Joe Wacha notes 50 years of involvement at Mighty Howard County Fair
Fri, 07/19/2019 - 8:49am admin
Sara Stromseth-Troy TPD Staff
CRESCO - This year marks a substantial milestone for Joe Wacha: His 50th year of involvement with the Mighty Howard County Fair.
Presently a Howard County Fair Board member, Wacha has certainly come a long way from his early days at the fair where, as a young teenager, he helped paint buildings.
“I started working out here on the fairgrounds when I was 13 years old,” Wacha said. “My dad (John Wacha, Jr.) had been on the fair board since the 1950s and he was actually vice president and then president. He was on the board for over 60 years. When I started volunteering at the fairgrounds, I picked up the garbage and painted buildings. One of the rules was if you weren’t 15 years old, you couldn’t climb a ladder. We had to paint the bottom of the buildings.
“Normally, every year we would paint the fronts of the buildings that were made of wood, where the museum and the Featherlite building are now. There used to be four different buildings there. The office was where the Bingo stand is now. We did odds and ends jobs out here. I remember that earlier before I worked out here, they were building the new sheep barn which has since been torn down. I remember coming to the fairgrounds with my dad and I stacked wood. My payment was short pieces of lumber and I made birdhouses out of them.”
He remembers, “The Expo Center used to be a school. When school got out we had to take all of the walls out on both sides. We would load them onto a trailer and take them to a storage barn. After the fair, we had to put the walls back.”
Wacha recalls how fair grandstand entertainment has changed over the years.
“They used to have a ball tournament in the infield. There used to be tractor pulls and demolition derbies. I remember having Dolly Parton here with Poter Wagoner (in 1971). We had Terri Gibbs, Shelly West, Tanya Tucker and Leroy Van Dyke. We had mud wrestling one year. We try to change up the entertainment options from year to year.”
Wacha said a county fair is truly a family event: In addition to his dad’s long tenure on the Howard County Fair Board and his own decades-long involvement, he recalls a number of family birthdays celebrated on the fairgrounds.
“The fair was part of the summer for our family. Normally, my mom’s and sister’s birthdays fell during the fair, so we would bring birthday cakes to the fairgrounds to celebrate. My dad ‘lived the fair’ like (Fair Board Secretary) Tom Barnes does now.”
Wacha says a couple of moments over the past 50 years at the Mighty Howard County Fair stand out for him.
“I remember sitting up in the grandstand. There was a show going on and I saw a cloud of black smoke. A fair ride had caught on fire. It was the same ride I had been on a half-hour before. Thank goodness no one was on the ride and they got the fire put out.”
While that example was a close call, another moment he remembers had a tragic end:
“One time, we did chuckwagon races. One of those horses got loose, ran into a pole and died on the spot,” he said.
Those harrowing memories are offset by many positive recollections. As he studies the wall in the fair office featuring memorabilia and posters from past entertainers, he points out a member of a 1980’s grandstand act.
“This man is now back at our fair and does Nick’s Kids Show,” he said.
Wacha is also the proud owner of a number of the Mighty Howard County Fair baseball hats, autographed by grandstand entertainment acts.
“We always used to wear baseball caps and I had whoever is performing sign the hats. Someday, I think these hats should go to the museum (Howard County Historical Preservation Center),” he said.
Mighty Howard County Fair Board Secretary Tom Barnes credits Wacha for his 50-year involvement with the Mighty Howard County Fair:
“Joe carries a big load of responsibilities here. He takes care of food concessions and the Moo Mobile; that is his main focus, but he also assists everywhere else. He books the Moo Mobile all year long for people who want to use it and orders the supplies. He shows people how to mix the malts. His 50 years on this fairground means he has a wealth of knowledge. He is a joy to work with and a very organized guy. He’s got a lot on his plate but he is always smiling or laughing,” Barnes said.
To get involved as a volunteer with the Mighty Howard County Fair, contact Fair Board Secretary Tom Barnes or any Fair Board member.