By RANDY DOCKENDORF
Yankton Press & Dakotan
BLOOMFIELD, Neb. — As the 128th annual Knox County Fair kicks off today (Thursday), a familiar face won’t be on hand for the first time in nearly three decades.
Knox County Extension educator Terry Gompert died March 25 at age 66. He joined the Knox County staff in 1983, playing a major role with the county fair in Bloomfield, Neb. He and his family were active in 4-H, and they also raised cattle on their farm outside Center, Neb.
In recognition of their contributions, this year’s Knox County Fair is dedicated to Terry and Connie Gompert and children Saul, Kate, Jenny and Julie. They will be recognized at the grandstand prior to Friday night’s concert at 8 p.m.
The dedication to the Gomperts was in the works even before Terry’s death, said fair co-manager Jerry Nipp of Bloomfield.
“We dedicate the fair to someone every year, and we try to rotate it so it doesn’t come from only one town (all the time),” Nipp said. “With Terry, it was a natural choice. He was in the process of retiring when he died, and he devoted so much of himself to the fair.”
Gompert prepared for the fair long before the opening day, Nipp said.
“Terry was big in the cattle arena and helped the kids,” the fair manager said. “He was there the week before the fair, making sure that the (public address) system and everything ran right. He made very big contributions to the Knox County Fair.”
The Knox County Extension staff will play a role in Friday’s ceremony, Nipp said. “They are reading this article (about Gompert) and presenting the plaque to his family,” he said.
Knox County Extension office managers Amy Johnson and Mary Ketelsen worked about 20 years with Gompert. Extension educator Ruth Vonderohe also worked with Gompert. Since his death, Vonderohe has shifted from a shared position between Cedar and Knox counties to working solely with Knox County.
Gompert especially enjoyed livestock competition, Johnson said.
“Terry really liked the fair,” Johnson said. “Probably the contests he liked the most were the gain and carcass contests. I think the 4-Hers learned a lot, and even Terry learned a lot.”
The Gomperts also enjoyed working with horticulture, and the entire family was very involved with 4-H, Johnson said.
“All four kids were in 4-H and the fair, and they had different things that they liked,” she said. “I’m not sure if Terry and Connie were official (club) leaders, but they did a lot of stuff with the club when their kids were in 4-H.”
Gompert treated life as an educational journey, Johnson said.
“He was always talking and learning,” she said. “He took training for holistic management educator. It wasn’t just for agriculture, it was for all parts of life. It was more about setting a goal and the different steps in the process to completing those goals.”
In addition to his Extension and agriculture work, Gompert hosted small group Bible studies for adults and youth in his home and attended Plum Valley Bible Church in Center.
If a successful fair was part of the Gomperts’ legacy, this year’s version will continue that tradition, Nipp predicted. The Knox County Fair draws an average of 16,000 to 20,000 annually, he said.
The Knox County fair is considered one of the top three county fairs Nebraska, touting itself as offering “state fair entertainment at a county fair price.”
This year is no exception, Nipp said. The fair kicks off with the bull-a-rama at 7 p.m. tonight (Thursday), then provides grandstand entertainment with country star Jerrod Niemann at 8 p.m. Friday, the 1980s rock tribute band Hairball at 8 p.m. Saturday and the JaneDear Girls at 7 p.m. Sunday.
The schedule also features the Northeast Nebraska Puller Association Tractor Pull at 1 p.m. Saturday.
“We just charge at the gate, and you get in to every event once you’re on the fairgrounds,” Nipp said.
Knox County struck good timing in booking this year’s acts, he said.
“Jerrod Niemann has been doing really well with ‘What Do You Want?’ It really helped us (book him) because he is working the circuit around here,” he said. “On Saturday night, we’re doing something different with ‘Hairball.’ It’s an off-the-wall rock and roll cover band that does numbers from groups like AC/DC and Poison. The Knox County Fair has been all country, and we thought we would try something different.”
The offering of “Hairball” has apparently caught attention far and wide, Nipp said.
“We got a call from women in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and they plan to come see ‘Hairball,’” he said. “It’s not uncommon to have people coming from South Dakota, especially from Yankton. But I don’t know if we’ve had anyone come that far (as Cheyenne), especially for a cover band. To make that kind of a trip is awesome.”
The entertainment returns to country Sunday night with the JaneDear Girls. Their website features news about recent performances with Brad Paisley and at the Grand Ole Opry with Darius Rucker, Marty Stuart, The Isaacs and Ricky Skaggs.
“With a lot of the schools starting (their first day of classes) Monday, we moved the Sunday night concert to 7 o’clock,” Nipp said. “Otherwise, our attendance might get hurt if we run too late.”
The Knox County Fair will again offer the D.C. Lynch midway as well as a livestock and exhibit show. This year, the fair is offering wristbands for three different days on the midway to reach more people.
The fairgrounds has reached the bursting point in some respects, Nipp said. The vendor numbers are up, and the grandstand and bull-a-rama continue to draw strong crowds.
Fairgoers will also notice upgraded facilities, with a new roof on the octagonal barn, improved restrooms and campground facilities, and a permanent place for the tractor pull.
The octagonal barn, nearly a century old, has become a trademark of the Knox County Fair, Nipp said. “Some people ask, why don’t you just tear it down and get a new one? But it’s got character,” he said.
Many fairgoers camp and stay throughout the fair’s entire run, Nipp said. “I have people tell me that this is their vacation. They look forward to it all year,” he said.
Nipp and his wife, Debbie, co-manage the fair and promote the event as a county-wide effort. That’s reflected by the fair board’s membership and the fair sponsors from across the county.
“My wife and I tell people, ‘It’s not the Bloomfield fair, it’s the Knox County Fair,’” he said.
Even then, the fair draws visitors from far beyond its borders, Nipp said.
“You say Knox County Fair, and it’s known for good entertainment,” he said. “People don’t realize how much dollar revenue goes through the fair during the next four days, with the entertainment packages and gate admissions.”
Even before this year’s fair opens its gates, Nipp is already planning for next year, particularly the grandstand entertainment.