North Dakota’s Burke County Fair celebrated its 100th year with their “Biggest show on earth” in June. The celebration coincided with an all Flaxton, North Dakota, school reunion, so it was well-attended and enjoyed by all.

The Burke County fair was my second home; much of my family was part of it, right from the very beginning.

The influence of the Burke County fair on my life can be found in nearly all of the Knightro Reports that I’ve written – some two hundred and fifty columns – for which copies can be made available upon request or by accessing the Knightro Report on the Farm And Livestock Directory website.

These stories, and others reflect the impact that the Burke County fair had on my life. Had it not been for the fair, I would never have been awarded those coveted moments of two state achievement awards, a trip to 4-H congress in Chicago, and a gold watch from the Alpha Gamm Rho fraternity.

These things somehow tend to give one a pedigree of sorts that precedes you into the real world of reality and opportunity.
To arrive at the campus of NDSU with nothing more than the change in my pocket and a commitment in my mind to somehow make it all work out – only to find a note, hand delivered, with the message of invitation welcoming me to the school and the offering of a shared room in Dakota Hall.

Dakota Hall wasn’t exactly the Taj Mahal, but it was a pretty big deal to a scared farm boy that had never been further from home than the fair grounds.

Because I had made a name for myself at the county level, the doors of opportunity just kept swinging open – everything from working for the meat and animal science department, the meat and livestock judging teams, to assistant teaching and lab instruction. It all just seemed like an extension to the 4-H program at the Burke County Fair.

Every major ‘first’ in my life seemed to have been at the County Fair:

  • First kiss: Went on to marry her
  • First horse race: Went on to be a jockey (rode for Alfred Jensen)
  • First auction: Went on to become an auctioneer  (sold the 4-H Baby Beef Calves)
  • First consecutive grand champion steer: Went on to purchase the best from Lee Carter
  • First consecutive showmanship: Went on to be challenged by Gordon Sorenson & Russell Jensen
  • First camel ride: Went on to be challenged by Larry Radenz
  • First ostrich race: Went on to be saved by Ronnie Larsen
  • First donkey polo: Went on to be coached by Amos Nelson & Kenny Christiansen
  • First consecutive saddle horse championship: Went on to be challenged by Paul Aufforth
  • First consecutive second place horse race finishes: Went on to get beat by Myril Schultz
  • First midnight horse race: Went on to be challenged by John Halverson
  • First Go-getters 4-H club: Went on to be developed by Mr. Crockett, County Extension Agent

4-H and the Burke County fair taught be how to be first – an attribute that has served me well to this day.

But it also taught me, that you don’t get there alone. It was people like Marv Nordbo, county extension agent, and Dr. Virlin K. Johnson, the university professor that saw more potential in me than I did myself.

Just as the fair went on before me, with the likes of Hans and Chris Christensen – and afterwards with the leadership of Jim and Hazel Herman, those associated with the fair need to get behind the efforts of the current fair board to build a new livestock pavilion. For the future of 4-H and the legacy of the fair, it is the least that we can do to insure the success of the road that lies ahead.

There are just too many great stories to let that last ride around the track end here. Like that of the racehorse named Senator Hobo, who was never ridden by anyone except Chub Osborne and Bennie Hass. He was just too tough for the rest – but never lost, or that of Kenny K – my namesake – ridden by Billy Jensen into the winners circle.

The stories and names are endless, as there was no one that took his responsibilities at the fair more seriously than John Jorgenson, or worked any harder that the Nygaard family, or worked behind the scenes wherever they were needed like that of Melvin Christensen and Chris Lind.

And last but not least were the contributions of the Wolkenhauer and Nielsen families. My father could never say enough good things about these people, except maybe that of Bruce Bair.

And now it’s time for all of us to step up to the plate, acknowledge and appreciate all that the Burke Count fair has meant in our lives. We all have the opportunity to give to the building fund that has been started to build a new livestock pavilion on the fairgrounds. Will you please consider a donation?

Check with County Extension Agent, Dan Folske for the total amount pledged at this point. But I can tell you for sure that one of the gifts exceeds $60,000.00. This was given by Dr. Donald Nelson, as a tribute to his parents.

His dad, Dan was a very good friend and a real leader of the Hereford cattle breed. His son Donny, never really took to the cattle business, but Dan would often call on me to conduct cattle evaluation clinics at his farm.

Donny was a little boy at the time, but I always remember him being around there. When I called him to solicit a donation there was no ‘yes or no’ – just simply, “I’ll check with my accountant to see how much I can give.” Little did I know, at the time, that he would grow up to become a doctor. His dad was so proud of him, and would call me often to express his feelings about his son and talk a little cattle.

If only others would come forth so generously, this building could become a reality in a very short time.

To respectively honor Steve Pederson who has worked so hard to get this accomplished, I hope you’ll find it in your heart to give to this legendary cause.

The list of others who have contributed and given in other ways is unending – but, just as the lights wouldn’t still be on at the fairgrounds if it hadn’t been for the Larson Bros., the future of the Burke County fair won’t live on without you becoming a part of it. It was Melvin who also became my mentor when I was growing up – always implying that if you put the fair first, everything else will work out.