An archived photo from the 2019 St. Joseph County Grange Fair shows that year’s midway at night. The 2023 St. Joseph County Fair will run from Sept. 17-23. (COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON)
By Robert Tomlinson
CENTREVILLE — The biggest event in St. Joseph County is about to commence for the 172nd year.
Beginning Sunday, Sept. 17 and going through Saturday, Sept. 23, the St. Joseph County Grange Fair returns to Centreville for a week full of animals, action, and activities, and encourages everyone to, as this year’s slogan says, “Hop on Over.”
“It’s nice to be able to bring this huge event to the county and to the surrounding counties,” Marketing Director Mindy Timm said. “It’s nice to be able to put on a big event that draws so many families to St. Joseph County.”
Following are some of the new and returning attractions and storylines coming into this year’s county fair.
Heritage Hall added to attractions
Expanding on the “heritage” aspect of last year’s fair that started with Heritage Park, a new heritage-themed exhibit leads the way in new attractions with the new Heritage Hall, a free exhibit located in Barn 49, the brick building across from the fair offices.
Heritage Hall, Timm said, will be a “step back in time to the 1950s,” showcasing a number of historical items from the time period, including a 1950s-era fire truck, vintage motorcycles and vehicles, a replica kitchen and living room, a camper from that era, and a number of items from the history of Constantine. Vendors will also be located in the building, as well as a veterans’ display.
“Since Heritage Park did so well last year, we as a board wanted to bring something else to the community,” Timm said, adding that over 15 people donated items to display at Heritage Hall.
Heritage Park returns
The biggest new addition to last year’s fair will make its return to this year’s fair.
Heritage Park will feature a number of exhibits related to farming in the area, including the fair garden, an open-class antique tractor display, demonstrations of farm equipment and machinery, and demonstrations from foragers and bucket makers.
New to this year’s Heritage Park will be a petting zoo, the return of goats to the area, and pony rides. In addition, the Pork Chop Revue variety show, which last came to the fair in 2019 and was featured on America’s Got Talent in 2020, will return to the fair as free entertainment this year.
Truck and Tractor Pulls highlight grandstand events
Those who enjoy pulling and racing will find that this year’s grandstand events will be filled with plenty of those events.
On opening day Sunday, Sept. 17, Farm Truck and Semi Pulls will take place at 3 p.m. at the grandstands to kick off the week. On Tuesday, Sept. 19 there will be plenty of racing on the dirt track, with Figure-Eight Racing returning to the fair at 7 p.m. On Wednesday, Sept. 20, the Bump-N-Run and Demolition Derby will take place at 7 p.m. On Thursday, Sept. 21, the grandstands will feature Dirt Drags, drag races taking place on the dirt track, at 6 p.m., an event that hasn’t occurred at the fair in a few years.
The marquee pulling events will take place Friday, Sept. 22 and Saturday, Sept. 23 as the NTPA Regional National Modified Truck and Tractor Pulls stop by the fairgrounds, starting at 7 p.m. both days. Timm said while they’ve had regional events for NTPA in the past, this is the first time they’ll be bringing in a national event.
“We as a board and as an entertainment committee decided to ramp it up a little bit, give the spectators and people coming to the fair to watch these events, especially NTPA pulling, which is huge, so we can bring something to the table that can ramp up the excitement and adrenaline,” Timm said.
Antique tractor pulls will take place at 8 a.m. on Friday, and Farm Stock and Too Hot To Farm Tractor Pulls and Modified Gas Truck Pulls will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 23.
Harness racing will take place on Monday and Tuesday beginning at noon, and the Super Kicker Rodeo will round out Monday’s festivities at 7 p.m.
Revised Layout for Midway Rides
Timm said there will be a revised layout for rides on the Midway at this year’s fair, handled by Skerbeck Entertainment.
While the ever-popular and ever-wanted Kiddie Land will not be back this year in the spot it historically was at – Heritage Park will take its place for the second straight year – Timm said there will be a bit more delineation between rides for younger kids and older kids.
While rides will generally be in the same area as in recent years, rides geared toward older kids will be spread out to the area of Burr Oak Row and Machinery Row, while rides geared toward younger kids will be spread out more toward the commercial barn area.
“The thinking and strategy behind it is because with all those big kid rides up there, we wanted to separate them a bit more, but when the midway gets super busy on a Friday, Saturday night, it gets congested. To make the traffic flow better, so the congestion isn’t there, we decided to shift the bigger rides out a bit so we could run lines in different areas that weren’t as congested, so we’re not bottling up the midway for emergency issues and things like that,” Timm said.
“We had our discussions with [Skerbeck], and they want to work with us, they want to work with the community and make it the best experience for everybody, and so we worked with them and were able to come up with a plan.”
As with recent years, there will be no rides operating on opening day Sunday, due to Skerbeck wrapping up operations that at another fair and taking the day to set up in Centreville.
4-H shows every day
One of the biggest highlights of the fair every year are the activities surrounding 4-H, and this year is no different.
Each day of the festival will feature at least a couple 4-H shows and events, with the biggest event of them all being the small and large animal sales, taking place Thursday, Sept. 21 beginning at 10 a.m.
