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1973-82: Year-round use of the Fairgrounds grows

For more than two decades, Bob Gottschalk walked the grounds of the Kansas State Fair as its general manager. During that time, and in years since, he passionately worked to turn the fairgrounds from a place used 10 days each September into a year-round Hutchinson attraction.

Gottschalk, who grew up in Garden City and, for a while, helped operate his family's John Deere dealerships in western Kansas, answered an ad in the High Plains Journal for the job of assistant secretary of the Kansas State Fair, his daughter, Maribeth Reimer, told The News when he died in 2008.

That was 1974. By 1975, he took over the secretary position, with his title changing to fair manager.

"He loved every minute of it," she said. "It was a very big part of his life."

He couldn't have found a more perfect job. For the next 23 seasons, he worked to make the fair one of the best in the nation.

Gottschalk would eventually start the fair's infamous butter sculpture, as well as begin a standing capital improvement fund, with the state matching dedicated fair funding to help make improvements on the grounds.

Before, he had to go to the Legislature each year for capital improvement funding.

Yet, one of the biggest changes began early in his tenure, which was to make the fairgrounds a tourist attraction 12 months of the year instead of for a few weeks in September, thus bringing in events like national livestock shows and trade groups.

It did, however, come out of necessity. Before 1977, the state appropriated funds for operational and maintenance expenditures, according to Thomas Percy's book "A History of the Kansas State Fair." After that year, the state only funded capital improvements, which meant the board would have to rely on the annual profit from the fair for all other operations.

One of the first non-fair activities was a monthly flea market. Today, the fair has more than 420 non-fair events in fiscal 2013.

"There was very little activity before Bob Gottschalk," current fair manager Denny Stoecklein said during a recreational vehicle event at the grounds three years ago. He noted that even in 1986, there were just 25 events off-season.

"Where we are responsible for generating our own budget," Stoecklein said, "Anywhere we can reach out to increase revenue is important - especially coming off a fair last year where we had all the rain, which impacted attendance."

Drama at fair During Gottschalk's tenure at the fair, the freak shows of old phased out and the carnival trains that once stopped in downtown Hutchinson and paraded their equipment down Main Street disappeared as the companies began using trucks rather than train.

The fair, however, continued with the same hustle and bustle of livestock shows and contests, grandstand concerts and auto races. Folks still brought their crops, their pies and jams. Bands still marched the grounds. Governors still awarded the prize to the annual cookie jar winner, and munched on a few cookies, as well.

William Caldwell, of DeSoto, was probably happy with his giant pumpkin, which weighed all of 196 pounds, although it was not quite the state pumpkin record of 976.2 pounds, grown by Brian Stanley in 2007.

Still, other issues were still occurring on the midway. In 1979, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation shut down three independent carnival games - part of a sting that also looked into the workers of the fair's carnival, Royal American Shows. It resulted in changes in the operation of at least a half dozen games of chance operated by the company, according to a story in The News.

In surveillance at the midway, KBI agents found that the games were nearly impossible to win. They offered the game operators a chance to win at their own games but failed. One operator even tried to win his own game dozens of times before giving up.

Two games involved bowling and another required balls to be tossed into a basket.

Royal American Shows spokesman Jim Riser said his organization believed the midway was "as clean as a Sunday School concession," but the company would cooperate with lawmen.

Meanwhile, in 1978, the Hare Krishna religious group, about a decade after forming the Hindu-based organization in the United States, filed a lawsuit against the fair, saying its freedom of speech and religion was violated because of the fair's booth rule. At the time, according to an Associated Press story, religious, political and other groups were prohibited from renting booths at the fair.

A federal judge ruled in the early 1980s that the group could roam the fairgrounds, pass out religious literature and solicit donations. However, the group had to pay to enter the fairgrounds, stay in public areas, present only during regular fairground hours, not require money for literature passed out, could not touch or approach patrons in lines for fair events, and had to show visible identification.

It does not appear the group ever returned, however.

To the 'stars' During the 1970s, entertainment became the big feature in advertising the state fair, according to Percy's book. Television brought stars to living rooms across the nation, and to see a favorite singer in person was a huge draw.

For years, the fair had kept vaudeville-type performances, employing the Barnes and Carruthers show from the 1920s until well into the 1950s. However, by 1981, the fair was spending $207,250 on grandstand entertainment, which included Air Supply, Alabama, Marty Robbins, Willie Nelson, Dottie West, Bob Newhart and Crystal Gayle. Fair officials realized that one of the fair's big draws was the grandstand and began looking at an enclosed venue as early as the 1970s, but that has never materialized.

Instead, entertainers like comedian Red Skelton and country star Garth Brooks have been performing in the open air of the grandstand originally built for horse and auto races - not to accommodate fans at a concert. Meanwhile, not all musicians cared for enduring the Kansas weather.

In 1973, Jimmy Dean angrily told reporters that his backup band at the Saturday night show was "just plain and short, a crappy band. The people of Kansas deserve greater musicianship than that."

A local representative to a Hutchinson musical union blamed the weather, saying that if Dean could control the wind, there wouldn't have been so many sour notes.

