The Monroe County Fair became the latest victim of the coronavirus pandemic last Tuesday, as the fair board announced it was canceling this year’s event “with sincere regret.”
This year’s fair was to take place July 19-26.
“The board has gone through some difficult weeks of uncertainty as our county, our state and our country have struggled with the coronavirus pandemic,” Monroe County Fair Board President Don Schrader said. “The main concern… during these weeks has been the health and safety of those who participate in and those who attend the annual county fair. The decision to cancel the fair was made following numerous conversations with the Monroe County Health Department and local officials, all of whom are required to follow the governor’s Restore Illinois safety plan.”
Every region of the state is currently in the third phase of that plan, but large group gatherings like festivals are not permitted until the fifth and final phase.
And no region will progress to that phase until a vaccine is available, a treatment option is available for COVID-19 or there are no new cases in a region “over a sustained period.”
“Our concern has been and always will be the health and safety of all of those involved in the Monroe County Fair,” Schrader said. “And if we continue to work together to get through this difficult time, we will come out of this pandemic as an even stronger community.”
News that the event that has provided food, fun and fellowship for the last 72 years is canceled was met with understanding and disappointment by stakeholders.
“It is disappointing that FFA and 4-H members will not get to showcase their projects that they have worked hard to raise and prepare for the fair,” Waterloo FFA Advisor Tim McDermott said. “That being said, I understand and support the fair board’s decision to cancel the fair to ensure the health and safety of those that look forward to the fair each year.”
“For the benefit of the community, it was the right thing to do to cancel the fair,” Monroe County Pork Producers Association President Bruce Brinkman agreed.
Brinkman said it would have been challenging to both get products to sell at the fair and determine a way to serve them safely.
Brinkman also pointed out that organizations like his, who use food stands at the fair as a major fundraiser, will find it more difficult to donate to things like FFA projects in the next year.
“It’s going to hurt, but the organizations it’s really going to hurt is the organizations that we helped like your FFAs or 4-H programs,” Brinkman said. “Those are the programs that are really going to hurt because where are they going to get their funds for their projects now?”
Amy Cope, University of Illinois Extension director, described the fair’s cancelation as the latest and “most disappointing” challenge the community has faced, though she said it was “clearly necessary.”
“While we hoped the county fair would be able to continue to host some type of fair experience and auction for the youth, challenges and restrictions haven’t allowed that to happen this year,” Cope said. “However, University of Illinois Extension has been working diligently to continue programming and exhibit opportunities for our community’s youth in a new way. We are excited for our new adventures this summer, which include virtual adjustments to some of our previous offerings.”
Those new ventures include a public speaking show, youth cooking school, youth science camp, 4-H livestock, horticulture and crop exhibits, all on virtual platforms.
“We realize these alternatives won’t truly replace the live experiences, but it’s a way to keep the youth engaged and showcase their projects,” Cope said. “There are many lessons learned in life and this year is proving to highlight some of the more challenging ones. My hope is that our members can look back at this time and see that we have disappointments, but by being adaptable, we can still have positive experiences and fun.
“We will get through this season, this year, and be stronger on the other side. And I know everyone will be filled with excitement when the fair gates open up in 2021.”