SPICER -- Mention the word "fair," and Denny Baker's eyes light up.
It doesn't matter if it's one of the 38 county fairs he's visited or the Minnesota State Fair -- which he says is the nation's biggest state fair because Texas won't provide admission numbers -- he loves them all.
"It's a joy to visit fairs," said Baker. "I am a fair nut."
Starting Sunday Baker will be king of the hill when it comes to fairs as he begins a two-year stint as chairman of the Minnesota State Fair board of directors.
It's a position that comes with years of preparation.
Baker calls it a "passion."
For 38 years, the Spicer mayor and businessman has been on the Kandiyohi County Fair board, doing everything from lining up entertainment to hauling supplies throughout the fairgrounds.
Since 1992 he's served on the Minnesota Federation of County Fairs and makes annual visits to every fair in the 19-county area in District 7, putting on about 3,000 miles each year.
And since 1998, Baker has served on the 10-member Minnesota State Fair board. Besides regular meetings, he and his wife, Corinne, spend two weeks of every year living on the fairgrounds of the state's biggest "get-together."
At the end of this weekend's annual meeting in Bloomington, Baker will be named president of the policy-setting board that oversees a $37 million annual budget and 74 full-time, year-round employees.
Baker will hold the post for the 2010 and 2011 State Fairs.
"The State Fair is really a delight," said Baker, who is looking forward to serving as chairman. "It's been the greatest delight of my life and for our family."
The rise in rank comes about because of how the founding fathers established the guidelines.Baker said he meets two important criteria -- he's the longest-serving current member of the board and he lives in greater Minnesota.
There are always two board members from Ramsey and Hennepin counties, but they can never serve as chairman, said Baker. That position is saved for someone with rural roots.
"It's been that way for 150 years," said Baker.
The rural requirement reinforces the mission to keep the focus of the fair on agriculture and to use the fair as an opportunity to educate metro residents about agriculture.
It's a mission the fair has met, he said. Attractions like the Miracle of Birth Center and Little Farm Hands, as well as all the 4-H and FFA livestock and crop exhibits, help round out that education.
Baker said his goal is to "see the State Fair grow in its mission."
With 320 acres, a $37 million budget, $5 million in capital improvements scheduled for 2010 and $750,000 in free entertainment on eight stages, the State Fair is a "big operation," said Baker.
The Minnesota State Fair surpasses any other state fair in the sale of food and beverages, said Baker. "We're known as the food-on-a-stick-fair."
It was also the first to create and maintain its own independent carnival.
The board relies on its staff for the day-to-day operations. "We do not micro-manage," Baker said of the board of directors.
Along with the joy of being at the State Fair, Baker and the other board members do get "a lot of chewing out" on "all sorts of goofy things" like complaints from vendors about the location they're assigned and people trying to get in without buying admission tickets.
Attendance at the 2009 State Fair was very high, but because people bought the cheaper advanced tickets, the revenue didn't increase a great deal.
The State Fair," said Baker, "is a good bang for the buck."
In 2001 Baker received the Heritage Award from the International Association of Fairs and Expositions for his work with fairs. He is one of eight Minnesotans to have received the award so far.
In 2009, Baker was named "fair person of the year" by the District 7 Minnesota Federation of County Fairs.