Meanwhile, in 1975, singer Anne Murray was hit with a lawsuit not long before taking the stage at the state fair after not performing at the Missouri State Fair, according to an article in The News.

She was paid $10,000 for her two fair performances in Kansas and Gottschalk was on the phone frantically convincing her road manager that Murray needed to take the stage as it poured rain outside, saying that neither rain nor a less-than-perfect sound system could negate her contract.

Other concerts and events went on without a hitch. In 1982, fairgoers had "Fun, Fun, Fun" with the Beach Boys, as a headline in The News stated.

In 1973, just a few days after Billie Jean King defeated Billy Riggs on the tennis court in "the Battle of the Sexes," Debbie Lawler, the "Billie Jean King of the motorcycle jumping world," cleared 10 trucks in her state fair appearance.

Meanwhile, in 1977, Helen Reddy canceled just days before her grandstand performance, claiming laryngitis. The fair board, however, was skeptical and while able to find a very last-minute Dionne Warwick to replace Reddy, Gottschalk and the board asked Kansas Attorney General Curt Schneider to file a $75,000 lawsuit against the singer. However, a year later, Schneider wrote to Gottschalk asking that the board drop the case, as there was no proof Reddy wasn't sick and Reddy was, after all, going to perform at the 1979 fair for $25,000.

No time for pie Nancy Kassebaum Baker admits she always wanted to take a pie to the Kansas State Fair.

She doesn't every recall touring the fair with her father, Alf, in the 1930s when he was governor and campaigned for president. Nevertheless, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, she took her children, longtime 4-H'ers, to the state fair in Hutchinson, wandering with them through the livestock barns, along with the other buildings.

"I never did enter a pie," Baker, who lives in Tennessee, said with a chuckle. Yet, she did return to the fair in 1978, this time giving out plastic "Nancy" cups at her fair booth as she campaigned for the U.S. Senate, having defeated eight other Republicans a few months earlier in the primary.

She would end up beating former Democratic Congressman Bill Roy that November for the open seat, using the slogan "A Fresh Face, A Trusted Kansas Name." And, for the 18 years she was in office, she often made appearances during the state fair, meeting with constituents and talking with other lawmakers.

"I loved coming to the fair," she said. "It was the best place to be, and I loved to talk to the people."

She wasn't the only one who used the fair as a way to hear concerns from Kansans. Sen. Bob Dole for years traipsed the fair, even debating Bill Roy four years earlier at the Kansas Farmer Arena for his Senate seat.

The decade, after all, was a trying time in farm country. Farmers had borrowed a lot of money in the early 1970s to buy land and new equipment, and prices at the time supported the investments.

But by the late 1970s and early 1980s, the economy began to sink. Interest rates had skyrocketed, but farmers still had to pay on the loans they needed to operate each year. Moreover, consumers tended to buy less; thus the prices for farm commodities went down.

Meanwhile, Russia invaded Afghanistan and, in protest, President Jimmy Carter stopped shipment of farm products into Russia, thus further hurting prices as well as the export market.

In 1982, Gov. John Carlin unveiled the Governor's Agriculture Working Group during the fair as the farm crisis continued. Carlin hoped the group would form long-term solutions to agriculture problems.

"We want ideas that will help in developing a marketing program for farmers in Kansas and nationwide," Carlin told The News. "There's no magic solution. It's going to take time. But we're going to move as fast and efficiently as possible."

Time capsule A year before Gottschalk came to Hutchinson, the fair celebrated a milestone, 60 years in business.

It was a different era. The nation was embarking on an age of technology. A man had walked on the moon just a handful of years before. In fact, it was an astronaut who dedicated a 34-foot Sergeant missile during the 1973 fair, which was not to be opened until the 100th anniversary of the fair in 2013.

The usual dignitaries were there, much like past ribbon-cutting-type events over the years, including Bob Dole and the fair board. However, astronaut and Kansan Joe Engle was the guest of honor.

According to a Hutchinson News story in 1973, materials from "the nine areas of Kansas life" were sealed inside the missile. Each of the 105 counties in the state was invited to submit materials to be microfilmed for the capsule.

In all, there were nine ceremonies - one daily at the missile site.

At the missile dedication ceremony, Engle said people 40 years later would be amazed at technological advances.

The astronaut admitted that he couldn't even imagine what those new tools would be.

"When we open the time capsule (in 2013), again people who are here today will be pleasantly surprised," he said.

"Opening the missile in 40 years to view the contents should provide the next generation with a rare insight into our present life," Kansas State Fair Board President Robert Teagarden told The News in 1973.

The News' Wayne Lee was the emcee of the event that sealed the capsule. Lee inserted a steel box containing microfilm about halfway up the missile and locked it into place.

Lee also read the inscription that is still placed on the missile time capsule:

"Dedicated to Kansans Everywhere. This missile is dedicated to Kansans. It symbolizes the solid achievement of our forefathers ... and the progressive spirit of our future. Through the historical materials gathered here, Kansans, on opening this capsule in the year 2013, will capture a glimpse of life in our great state - as it was in 1973, the year the Kansas State Fair celebrated its 60th anniversary in Hutchinson."

This story originally was published in the Hutchinson News on Sept. 1, 2013.

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