Seventy-three-year-old Steve Wallin, of Spencer, is supposed to be retired but his love for the Clay County Fair and a strong volunteer ethic keep getting in the way.
Wallin, who serves as president of the Clay County Fair in Spencer, Iowa, was born and raised on a farm in Cherokee County, near Fielding, about 11 miles south of Marcus. He was quick to point out that Lawrence Welk used to play there. Wallin fondly remembers driving the baler when he was 8 years old and having to stand up to push the clutch in. After receiving his accounting degree from Mankato College, he mobilized from 1968-69 to serve his country in foreign lands.
Returning to Spencer in 1970, Wallin became the city clerk and finance officer for the City of Spencer. In 1983 he accepted a field reporter job at the Farm Service Agency, working both Clay County and Polk County until 2009.
“Then I retired – or I was supposed to be,” Wallin said.
That retirement was short lived. He joined the Clay County Fair in 1972 working at the outside gates as a ticket seller. This year will mark his 49th year of being involved with the Clay County Fair. In 1993 he was named superintendent of outside gates and was in charge of the 80 or so ticket sellers and takers for the fair. He joined the 27-member Clay County Fair Board in the mid-90s.
“About 17 years ago, then fair manager Jim Frost asked me if I would entertain the idea of overseeing the 350-camping sites in the campground north of 18th Street. Along with this job came the supervision of 12 to 14 campground employees. I’m still doing that,” Wallin said. “Frost also asked if I could coordinate the distribution of the advanced booster tickets and brochures the end of June to businesses within a 90-mile radius of Spencer. I guess he thought I didn’t have anything else to do.”
So the end of June, Wallin and four other volunteers head out from each direction of Spencer and get the distribution done in one afternoon. Then the day before the fair is to begin, the same crew travels again to pick up unsold tickets and the money for the sold tickets.
“I do the hiring of the ticket takers. Historically, the Clay County Fair has quite the reputation and people want to say they worked for the Clay County Fair. We welcome back those who have worked for us in the past and those committed to the fair. They are the first contact with fairgoers. A lot of workers take their vacation time to work at the fair. We used to hire a lot of farmers but now most have a second job off the farm so it makes it a challenge for them,” he added.
In October 2020 at the board of directors meeting, Wallin was nominated by his peers to serve as chairman of the Clay County Fair Board. The board consists of 27 members with nine elected annually to serve a three-year term. Wallin was elected president and will serve one year. He must seek re-election as chairman this fall during the annual meeting.
As chairman, Wallin is responsible for conducting the monthly executive board meetings on the first Thursday of each month. The executive board is responsible for the fiscal operation of the Clay County Fair.
Another one of his duties as president will be to give visiting fair board members tours of the fairgrounds and to represent the Clay County Fair at any other functions within the community, region, state or nation.
In addition to his many jobs at the Clay County Fair, Wallin is also an active member of the Spencer VFW, the American Legion, ESGR to serve as a liaison between businesses and individuals in the National Guard, the Spencer Board of Adjustment, past president of the Clay County Heritage Museum Board, Spencer Ambassadors, Masonic Temple, “and on and on and on,” as Wallin said. After 36 years, Wallin retired in 2007 as State Command Sergeant Major of the Iowa Air National Guard for the state of Iowa.
“I want to see the day when I can slow down. But then things go downhill. I don’t ever see that day happening,” he added.
In regards to the nine-day Clay County Fair Sept. 11-19, Wallin believes the fair will be well attended.
“After COVID, the general public has been anxious to get out and about and attend activities,” he said. “Over the last year, the public has not been used to being confined. The Clay County Fair, as well as any other fair, will provide that relief. The Clay County Fair is looking to be a very well attended fair in 2021 with great entertainment in place.”
“We are very fortunate to have CEO Jeremy Parsons. Every fair is as successful as the board is willing to step up and make it happen,” Wallin said.
In the family department, Wallin has three grown children in Whittemore, Moville and Spencer with seven grandkids and another to arrive in September.
This child is scheduled to be delivered in Spencer just in case in comes during the Clay County Fair.