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Local families have decades-long tradition at Minnesota State Fair

Verne and Bert Enestvedt of Sacred Heart have been coming to the State Fair since the 1940s to talk about their hybrid seeds and to educate people about agriculture. (Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange)1 / 3
Four generations of the Bahr family of New London and Spicer have cooked and served up hamburgers and hot ham and cheese sandwiches at the State Fair since 1962. From left to right: Lee Bahr, Paul Mitchell, Kelsey Lee, Evan Haugen, Lexa Bahr and Lori Bahr. (Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange)2 / 3
Bob Anderson, left, and Lee Johnson, both of Willmar, spend part of their summer working with the State Fair posse. (Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange)3 / 3

ST. PAUL -- For nearly 70 years, members of the Enestvedt family have been telling visitors at the Minnesota State Fair about the hybrid seeds they produce and sell on their Sacred Heart farm.

In a small but comfortable structure that's in the shadow of what had been known as Machinery Hill, the Enestvedt Seed Company booth has been a State Fair merchandise vendor since the early 1940s.

They are among the 1,100 different food and merchandise vendors at the fair this year and one of a small handful of local people who spend at least 12 days of the year doing business at the State Fair.

Besides the Enestvedt Seed Company, the Bahr family from New London and Spicer has spent 48 years selling food at the fair.

Two Willmar men are also at the State Fair where they guard the grounds while on horseback as part of the posse.

They all agree that the reason they keep coming back to the fair year after year is because of the people.

"Seeing everybody every year. That's what I think is the best," said Phil Bahr, who owns and operates The Lunch Box, a food stand that his parents, Lee and Bev Bahr of Spicer, started in 1962.

Even though they put in at least 12 to 14 hours a day serving up hot breakfasts, hamburgers and pie in a colorful booth with a sit-down counter, Phil Bahr can't think of a single downside of working at the State Fair.

"It's fun. It goes fast," he said. "The time flies."

The family enterprise involves four generations that all help out, including the elder Bahrs who open up the restaurant and great-grandchildren who cook, clean and take orders.

Lexa Bahr, 18, was brought to the fair as a baby and started waiting on customers "ever since I could see over the counter."

Phil Bahr's siblings also own and operate food booths at the State Fair. Tim Bahr takes care of the Italian Junction and Vickie Bahr Vogt has the Mexican Hat.

Even though Bert Enestvedt is retired and his nephew Roger now runs the family seed business, Bert and his wife Verne still enjoy taking their turn at the booth.

For about 12 hours every day, they hand out pencils bearing the company name and answer questions about their product.

"We do this so we can keep our product in front of the public," said Verne Enestvedt, who was working at the booth Thursday with Bert.

Their greater purpose, however, is to educate people about agriculture.

"There are a lot of people who don't know a lot about farming and where their food comes from," she said.

Bert, whose father E.G. Enestvedt started the family company in 1900, said he's there for the people and the social atmosphere.

"You have a pleasant talk at least once a year," he said, referring to fair visitors and other vendors that they see only at the fair.

"Some of them look us up just to see if we're still here," said Verne Enestvedt.

Lee Johnson has been riding with the State Fair posse for 31 years. Bob Anderson, a retired Willmar school teacher, has been a member of the State Fair posse for 10 years.

"It's about people," said Anderson, when asked why he keeps coming back. "And then I get to ride my horse," he adds with a quick laugh.

Even though they'll all be exhausted when the State Fair concludes Sept. 6, it's a fair bet they'll all be back again next year.


Carolyn Lange

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

(320) 894-9750