The individual animal shows started on Thursday, Sept. 14 with the cat show, and continue on Saturday, Sept. 16 with the dog show at the show arena. Sunday will feature shows for horses, rabbits, poultry, and open class chickens. Monday will feature more horses, goats, swine, and open class goats. Tuesday features yet more horses, beef/dairy beef cattle, open class beef, sheep, and dairy feeder. Wednesday features the open class pony halter show and pony cart/hitch shows, the open class dairy cattle, and demonstrations and presentations at the community tent. Thursday’s festivities will also include the hall-of-fame induction ceremony at 9:30 a.m. at the show arena prior to the sales. Friday will see the sweepstakes showmanship contest at 7 p.m., and Saturday will have the Gymkhana 4-H horse show and a still exhibit auction.
More free entertainment and interactive experiences
The Community Tent and Free Stage will offer a wide variety of free entertainment for the week.
A couple of the big Community Tent events highlighted by Timm will happen Saturday, Sept. 23, with the annual charity pie eating contest taking place at noon, and a chicken-calling contest at 4 p.m. The pie contest, Timm said, will pit a few St. Joseph County football teams, including Constantine’s against one another, while the chicken-calling contest has been a recently-popular event at fairs and festivals across the country.
At the Free Stage, Amazing Mike the Magician will perform on Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, while the annual Blanket Wheel will take place daily in the afternoon. A number of musical acts will perform at both stages.
There will also be some interactive entertainment this year, including a mobile photo booth Timm will be handling, and a new scavenger hunt competition.
With the scavenger hunt, Timm said a clue will be posted every day to the St. Joseph County Grange Fair Facebook page with a key word to assist fairgoers in finding a goodie bag hidden around the grounds. The goodie bag will include small prizes, such as a bouncy ball and sunglasses, but also include either grandstand tickets, wristband vouchers or fair passes. There will be at least one goodie bag to be given away every day.
“If you get to the vendor with the clue, you have to take a picture, share it on Facebook or comment on the post with the clue, and then you win the goodie bag,” Timm said. “We’re trying to get people more interactive on social media as well as around the fairgrounds.”
Live bull rides will occur Sunday, Monday, Friday and Saturday from 2-9 p.m., and mechanical bull rides will occur daily from 1-10 p.m.
Under New Management
This year’s fair will be the first under new Fair Manager Christina Yunker, who was hired back in May to be manager after previously being on the fair’s Board of Directors for six months. She takes over the role previously held by Missi Tefft, who was unexpectedly and controversially fired by the board following a closed session a month after last year’s fair.
So far, Timm said, Yunker has made a bit of a mark on the fair, spearheading some upkeep to the fairgrounds’ barns, with a brand-new coat of paint and new roofs, and adding a new outdoor market space for vendors west of Barn 53.
“She’s stepped up and just ran with things. She’s a great manager, great to work with, and I think people are going to see a difference when they come to the fairgrounds,” Timm said. “The atmosphere is different; we’ve done a lot of updating on the grounds. We painted barns, we’ve done a lot of improvements that she has took on and spearheaded and pushed to get done, so people will see a big difference. It’s lots of little things that add up to big things that people will be able to notice.”
Yunker, a resident of Sturgis, has been involved with the fair outside of the board as a 4-H leader for 15 years. She said she knew it would be a big job taking on being fair manager, but said she did it because of her love for the fair.
“I enjoy the fair, I enjoy what happens here, and so I wanted to be part of that. I knew I could do a good job,” Yunker said.
Yunker said she expects this year’s fair to go smoothly, adding that she didn’t want to look back at the recent past with the multiple controversies surrounding 2022’s fair. She touted having the vendor barns completely full as one of the highlights of putting this year’s fair together.
“All of the available indoor vendor spots are full and maybe 95 percent of the outdoor vendor spots are full. That’s different than last year,” Yunker said. “People want to come to the fair and see full barns, and that’s what’s going to happen.”
Moving forward, Yunker’s vision for the fair is to work with the fair board to implement ideas and changes for the future to make the fair successful.
“I want it to be successful, I want it to be safe for everybody, and people o have fun and offer what the community wants to see,” Yunker said. “I want it to be a place where people can have fun and we stay up to date as best we can with what’s going on in the industry with what people want to see and do.”
Admission and Wristband Info
Admission to the St. Joseph County Grange Fair is $8 for adults, with kids 12 years old and under free. Parking will be free as well. Drive-in entrances will be at the main M-86 gate and Nottawa gate, while walk-in gates will be available on Nottawa and Franklin streets.
On Kids Day Monday, kids 18 years old and under will get in for free. On Senior Day Wednesday, anyone 62 years old and older will get in for just $6. On Veterans Day Friday, veterans will get in for $6.
Grandstand tickets for Sunday through Saturday morning are $12, with Friday and Saturday NTPA pulls $15 for adults. Children will get in for $6.
Single-day ride wristbands purchased at the fair are $25 for Monday through Thursday, while they will cost $30 for Friday and Saturday. Mega Bands for unlimited rides Monday through Saturday are $100, and must be purchased before 5 p.m. on Sept. 17. Wristbands can also be purchased before Sept. 17 at the fair office, Southern Michigan Bank & Trust, Sturgis Bank & Trust, and the fair’s website.
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or email@example.com.