Oneida County UW-Extension and the Oneida County Fair Committee plan to recognize the pioneering efforts of Tina Werres, Oneida County Fair Coordinator, and her contributions to establishing an “old-fashioned county fair” in park space in downtown Rhinelander. Werres, member of the committee that revitalized the stagnating event, is retiring following the completion of the fourth successful fair in its new home in Pioneer Park.
“The event has been increasingly successful over the last four years,” said Erica Brewster, department head for UW-Extension, the agency that provides oversight for the revitalized fair, “and that success has been in no small part due to Tina’s dedication. She has always had a very clear idea, down to the minutest details, of what a fair in Pioneer Park should look like, and she has worked very hard to make that vision a reality.”
Attendance at the fair increased exponentially over the numbers seen at the former fairgrounds at the Hodag 50, outside of the downtown area, leaping from a mere 3,000 in attendance to more than 17,000 passing through the gates in 2012. The fair has also improved financially, with nearly $20,000 generated annually, and far more economic benefit to the area through visitors and tourists who take advantage of thefree, family-friendly event in an easily accessible downtown location.
Steered by then UW-Extension head Dan Kuzlik, and with the cooperation of Oneida County and the City of Rhinelander, it was decided in 2009 to move the fair from the Hodag 50 grounds to Pioneer Park in the City of Rhinelander. Led by Werres and Pat Dineen, a dedicated group of volunteers saw an enormous attendance increase during the first year at the park. After initially serving as a volunteer Planning Committee President in 2009, Werres took the paid position of Fair Coordinator in 2010.
Werres saw from the beginning that the Oneida County Fair was not going to resemble what many think of as a stereotypical fair. “Oneida County isn’t known for its cows and pigs and agriculture,” Werres explains. “We have potatoes, cranberries and timber – and more importantly – people. So we have to be more creative in what we do to celebrate our community.”
Each year Werres has coordinated adding new venues and attractions, including the Fairest of the Fair, Family Land, incorporating dog shows into the Animal Alley, Hungry Hollow with activities for children andadults involving food, and a full array of entertainment that reflect the unique nature of Oneida County. The fair also strives to support local businesses and vendors for all services, and has even contracted with K&M Amusements from Phillips, the only carnival based out of Wisconsin’s Northwoods.
With Werres’s retirement, the Oneida County Fair Planning Committee is looking forward to a future of new growth. “We owe Tina a huge debt of gratitude, as I personally don’t believe the fair would be close to enjoying the success it has without her leadership and passion,” said Oneida County Fair Planning Committee President Craig Mandli. “She has played a huge role in bringing the community together to make this a true community event.” Mandli noted that efforts are ongoing to increase the reach of the fair in the county and beyond, as the committee is actively seeking representation from the Lakeland and Three Lakes area, and brainstorming ideas to increase the number of exhibitors, vendors and attractions.
“Without the vision and determination of a few dedicated citizens five years ago, we would not have the fair we have today,” stated Brewster, “and while Tina’s retirement will result in many challenges for our fair committee, I am confident that new leadership will take the torch and help our fair grow even better and more inviting and inclusive in years to come.”
A recognition event to celebrate Werres’s efforts will be held during the Oneida County Fair Committee meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 4, at 6 p.m., in the lower level conference room at the Curran Professional Building, 315 South Oneida Avenue, Rhinelander. The public is welcome to attend the reception, as are those interested in learning more about serving on the Oneida County Fair planning committee.