ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Few people were more sorry to see this year’s Marion County Fair come to an end than Don Buethe.
“This is my vacation,” the retired Lincolnville rancher says with all sincerity.
It’s been an annual vacation, to be sure. Buethe has been involved with the county fair for 42 consecutive years.
He said he started as an adult leader in the Lincolnville Wide Awake 4-H Club, and was asked to be superintendent for the beef division while the fair was still located in downtown Hillsboro.
Through years, his responsibilities have varied, but for the past 30 years he’s been a member of the fair board. In that capacity, he has become the consummate “behind the scenes” helper who does a lot of work during fair week but doesn’t draw much limelight.
“Right now, I do all the things that others don’t,” Buethe said.
Stationed in the fairgrounds “office”-a structure about the size of a ticket booth located in the center of the grounds-Buethe fields questions, answers the telephone, runs errands and takes on a host of other tasks.
“The fair is part of me,” he said. “I don’t feel what I do is all that important, but I do all the little things that a lot of people don’t want to do or have the time to do.”
And nothing suits him better.
“I enjoy working with people, answering the questions and helping them find things,” he said. “Anything I can do to help somebody get something out of the fair is what I get the most pleasure out of.”
In his first years as beef superintendent, Buethe was on site round the clock because a number of the exhibitors stayed with their animals all night.
In recent years, he gets to go home for night, but he still puts in a long day.
“I’m here from 8 a.m. until about midnight,” he said. “I can do that, whereas a lot of other people have other commitments.”
For years, Buethe and his wife, Peggy, operated a ranch six miles southeast of Lincolnville. The ranch has been in the family since his grandfather purchased the land from the Santa Fe Railroad in 1885.
Physical limitations following back operations in the late 1960s prompted the Buethes to replace the cattle herd with a poultry operation that grew to about 22,000 laying hens.
The Buethes retired in the early 1990s and moved to Lincolnville. Don still helps on the ranch, which is now run by his daughter and son-in-law, who have shifted the emphasis back to cattle.
“They have registered angus now,” Buethe said. “They have black angus, red angus and a few Charlois, and they sell breeding stock to ranchers in surrounding states.”
His physical restrictions have prompted him in recent years to make his rounds at the fair in his motorized four-wheel Kawasaki “Mule,” for which he has become well known.
Buethe enjoys the various tasks that come to him, but said he understands the limits his decision-making authority.
“I don’t like to make decisions that the president and managers should,” he said. “So I’ll hunt them up, and then call the person back. I make decisions I know I can make.
“I know pretty well how the fair runs,” he added. “I can make some decisions without going to the manager just because I’ve been here for so long.”
Buethe said more may be coming in the not-too-distant future.
“We’re small enough that it’s difficult to get a carnival, and a lot of people think we need a carnival,” he said. “We may run into a time when we can’t get a carnival.”
He also said the board has discussed shifting most of the fair activities to the evening.
“When we first started, the man of the house was the only one who was employed, and most women were working in the home,” he said. “Now everyone works (outside the home) and it really puts a burden on folks during the week.
“There’s talk of adding another night or something, and doing a lot of the stuff at night that now we do during the daytime.”
Whatever may come, at least one thing will remain the same about the fair, Buethe said.
“I’ve always been proud of it because we have one of the best fairgrounds and the best fairs in quite a territory,” he said. “And I enjoy working with the people-the board members are a super type of people.”
And how much longer will he continue in his role?
“I’m 78, and I ought to be getting about to the end,” he said. “I don’t know if I can say no to another term or not-mine is up this year, and I don’t know what to say.
“But I enjoy people, and if there’s something I can help them with, I enjoy doing it.”