Donna Henderson Ending 47-Year Run With Fair

After 47 years of helping to put on the Door County Fair, Fair Secretary Donna Henderson is stepping down after this year’s fair.

“I want to go out on a good note,” she said, adding that it allows her to teach her replacement, Sara Mueller. “I kind of thought maybe they would ask me back next year and I could be the assistant.”

Which would be the opposite of her own experience of being thrown into the whirlwind of activity that brought the 1970 fair to life, along with her then-colleague Linda (Neinas) Viste.

“Neither of us knew what we were doing,” she admits.

Working with the fair came as part of her job when she was hired in 1969 to be part of Door County’s University of Wisconsin-Extension team.

“I started working in the Door County Extension office in September 1969, right after the fair was over,” she said. “When I started, John Miles was the fair secretary and Norb Schachtner was my boss, the ag agent, and the assistant fair secretary, so I was the assistant to the assistant fair secretary.”

Then Bill Tong served as fair secretary, followed by Mike Gallagher (not in the one in politics, Donna points out) and Don Johnson (not the one in Miami Vice, she says).

“After that I became the fair secretary, so I worked up the ranks,” she said.

With that title came much responsibility. One of the things she maintains is a “responsibility list” to make sure all the many little details that go into making the fair happen are attended to by someone.

“I have a tablet by my bed if I wake up during the night and think of something I was supposed to do,” she said.

Donna said she rarely makes it over to the grandstand side of the fair.

“I’m mainly on the exhibit end of it and I like it because not only do I get to deal with all the 4-H kids out of the extension office, just seeing some of the creative stuff they come up with, especially cake decorating. Wow!” she said.

“I remember when the Ash boys were exhibitors at the fair, and their Dad was, too. So I’ve been here awhile,” she said. “You have the tried and true exhibitors. I’ve seen three generations come through, but the numbers are off. You don’t have the big families anymore. But some of the families are still there with the competition between grandma, mom and daughter in baking and flower entries. It’s fun to see.”

She said with two really big, successful 4-H clubs in the county – East Maplewood and Brussels Shining Stars – she sees a healthy future for fair exhibitions.

She is hoping that this, her final fair as secretary, will be a good one.

“This year we have many more on-ground events in order to attract more people to the event,” she said. “I said if they don’t come this year with the $5 ticket prices, they’re never going to come. You can’t get much cheaper than that. This is everything – the rides, the music, the grandstand for five bucks a day.”

Donna retired from her position with UW-Extension in 2013 and at the time took and passed a nurse’s aide course, but decided following through on that would keep her tied down, and she is looking forward to being able to relax, without the tablet next to her bed reminding her of all that is left undone.

But she said she might miss one of the perks of the job.

“I do get a cruise every year,” she said. “I get to go to the Washington Island Fair [which is usually held two weeks after Door County’s Fair].”

Related Organizations

Article Comments