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Fair food fosters friendships, family traditions

Alissa Thompson, Grace Thompson and Megan Dimler pose for a picture while serving ice cream at Kandiyohi County Dairy Association’s Dairy Bar. Tribune photo by Nicole Hovatter

Vaughn Ekbom lives in Roseville but makes the drive out to Willmar every year for the Kandiyohi County Fair.

Ekbom, owner of Ekbom’s Concessions, sells a variety of fair food. He has family history in Willmar and said the locals continually draw him back to the area.

“I know 80 percent of the people at the window,” said Ekbom. “I like to keep old friends and make new ones.”

Ekbom made friendly remarks to all who passed his stand. He greeted customer Josie Gjerde with a smile.

“She’s the next dairy princess,” said Ekbom, as he served her a snow cone, loaded with different colored syrups.

A math professor at Northwestern University in Roseville, he has been working at the county fair for 35 years.

Ekbom visits his family and friends in Willmar often and stores his equipment at a friend’s house during the rest of the year.

He serves burgers, hot dogs, corn dogs, caramel apples, cotton candy, snow cones, caramel corn and beverages at his stand.

Ekbom recruits people to work at his stand from Evangelical Free Church in Willmar.

Leah Peterson, a member of the parish, has worked at his stand for 13 years. Ekbom was her first boss when she started working in seventh grade.

“Everything I’ve learned about good work ethics was from here,” said Peterson.

Her brother, Landon Peterson, has also worked at the stand for years.

Another popular food stand at the county fair is the Kandiyohi County Dairy Association’s Dairy Bar.

Larry Urban is the president of Kandiyohi County Dairy Association. A former dairy farmer, he is in charge of the dairy bar.

Urban said the dairy bar helps promote the organization’s main focus: promoting dairy products.

The stand serves milk, root beer floats, shakes and other ice cream treats.

“Our organization’s main reason for being is if you’re going to produce a product, you should promote it,” said Urban.

The organization mainly promotes its products through festivals, parades and its Dairy Princesses and Dairy Ambassadors.

Ambassador Megan Dimler was at the fair promoting the organization and said her favorite part of being an ambassador is participating in the parades.

Urban said locals visit the stand every year because of the delicious, high-quality food. During the evenings, lines usually form outside of the stand.

“Typically, if anyone’s got a line at the fair, it’s gonna be here,” said Urban. “If someone stands in line for 15 minutes, you know it must be pretty good.”