SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Some people really love a state fair — enough to drive hundreds of miles to attend.
A family of New Yorkers who spend weeks of their summer visiting state fairs soaked up the sights and sounds at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield on Aug. 17.
Illinois is one of many state fairs Arlene and Marvin Birnbaum and their children, Joe and Aaron, will visit this year. The family from the Big Apple got hooked on state fairs a few years ago when they visited Nebraska’s. Now they visit as many as they can every year.
“We love the animals and how every state promotes it,” Marvin said.
Each fair offers different experiences.
“We even got to ride in a combine,” Arlene said of one memorable fair experience.
Not everyone gets to ride in a half million dollar vehicle, Joe said.
This is their second visit to the Illinois State Fair, but they found first-time experiences here this year, including taking photos at the new Route 66 permanent exhibit. This tribute to the Mother Road, in its first season, will grow every year.
Other guests have been coming to the fair for generations. Many of them gathered at the Ag Day Breakfast on Aug. 17 to celebrate their long history. In all, 358 families were recognized for having a centennial, sesquicentennial or bicentennial farm owned by the same family.
Illinois State Director of Agriculture Jerry Costello read the name of every family. There were more families to recognize this year since the 2020 state fair was canceled due to COVID-19, leading to two years’ worth of people reaching the milestones of 100, 150 and 200 years of being a family farm.
Others recognized at the ceremony included the Cimeron and Rachel Frost Family, Illinois Beef Association Farm Family of the Year; Penny Lauritzen, Illinois Agri-Women Hall of Fame, the Jackson Family of Jefferson County, Illinois 4-H Family Spirit Award; and Tony Pferschy of Garlic Breath Farm in Kane County, the first Homegrown by Heroes Farmer Veteran of the Year in Illinois.
Gov. JB Pritzker thanked farmers for their “grit, tenacity and ingenuity” and pressing on with their essential work especially during the pandemic.
Proof of the ongoing pandemic were people wearing masks in buildings and designated areas which provided free testing or vaccines without appointments.
This year the Ag Breakfast returned to a tradition of holding the event on the Director’s Lawn instead of in a building, both honoring history and meeting pandemic protocol, Costello told guests including several past ag directors, other politicians, agriculture industry leaders and ag educators.
University of Illinois Chancellor Robert Jones, who heard Costello painstakingly read all the names, said “generational achievements deserve recognition.” Ag Day was the day before University of Illinois students at Champaign-Urbana returned to school with the largest number of first-year students it history.
Of the 53,000 students, 8,900 are freshmen, he said. He believes how the university has handled the pandemic and its ability for several disciplines to work together in creating the rapid saliva Covid-19 test is a big reason for the school’s increase in enrollment while other universities are seeing declining enrollment.
“It’s because parents know their students are safe here,” said Dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences Kim Kidwell.
The chancellor and dean walked through the fair greeting people on all sides. A highlight for Kidwell was seeing people they hadn’t seen for a while.
“It’s joyful. We miss the connections,” she said.