody else had,” he said.
The annual twilight parade had its winners. It began with the governor, fair manager Patrick Buchen and assistant manager Normal Hill as well as Director of Agriculture Phil Nelson leading the parade. The Grand Marshal was Wayne Keller of Boy-a-Farm, a large livestock show sponsor.
Parade winners included: Governor’s Award—Fresenius Medical Center; Director’s Award—Elkville Helping Hands; Hayes Memorial Award—Christian Fellowship; Judge’s Special Award—Duck Derby Dashy-Special Olympics and Manager’s Award—Jamie Bathon horses.
The winners of the first special events were posted. The winners in the ponytail contest were Kendall Cochran of Makanda; Fatima Madrigal of Carbondale; Mattie Brown of Du Quoin; Lauren Quinn of Vergennes, Jasmine Cochran of Steeleville and Montanna Roberts of Thompsonville.
Winners of the pigtail contest were Remi Trigg of Pinckneyville; Violet Searby of Du Quoin; Scotlynn Staten of Thompsonville and Jada Jablonski of Oakdale.
The  “Bake Your Best Cake” contest on Saturday was won by Amy Venus of Coulterville for her version of “Death by Chocolate Cake.” Donna  Sherman of Mount Vernon wa second with her “Imagination Cake.” Marie Schimanski of Du Quoin was third with her “Carmel Apple Pound Cake.”
Cooking contests continue throughout the week.
One of the highlights of this year’s fair is the free “Little Helping Hands” activity for children.
"Little Helping Hands at the Fair" is an agricultural education exhibit at the Du Quoin State Fair for kids. Children (ages 3-10) become farm hands at this free, hands-on exhibit as they are provided the opportunity to experience the agricultural process, beginning at the farm and ending at the market. The children and their families don their work aprons and fire up their imaginations to help with farm chores, collect goods to sell at the farmers market, and then spend their "earnings" on real products made from the farm at the grocery store.
This mock-farm consists of a series of four miniature barns, a tractor yard, three garden plots, an apple orchard and a farmers market connected by a self-guided pathway that directs families from a starting point to the last step in the prices at the grocery store.
Each building provides hands-on tasks related to planting crops and the tending of animals. For example, at the chicken coop, the farm hands feed the faux chickens the grain they "harvested" and then collect the eggs. At the dairy barn, children milk a fiberglass cow and connect milk carton, and at the tractor shed, they drive past tractors with wagons to haul the hay for the animals.
After the children have gone through each of the miniature barns and collected their products, they "sell" them at the farmers market for "cash" to be used at the retail grocery store where they have the opportunity to "buy" finished products like apples, cereal, etc.

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