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This year's Minnesota State Fair festivities begin with a greeting from Spicer's mayor

Spicer Mayor Denny Baker, right, is serving as president of the 2010 Minnesota State Fair. He has served on the fair board for 13 years. Baker is pictured Thursday with his wife, Corrine, on the opening day of this year's fair. Tribune photo by Carolyn? Lange

When the Minnesota State Fair opened Thursday with a flag-raising ceremony and National Anthem, it was Spicer Mayor Denny Baker who gave the welcome to guests on the inaugural day of the 12-day event.

"It was a privilege and a lot of fun to hear the cheers," said Baker, who is serving as president of the State Fair this year as part of his 13th year on the fair board.

"It's wonderful. We're having a great time," said Baker.

With near-perfect weather, the fair was off to a good start with attendance.

"Look up here and you see a sea of people, which is a good sign," said Baker, giving a nod to Underwood Street that was wall-to-wall with people walking from one vendor or exhibit to another. Most have food in their hands.

During a tour of a section of the fairgrounds while riding on a golf cart with his wife, Corrine, and a Tribune reporter, Baker showed off new booths, improved areas to the fairgrounds and gave a behind-the-scene peak at the Grandstand, where semis held equipment for musical stars, and the backside of the carnival, where entire semis were full of stuffed animals to be given away as prizes.

It was obvious Baker loves the fair and relishes showing it off.

He loves seeing the "things that change" each year, including the 18 new food vendors that make up the fleet of 305 different food vendors on the fair grounds this year.

He points to the brand new deep-fried pickle booth that out-grew its old stand in the food building.

On the north end of the fair grounds that had been known as "Machinery Hill" still has a few token farm implements, but since about 3 percent of the fair visitors are farmers, the area has been expanded to include attractions like the new Eco-Experience building and a skate board park. Enticing people to that area of the fairgrounds is helping to spread out the crowds, said Baker.

But agriculture is still a major part of the fair.

The "Little Farm Hands" exhibit and the Miracle of Birth Center, which provide interactive close-up experiences with farm animals and crops are extremely popular exhibits that are "sought after by other fairs." A new exhibit called "The Dirt" in the horticulture building is also attracting crowds.

A $16 million improvement to the Grandstand in 2003 helped sell out shows in the 13,000 seat facility and make the events profitable, said Baker. He's hoping that, yet while on his watch, a new 4-H and FFA livestock judging area can be built.

Baker also enjoys visiting with the people who come year-after-year to set up booths at the fair. It's a unique fair family. "There are a lot of people you get to know," he said.

It's not only certain vendors that have been at the fair for decades, Baker said he talked to a man Thursday morning who's been coming to the State Fair for "55 years straight."

The number of exhibits, like 4-H and FFA "look very good" this year, said Baker.

Directors of the fair board are in charge of over-seeing 4-7 different departments. As president, Baker isn't assigned to that duty but instead does over-all supervision of the grounds. A lot of time is spent doing public relations, which Baker handles easily and graciously. He's rarely without a smile while at the fair.

At the end of the tour, Baker was approached by a member of the posse to see if he could transport a lost little boy to the police department. Joshua, sucking on a lollipop, seemed quite comfortable sitting between Baker and his wife. It's all part of the job.

When Baker's term ends in January, there will be sadness as he spends a summer that isn't consumed by the State Fair. "But I rejoice that someone else will move into a position I've enjoyed," he said.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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