The opening ceremonies of the Kansas State Fair always have big speeches, big crowds and very big scissors ready to cut the opening-day ribbon.
But opening ceremonies on the fair’s 100th birthday are even bigger.
Friday’s opening ceremonies, which officially started the 100th birthday fair in Hutchinson, featured more fanfare than usual, including two giant birthday cakes – one a 4-foot-by-2-foot sheet cake, the other a seven-layer monster topped with a frosting tractor.
It was attended by Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Dale Rodman, Oscar the Robot, and several state senators – including Rep. Janice Pauls, the woman who successfully proposed that K-96 between Wichita and Hutchinson be renamed State Fair Freeway.
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In addition to the cake and ribbon cutting, the ceremonies included a red, white and blue balloon launch. Fairgoers let them go on cue, and they floated off to the north, each one fixed with a free entrance ticket to the fair and a tag asking the person who finds the balloon to report via e-mail where it landed.
Richard Shank, who holds the position of official Hutchinson ambassador to the Kansas State Fair, told the crowd about the first ever Kansas State Fair opening day, which happened on Sept. 13, 1913.
The men wore suits and ties. The women wore hats, long dresses and high heels. Several months earlier, Reno county voters had passed a sales tax that would provide seed money to fund the fair. It passed by a margin of 4,219 to 189, Shank said.
“An editorial comment that day called the day a great day for Hutchinson and one the city would never regret,” Shank said. “No truer statement has been spoken.”
Fairgoers finished their cake and dispersed from the opening ceremonies to take advantage of its attractions – some new, some classic.
Agriculture secretary Rodman and his wife, Ronda, headed straight to the Pride of Kansas building, where attendees were peering at the giant pumpkins – this year’s blue ribbon winner weighed in at nearly 500 pounds – and peered through glass at this year’s butter sculpture, which artist Sharon BuMann made in the shape of a giant horse next to an antique farm implement.
The Rodmans went on their first date to the Kansas State Fair in 1967, they said. They don’t remember all the details – just that it was hot and they ate a Pronto Pup.
The fair is an important part of Kansas culture, Rodman said. Kansas’ fair is special because it’s been able to remain successful, drawing crowds of 350,000 year after year while still focusing on agriculture. Most other state fairs that are still successful have become giant carnivals, he said.
It’s important for us to have the fair and to broaden it,” he said. “It’s important for people to understand where agriculture comes from.”
The Kansas State Fair runs daily through Sept. 15.