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After 43 fairs, longtime Kansas State Fair carpenter retiring

State Fair has been a big part of Bill Hildebrandt's entire life

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.

“It’s 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.

By age 5, Hildebrandt was doing his share, as well.

“It 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.”

As he 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.

He saved up all summer to have money for carnival rides and games during his breaks.

“I 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.”

Hildebrandt graduated from Nickerson High School in 1969. Eight months later, he was fighting in Vietnam as a Navy gunner's mate.

Every year, until he returned in 1974, his father would send him a box of peanuts from the state fair vendor.

In 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.

Nearly 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.

Hildebrandt 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.

“When 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.

“You have to be really devoted to this place to stay here this long,” he added.

After 43 fairs, longtime Kansas State Fair carpenter retiring
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