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Lillie Ziegler celebrating a long association with the county fair

By Staff | Jul 19, 2008

Lillie Ziegler celebrating a long association with the county fair

Lillie Ziegler’s association with the Faribault County Fair started 64 years ago, when her oldest daughter entered a few 4-H contests.

Now she has been named the 2008 Fair Person of the Year.

“I was having a bad day two weeks ago,” she recalls. “Some family members were having serious health problems. I finally got around to reading the Register and the fair book late that night. I saw the story about me being selected as Person of the Year and I was shocked!”

The article said she was selected for her many years of service and involvement.

Ziegler was a 4-H leader for the Soaring Eagles Club in Elmore about 48 years ago.

“All five of my kids were involved in 4-H, and our home became a headquarters for club activities,” she says.

Having four daughters all trying to sew their 4-H project dresses on the same sewing machine was exciting, Ziegler says.

“Of course, they waited until the last minute to do them,” she recalls. “They had to take turns all night.”

Another fond memory is of her son losing a hog in the river next to the fairgrounds when he was unloading at the fair.

“He retrieved the hog and, with the help of his sister, cleaned off as much mud as they could,” she says. “Needless to say, he didn’t win. It probably didn’t help that the hog also ran between the judge’s legs and got mud on his pants.”

Ziegler has helped countless young people with 4-H projects over the years. But that has not been her only association with the fair.

She chaired the Outstanding Senior Citizen program for 25 years, conducting the nominations, holding programs announcing them, putting on the dinner in their honor.

“I even made the crowns for them to wear,” she says with a smile.

In 1989 she was named the Outstanding Senior Citizen at the fair. That meant she got to attend the Minnesota State Fair as Faribault County’s entry in the state’s “Outstanding Senior Citizen Contest.”

“I couldn’t figure out why Governor Rudy Perpich gave all of the other counties seniors an award certificate and not me,” Ziegler says.

The reason was she had been named Minnesota’s Outstanding Senior Citizen that year. Her plaque and gift arrived later.

Ziegler has also been active in many other fair activities, including the Farm Bureau commodity contests, honoring rural school teachers and building the new restrooms at the fairgrounds. “We held a ribbon cutting for the new restrooms which some people thought was funny,” Ziegler says with a chuckle.

Of course, Ziegler is best known for her KBEW radio program, ‘Information, Please.’

At 9 a.m. on Aug. 29, 1963 KBEW went on the air in Blue Earth for the first time, and Ziegler was there. She had been hired by manager Paul Hedberg from the Fairmont station where she had been for 14 years.

During fair week she takes the show to the fair.

“I missed last year, but before that I was there everyday of the fair,” she said.

The local radio personality conducted many interviews with fair-goers both from the radio station’s fair booth and through ‘man-on-the-street’ taped conversations around the grounds.

One year at the fair, Hedberg challenged Ziegler to a tractor pulling contest. Although she lived on a farm near Elmore, Ziegler had never driven a tractor in her life.

“My husband, Harry, had to teach me quick,” she says.

Right before the contest started, Hedberg joked “If Lillie wins, she loses her job.”

Organizers gave Ziegler a tractor with the motor in the rear. As she ended her run, she waved a white flag at Hedberg in surrender and kept her job.

In the last 45 years, the host has never missed a radio program. Some were taped ahead of time, to fill in when she was gone on vacation, such as a 1975 trip to Norway. She has interviewed literally thousands of people.

“Everyone has a story,” she says, “And I enjoy hearing them all.”

Two years ago Ziegler was rewarded for her radio work by being inducted into the Radio Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

Ziegler moved to Elmore when she was four years old. It wasn’t a big move, living just a few miles away in Kossuth County, Iowa.

“We didn’t have any money when I was a child, or even when we were married,” she remembers. “I think that was good, because we learned to make do with what we had.”

She says that the fair was her family’s summer vacation for many of the years while her children were growing up. Sometimes they had family meals at the fairgrounds.

“It was nice for the kids,” she recalls. “They have good memories of it.”

She feels quite blessed, especially with her family. Her son has been a state senator, two of her daughters are nurses and two are teachers.

“My four daughters still travel together every summer, which they have done for 25 years,” she says. “I think the fair is one thing that brought us together- it was a family unification event.”

Ziegler’s long connection to the fair has come full circle as she is honored on Friday at 1 p.m. as the Fair Person of the Year.