There is a piece of Bill Hildebrandt everywhere at the
Kansas State Fair.
He points out a few of his handworks on a recent afternoon--the signage on the
Dwight D. Eisenhower Building, the concrete on the sidewalks, the watermill
blade on the Ye Old Mill.
Hildebrandt has worked here through 43 state fairs. On Dec. 14, he will retire.
hard to believe,” said Hildebrandt, 67, the fair’s senior carpenter. “This has
been my second home.”
Hildebrandt grew up on the fairgrounds in the 1950s. His parents helped
organize the annual South Hutchinson United Methodist concessions for many
years. His mother made pies and chicken noodles at the church. His father would
get off from his job as a parts clerk at a local dealership and head to the
church’s fair booth, where he washed dishes every evening.
age 5, Hildebrandt was doing his share, as well.
was the first time I worked in the cafeteria,” he said. “I stood on top of two
milk crates selling milk in little glass jars.”
got older, he would catch a ride after school from a parishioner to help at the
church stand. At the end of the night, he and his father would wander by the
peanut vendor and buy peanuts for the ride home, throwing the shells out the
car window as they crossed the Woodie Seat Freeway.
saved up all summer to have money for carnival rides and games during his
would mow lawns and do everything I could, so I could come to the fair,” he
said. “And I would blow it all the first day. I lived for coming to the fair.”
graduated from Nickerson High School in 1969. Eight months later, he was
fighting in Vietnam as a Navy gunner's mate.
year, until he returned in 1974, his father would send him a box of peanuts
from the state fair vendor.
April 1976, he applied for a job at the Kansas State Fair as a general laborer.
He figured he would work at the fair for just a few years.
43 years later, he is one of the state fair’s longest-serving employees in its
106-year history. He currently is the fair’s senior carpenter.
and his wife, Lindy, have one son, Jeremy, and four grandchildren. He plans to
spend his retirement fixing up old tractors and spending time with his family.
I first started talking about retiring just this year, it seemed kind of
distant, only a thought,” he said. “Now knowing that Friday will be my last
day, it is very final. It’s unusual. I took a drive around the grounds and
everywhere you look there is a piece of me.
have to be really devoted to this place to stay here this long,” he added.