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Make memories at the fair

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The Douglas County Agricultural Association is celebrating 125 years of service to the community this year.

Its main purpose is to put on the annual Douglas County Fair, and it's the dedicated board members who work to not only ensure that the fair goes on, but also that it continues to grow and maintain its status as one of the most successful county fairs in Minnesota.

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George Dyrstad of Alexandria was asked to join the board in 1965, when he was the manager of Lake Region Co-op. Because he liked the 4-H program and the youth involved, he decided it would be a worthwhile way to spend his spare time.

Little did he know, he'd still be serving on the board 48 years later.

A WITNESS TO MANY CHANGES

Dyrstad recalls that things were challenging during his early involvement with the association.

"Right after I joined, we were told that there was not enough operating cash for the coming fair," he recalled.

Each of the seven board members were asked to sign for $2,000 liability so the association could get a $14,000 loan.

"I never told my wife I signed it until it was paid up," he said with a chuckle. "But we got it paid. I wouldn't have done it if I didn't have faith."

Dyrstad recalls there were about 13,000 people in attendance at the fair in 1965. Recent fairs have boasted attendance of nearly 50,000.

"We've definitely grown!" he said. But things haven't always been easy.

He recalled the early years when there weren't enough adequate buildings and the water system was very poor.

"We didn't have a decent hog barn, and the horse barn was old," he said. "The water system was terrible. We had garden hoses running everywhere; hoses ran to the concession stands and people had to step over them."

Dyrstad recalled the purchase of 14 acres of land at the west end of the fairgrounds and the purchase of an additional 38 acres on the south side to add to the land that is in a long-term lease from the city of Alexandria.

"We just kept getting bigger and we needed the space," he said.

Over the years, the board has also put a lot of time and money into the fair buildings, constructing several new ones and working hard to maintain them.

SUCCESS TAKES HARD WORK AND PLANNING

Dyrstad admits that one of the biggest complaints about the fair is the admittance fee, but he said it is that fee that makes this fair one of the nicest in the state.

"What we bring in at the gate helps with the maintenance of the buildings and grounds," he explained. "If we didn't have that, we'd need a mill rate from the county.

"By doing it this way, it's the people who use the fair that pay for the fair," he added.

He noted that through the years the fair has also offered a variety of free entertainment for fairgoers.

"We need to pay for that, too," he said. "Those in charge of the entertainment have done a really great job."

He added it's also important to keep money on hand in case the fair encounters a year of bad weather.

"We've been so fortunate and have good weather almost every year," he said. "But we have to be prepared that might not happen one year, and that's going to hurt financially."

Dyrstad said that in 1965 the gate fee was 25-cents a person and 10-cents a vehicle.

"We used to get so jammed up with traffic at the north gate," he said. "It was my idea to put a drive in off of County Road 82 so that the race car trailers could go straight through the parking area to the track and not get stuck in the long traffic lines.

"The board members gave me a bad time about that, but it worked! They thought it was a big joke at first, but it ended up being a good thing."

The board erected a street sign at that entrance in Dyrstad's honor, labeling it "Dyrstad Drive." Although the entrance is no longer used, the sign still stands.

The fair board meets once a month throughout the year to plan for the coming year's fair. Members are also present at the four-day event, making sure things run smoothly.

"I used to be out there from 7:30 in the morning until 10 at night every day of the fair," Dyrstad recalled. "I can't do that anymore, but I am still out there quite a bit."

One of Dyrstad's main jobs through the years was managing the ticket gates.

"I always enjoyed it," he said. "I always had good, honest people working at the gates. I manned the gates for 44 years and never missed a day!"

Although Dyrstad has given up some of his duties and won't be putting in the long hours he used to, there's no question that he'll be at the fair.

"I don't know how long I'll keep doing this, but it's been fun so far!" he said with a smile.

SHARE YOUR MEMORIES OF THE COUNTY FAIR

The Great Douglas County Get Together, otherwise known as the fair, is celebrating 125 years of history this summer. To go along with this, the Echo Press is asking readers to add to the fun by sharing their favorite memories of the Douglas County Fair. We plan to include the reader reminisces in a story prior to the fair, which runs from August 15-18. So send a few sentences of your favorite fair memories right away to aedenloff@ echopress.com, Echo Press, P.O. Box 549, Alexandria, MN 56308; fax them to (320) 763-3258, or drop it off at the newspaper office at 225 7th Avenue East.

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Tara Bitzan
Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.
(320) 763-1211
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