Portage County Fair — Amherst opens July 18

By Brent Frankenhoff

The Portage County Fair — Amherst returns to the Amherst Fairgrounds July 18-21 with many of its regular attractions returning for another year of fun for all ages, and a number of new attractions have been added to keep things fresh.

The first two nights of the Fair feature truck and tractor pulls at 6:30 p.m. each night with various classes of both types of vehicles. On Saturday afternoon, the annual Demolition Derby is held at 3 p.m. All these events are on the track.

Friday and Saturday mornings are taken up with judging of the many exhibits that 4-H and FFA members have prepared during the year. From animals to cooking to photography to model building and more, there’s something for everyone to see and learn about around the fairgrounds.

Outside of the exhibition buildings, the Fair features a Commercial Building with displays from area businesses to showcase their products and services. Further south on the Fairgrounds is the ever-popular midway with rides and games for all ages, plus food and beverages served by numerous service organizations. Funds from those food sales help these organizations grow and offer more to the community.

Each evening, different bands will perform with That ’90s Band leading things off Thursday evening at 8 p.m., followed by Bad Habits on Friday night at 8:30 p.m. Saturday night features the Troy Allen Trio at 4:30 p.m. and Blame It on Waylan at 8 p.m.

In addition to the usual Fair vendors, Friday’s food offerings include a fish fry by Dale Peterson near the grandstand with all profits going to Saint Jude’s Hospital.

The Fair holds a parade through Amherst’s downtown on Saturday with this year’s theme being “Honoring the Amherst Legends and Supporters We Lost Too Soon.”

In addition to the many floats and groups walking the parade route, the Fair uses the opportunity to recognize the Persons and Business of the Year selected by the Spirit. Again this year, due to school construction, entries need to line up in the back parking lot of the school, south of the football field.

Sunday morning, Ambrosia Pub and Grill caters an all-you-can-eat breakfast.


Improvements and updates. Fair Board President Tim Pederson said that while no new buildings were added to the Fairgrounds this year, “we painted the grandstand roof, and Associated Bank workers stained all the picnic tables and benches. The Portage County Holstein Association bought new fans for the Dairy and Beef Barn. And the Fair Board bought new cages for the Poultry and Rabbit Building.

“Our next major project is to build a new entertainment building for our bar and stage. This project was on the table for some time, but other projects came up that needed to be addressed first.”


Market Animal Sale adds still more stock. The Market Animal Sale, held on Sunday, added sheep to its traditional offerings of turkey and pigs raised by 4-H and FFA members for sale to bidders last year. This year, beef has been added to the sale bill. Many area businesses purchase the animals at or above market value. Market Animal Sale results will appear in the August Spirit.


Fair history. The Fair’s first 48 years of operation occurred between 1869 and 1917. A restart of the Fair in 1949 after a more than 30-year absence makes the 2024 event its 75th under the Portage County Fair Association.

Pederson’s own involvement with the Fair dates back to the late 1980s. “When my family moved to Amherst in 1987 and I took an agriculture job at the school, my contract stated that I had to be part of the Fair Board,” he said. “The first years I was a member and was responsible for all the animal buildings. In 1996, I was on a committee that worked to get a new Beef barn. I became Fair Board President in 1999 and when Ruth Otto, who did all the youth exhibits, passed away, my wife, Sue, and I took over that job. We continue to do all the youth projects at the Fair, and we have been able to have great volunteers helping us.”


Something for everyone. Pederson encouraged visitors young and old to attend the Fair, especially children interested in exhibiting at a future fair. “We continue to make sure the youth have a great experience at our Fair,” he added. “To keep the youth involved, we depend on the leaders of various clubs to keep their membership up and members involved.

“The Fair has improved greatly in the past 20-some years, and I feel it will continue to improve. We now have many young members on our board, many of whom were my students. The new members are very eager to improve the Fair and have made some great changes already.”

Pederson added that the improvements to the fairgrounds and the Fair itself could not happen without the help of so many volunteers. “We are always in need of volunteers with parking, selling tickets at grandstand events and the bar, bartending, and working in the youth buildings,” he said. “We post on Facebook for volunteers, or they can contact Fair Board members. Volunteers receive coupons for food and beverage as well as passes to the Fair.”

More information on the Fair can be found at its website at amherstfair.com and in the flyer inserted in this issue of the Spirit.


The whole family participates in getting a cow ready for judging.


Portage County 4-H chapters create colorful displays to attract more members.

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