JEFFERSON — For the last 26 years, the Fairest of the Fair program has been part of the Jefferson County Fair. In fact, it’s the theme for this year’s event: “The Year of the Royalty.”
But the truth is, the Fairest of the Fair program dates back much earlier than 1992. The state version of the program began in 1966 and crowned its 51st Fairest of the Fairs in January.
The roots of the Jefferson County version of the program trace back earlier, as well. The 1992 Fairest of the Fair competition was a reboot of the program, which had been absent from the county for 11 years.
The contest had been an annual event until it stalled in 1982 when it failed to attract at least five entrants, which was required at the time. By 1983 and 1984, the fair staff could not find an organization to sponsor the event.
It took the work of multiple people, including Iona Turner, then-chairperson of the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors’ Fair Committee, to get the program back up and running.
“It’s good for us to have a public relations person who is someone other than a board member, on the ground and at other events,” Turner told the Daily Union in 1992. “Plus, there are so many opportunities for the girls who reach the state level of competition.”
Today, the program provides the opportunity to serve as a host/hostess to the Jefferson County Fair, as well as participate in promotional programs and media events.
During fair week, Fairest of the Fair contestants go through an evaluation given by three judges. By the end of that week, they will have completed individual and group interviews, created posters, speeches, radio commercials and about 80 hours of promoting the fair.
“Back, way in the beginning, it was a pageant,” Gail Zastrow, who served as fair secretary at Jefferson County Fair Park for 20 years, explained. “It changed as we got going again. They did have the formal wear for the first couple of years and then we went to the more professional attire because that’s when the state really turned their focus on the professionalism instead of a pageant.”
Contestants were evaluated on appearance, community activities, personality, poise and speaking ability. Public relations skills were the most important.
“It was breakfast, go to the radio station to record your spot and then we had the interview,”said Paul Essock, who was a co-chair of the Fairest of the Fair program for about 12 years beginning in 1992. “That was it. That was the first year.
“After that, we incorporated a limo ride, different locations,” he added. “I remember interviewing at the new Comfort Suites when it opened years ago in Johnson Creek. We incorporated more and more, got them more involved — utilized their marketing position as opposed to a pageant position. So it evolved into more of a marketing than a pageant.”
When the program restarted in Jefferson County, there were four contestants: Robbie Renee Lukes, Susie Knoblauch and Barbara Pitzner, all of Jefferson, and Sandy Smith, Fort Atkinson. Lukes was crowned the winner.
This year, five young women are vying for the title of 2018 Jefferson County Fairest of the Fair as the event takes place through this Sunday. The contestants are Amber Ziebell of Johnson Creek, Rachal Mark of Ixonia, Amanda Griebenow of Watertown, Bianca Bavuso of Ixonia and Kiley Eck of Cambridge.
One will be crowned to reign over the 2018 fair. She will go on to compete in the Wisconsin Fairest of the Fairs final slated for January 2019.
Trent Topel of Cambridge, Staci Hoffman of Jefferson, Yvonne Habermann of Watertown and Jennifer Statz of Helenville will serve as judges for this year’s Fairest of the Fair competition. Statz was the 1995 Fairest of the Fair.
Final questions and the crowning will be take place on Sunday, July 16, at 12:30 p.m. at the Standard Process Kids’ Stage. It is a new time and location.
In addition, the Fairests from the past 26 years will be recognized at that time.
The 2017 Fairest of the Fair, who will reign over this year’s fair, is Ann Schroeder.
Schroeder is the daughter of Brian and Nicole Schroeder and Dawn Dimattina. She grew up on her family’s grain farm outside of Lake Mills.
While a freshman at Lake Mills High School, she got involved in the Dairy Cattle Project and began participating in the Jefferson County Fair. Schroeder currently is a junior at Lakeland University where she studies graphic design. She plans to graduate in 2019 and pursue a degree in marketing and agriculture.
The contestants for 2018 Fairest of the Fair are:
A recent graduate of Globe University, where she received an associate degree in veterinary technology, Ziebell hopes to find a job working with exotic animals at a zoo or veterinary clinic.
On her application, Ziebell indicated that being Fairest of the Fair is about more than the crown and the sash. It is about being a leader, mentor and ambassador to everyone and showing people all of the joys the fair has to offer.
“Fairest has always been somebody I looked up to, so I just want to be somebody that other people can look up to as well,” she said.
One thing she would like to implement, should she be crowned 2018 Fairest of the Fair, would be a Junior Fairest program.
Mark currently is attending Waukesha County Technical College, where she is pursuing a degree to become a registered nurse.
“I’d like to be Fairest of the Fair for the many opportunities I’d experience, from going to parades to going to different activities like elementary schools to read to the kids,” Rachal said.
Being Fairest also means that she will be representing Jefferson County and giving back to her community all the great experiences she had growing up in 4-H and bringing to the forefront programs and activities that are available to all that will enhance quality of life.
Currently pursuing a degree in agribusiness at University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Griebenow has been showing dairy cattle for eight years. Doing so, she has learned that she can achieve anything as long as she puts forth the effort.
Her application indicated that being a part of the fair helped her realize how big agriculture is in her life.
“The reason that I want to be Fairest is because I want to spread agriculture to the children and youth around the county,” Griebenow said. “I want them to have more knowledge about agriculture and be raised in the right way.”
Also, she hopes to encourage young children to participate in 4-H and the fair because it is a wonderful opportunity.
Bavuso will be attending UW-River Falls to obtain a degree agriculture education.
“Being Fairest would mean that I would represent my county as well as teach other people about agriculture,” Bavuso said. “I want to be an agriculture education teacher and this would be a great way to help spread it to today’s youth.”
Eck recently graduated from Lake Mills High School and will be attending Hamline University in the fall.
For Eck, past Fairests have been the pinnacle of good showmen, respectable young ladies and mentors to the younger generation of 4-H and FFA members. To her, she said, the position of Fairest of the Fair is an honorable one and means that she would have the ability to make an impact on the whole county.
“I’d like to be Fairest of the Fair because I’d like to be a role model to the younger members,” Eck said. “Also, it’s always been a dream of mine to become one of the Fairest of the Fairs.”
If she is crowned 2018 Fairest of the Fair, Eck said, she would like to implement a leadership camp to help young individuals boost their confidence and give them leadership experience.
Fairest of the Fair is sponsored by B.E. Hive Hair Salon and Spa; Clasen Quality Chocolate; Humphrey Floral and Gift and Smiles by Turley.