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Fair reward for years of service

Building named after longtime Dickinson fair board chair Degenaer

JOHN DEGENAER JR. of Norway holds a plaque of appreciation and gift basket after learning the administration building at Dickinson County Fairgrounds has been named in his honor. (Submitted photo)

NORWAY — The administration building at the Dickinson County Fairgrounds in Norway has been named after the fair board chair to honor his 40 years of service.

The John Degenaer Jr. Administration Building will receive its new lettering in the spring.

In addition to the dedication announcement, the board presented Degenaer with a plaque and gift basket in appreciation of his hard work.

“I am elated — I just can’t say how proud I am to be able to receive this honor,” he said.

“I also want to thank my wife for supporting me through the years,” Degenaer added. “Along with all the board members and volunteers — it takes contribution to make things happen.”

Degenaer has served on the Dickinson County Fair Board for the past four decades, 25 of those years as chair.

During this time he has led the board in overseeing the operations, finance and policies of the annual event. He also implemented several improvements to the fairgrounds, such as underground electrical services, metal-covered barns, LED lighting, sound system, fencing, new roof and paint for the grandstand, as well as a campground.

One of the larger projects was securing a 95-by-100-foot structure that was dismantled and rebuilt on the fairgrounds. “This is now the dedicated building named in honor of my work,” Degenaer said. “This is just extra meaningful to me.”

Last year, he helped organized the “Ausome Friends of the Fair,” which is a quiet time set aside for children with special needs. “This was a great addition — we can’t wait to expand on it next year,” he said.

Another contribution to the fair was a change in the admission system — from free parking to daily tickets that include all grandstand shows. He has also brought in local talent for concerts, introduced projects for livestock exhibitors and established a daily audit system for gate sales.

Degenaer has coordinated long-term partnership with Skerbeck Family Carnival, USA Demo Derby and the fair’s many annual vendors.

He was appointed as one of the founding members of the U.P. State Fair Authority and currently is the Zone 6 director of the Michigan Association of Fairs and Exhibitions.

“I visit all the fairs within Zone 6 — this is a time we share ideas with other managers and board members,” Degenaer said.

Degenaer got involved in 4-H at a young age. “I started exhibiting at the fair at age 9,” he said, adding he was an exhibitor and 4-H leader from 1963 to 2001.

He was also the recipient of the Emerald Glover Award for his service as a 4-H leader.

“I just love the fair — it has always been part of my life,” said Degenaer.

Degenaer has been a member of the Dickinson County Board of Commissioners, serving for more than 25 years. He was also on the Norway-Vulcan Area School Board of Education from 1988 to 1996.

Degenaer is already looking forward to next year’s fair. “I think this is one of the greatest events in Dickinson County,” he said. “I was looking for a retirement job and I found one.”

Degenaer credits fair board members and volunteers for what they have been able to accomplish over the past few years. “There has to be a leader, but things get done by volunteer help,” he added.

The board is now focused on finishing the remaining asphalt on the midway and maintaining the buildings.

“I think we are on a good path — I just want to keep it going and offer what I can,” Degenaer said.

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