JEFFERSON — Janelle Wenzel of Sullivan was crowned the 2020 Jefferson County “Fairest of the Fair” Saturday night, edging out five other contestants for the honor that recognizes dedication and achievement through 4-H and FFA.
Also vying for the title were Anna Evenson of Cambridge, Brianna Klausch of Watertown, Katherine Novak of Sullivan, Mia Schroeder of Lake Mills and Kristin Stair of Watertown.
Wenzel received the honor at the Jefferson County Fair Park Activity Center following a day-long professional workshop open to all youth 14 and up in Jefferson County.
Contestants earlier had completed individual and group interviews with the judges and were evaluated on their personality, professionalism, public speaking skills and overall well-roundedness for the position. Then on Saturday, each introduced herself, did a radio commercial based on a certain topic they were given in January, and made a brief presentation about the fair/agriculture education.
The new “Fairest,” Janelle Wenzel, is the daughter of Jim and Holly Wenzel of Sullivan and currently is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she is pursuing a degree in nursing. She has been involved with her local 4-H club for 10 years, showing swine, sheep, cultural arts, animal science and foods and nutrition.
When asked what being “Fairest of the Fair” means to her, she stated, “To be the ‘Fairest of the Fair’ would be a great honor and would be the perfect way to conclude my years of showing at the Fair. I would be able to be a role model for all the youth that are seeking out their passions and a direction in life, as the Fair provides many great opportunities for exploration and personal growth.
“Serving as Fairest of the Fair, I would be able to have impactful interactions with Fair exhibitors, Fair goers, community members and leaders, and prospective families looking to be involved at the Fair in the future. I would not only be given a chance to connect people to our Fair, but connect them to the community within our Fair, which can provide to everyone no matter their abilities, age, access.”
During the event on Saturday night, contestants gave a brief presentation about the fair and/or agriculture. Wenzel told the crowd of about 75 people about the importance and value of youth swine showing at the fair.
“I’m going to talk to you about showing pigs. It’s my passion; it’s what I grew up doing,” she said.
“Why should you show livestock?” she asked. “Showing livestock has given me a great opportunity to provide for social relationships. A lot of the people you show with, or compete against, become your best friends. You also build a lot of character, gaining responsibility, confidence, sportsmanship and time management. You grow and you also learn how to deal with loss.”
She continued, “Last but not least, you gain a lot of knowledge about the pig industry and other livestock as well. My favorite thing about pig showing is it carries on a family tradition. Both my grandpas showed pigs. I really enjoy all the time I’ve gotten to spend with my family in the barn.”
Of the remaining contestants, Anna Evenson of Cambridge spoke to the crowd about the top five things that make involvement in 4-H valuable; Katherine Novak, Sullivan, demonstrated how to make a “farm charm” that represents all of the parts of the farm that need to be protected; Kristin Stair of Watertown, explained all the various ways the sheep industry impacts our lives; Mia Schroeder demonstrated how to create a seed germination necklace; and Brianna Klausch talked about horses and agriculture.
Bestowing the crown and sash on Wenzel was 2019 “Fairest of the Fair,” Libby Knoebel of Helenville, who officially ended her reign at the event on Feb. 15.
“It has been an honor and a pleasure to serve this county and I have loved every second of it,” Knoebel said. “I’ve been coming to the Jefferson County Fair ever since I could walk, maybe even before that. I showed my first sheep around the age of three, and since then, I’ve developed a strong passion for showing sheep and showing beef as well. While it was a lot of work, and there were many days when I just wanted to be a city kid … looking back, I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.”
She continued: “From the moment I entered the Jefferson County Fair for the first time as an exhibitor, I knew I had found a place where I would make memories and a time of year I would look forward to throughout my entire life. I have countless memories of those best five days of summer for more than 18 years.”
Knoebel noted how when her junior showing career was over, she was not ready to end her involvement with the fair, so she applied for the Fairest of the Fair title.
“I was not ready to be done being involved with the fair,” she said. “And I needed a way to give back to the organization and the part of my life that had shown me my passion for agriculture and shaped me into the woman I am today.”
Knoebel added, “The fair means many different things to everyone. For me, it means the place where I found my best friends and my passion in life.”
She went on to say that upon speaking to many fair-goers, she determined some of the main themes that resonate with people who attend the Jefferson County Fair.
“For many, it’s a form of entertainment,” she said. “It can be the nightly entertainment — the tractor pulls or the concerts on the main stage. For others, it might be the daily shows, or the midway and the rides. And then there are those who come to the fair for the entertainment of watching a family member show their animal or showcase their talent. No matter what their reason is for coming to the fair, everyone comes for entertainment.”
Knoebel then noted how the fair also has distinct “aromas.”
“Some of the aromas are better than others,” she noted. “How many of you have that smell that every time you smell it, your brain thinks it’s summer and you’re back at the fair?
“For me, it’s funnel cakes. Every time I smell a funnel cake, I imagine myself walking down the midway, eating deep-fried deliciousness. But there are tons of smells that remind us of the fair … the smell of hot grease and cheese — deep-fried cheese curds — and of course, roasted sweet corn, but on top of all that, when I smell freshly chopped wood chips, I think of filling my stalls in the beef barn with fresh bedding. When I smell blade oil, I think of grooming my sheep … I could go on and on.”
Lastly, Knoebel said the fair is about family.
“The fair has been in my immediate family for as long as I can remember. However, I have my own fair family that is much larger than my immediate family. These people have supported me through many parts of my life. We all cheer each other on in the show ring, sharing meals and campsites, getting together for one more hurrah before school starts again. These are the people who have helped shape me into the woman I am today, and they are the reason why I love the fair so much. We may not see each other as often as we would like, but in July, we see each other at our best, and our worst. And we all still love each other in the end.”
She said that during her 18 months’ reign as “Fairest of the Fair,” she got to experience so many things and meet so many amazing people.
“The adventure was life-changing and I will never forget it,” she said. “The ‘Fairest of the Fair’ program allowed me to see the fair from a whole new angle. There’s so much more to the fair than exhibiting animals. I never knew the impact of the fair on the people who enter those gates. Whether they are exhibitors or community members, or visitors to the areas, the fair is a gathering place for everyone, and I’m so proud and very thankful to be able to represent something so wonderful for the last year.”
Judging the contest were Rochelle Mitchell of PremierBank, Michael Gahagan of WFAW/WSJY/KOOL 106.5, and Jackie Foti of The View Communities.
Fair royalty must attend many activities promoting the fair, including the Jefferson County Dairy Breakfast, local parades, festivals and other events and all five days of the 2020 Jefferson County Fair. The Jefferson County “Fairest of the Fair” has the opportunity to attend the Wisconsin Association of Fairs Convention in January 2021, where she will compete for the title of Wisconsin Fairest of the Fairs.