Change of Perspective on a Family Tradition

Like many Missourians, the Missouri State Fair has been an end of the summer staple for me. Growing up in the Sedalia area, trips to Sedalia in August as a kid always meant my mom would drive around the grounds to avoid the Fair traffic, and we always attended the Fair several times each year.  We had our traditional favorites – a corn dog was always on the list, as was cotton candy, typically on our way out of the grounds.  We had to go through the machinery area because my step-dad made us; we’d walk through the Conservation Building to see the big fish tank; and I’ll never forget the year I begged for, and my mom bought, a pink cowboy hat from a vendor stand.  The Fair for me, though, as a kid who lived on a farm, but didn’t farm, was to “ride rides.”  I’d ride them all, except for the ones that went upside down.  I was (and still am to an extent) a chicken when it comes to those rides.

Matti and Reed in a boat on a water ride at the Fair
Just like me, my two kiddos – Matti (now age 12) and Reed (now age 14) always loved all the rides on the carnival midway.

I remember my first concert experience was at the State Fair when my dad took me to see the Oak Ridge Boys in the mid 80s; I was around 10 years old. I absolutely loved (still love) their song, “Elvira,” and waited anxiously in my grandstand seat for them to play it. I was that little kid again when they came to the Fair in 2013, sitting there waiting for that song again.  There’s nothing like singing along to “Giddy Up, Oom Poppa Oom Poppa Mow Mow,” whether you’re 10 or 35.

Kari at a concert
At the Alabama concert in 2015 – one of the best shows I’ve seen at the Fair!
Kari and son at a concert
My son, Reed, and I at the Jamey Johnson/John Anderson concert last year.

My perspective on the Fair changed a bit as I got into my teen years – it became a social event – a place where my friends and I would go to just “walk around.” There are pictures buried (thank goodness there was no Facebook then) in photo albums of my BFF and I all decked out ready to head to the Fair.  It was just what we did – what all my friends did.  I can’t even count how many times she and I rode the Himalayan ride.  We’d ride that thing over and over – I always had to be on the inside as she was smaller than me.  Those of you that have been on that outside seat can relate, I bet. Those years were also full of concerts – George Strait, Brooks & Dunn, Faith Hill, and Travis Tritt come to top of mind.

Kari's kids on the Himalayan ride
My mom captured this picture of my kids on the Himalayan ride. It was her favorite ride as a kid, and mine, too!

My junior year of high school I got my first real job – as a Farm Bureau tram hostess. I’d go to volleyball practice in the morning, then head to the fairgrounds for work, work my first shift, take a break – usually walked around the grounds with my boyfriend (now husband), and then back for the afternoon shift.  It was a long, hot 11-days, but I loved it.  You definitely meet a lot of interesting people as a tram hostess.

My college years were spent in the cattle barns as that same boyfriend from high school showed Angus cattle at the State Fair. I learned a lot about showing livestock, scooping cow manure, washing cattle and how to deal with my future spouse in high stress situations!

After my son and daughter were born, my perspective on the Fair changed quite a bit. As a young mom I started seeing the Fair through their eyes, watching them light up even before the Fair started when we could see the Ferris wheel in the distance driving into town. We hit up the favorite corn dog stand, ate cotton candy, saw the big fish tank, and of course, rode ride after ride.

Matti and Reed eating breakfast
My husband, Matt, will often bring the kids in to the Fair in the mornings and we’ll meet for breakfast. Since I stay on the Fairgrounds all 11 days it’s the only way I get to see them sometimes!

For the past ten years my perspective has widened and changed most of all. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be at the helm of the marketing efforts for the 115-year-old Missouri State Fair. But, after a career change in 2008 from the education field to the marketing and PR field, that’s where I’ve found myself. Now I see the Fair from a totally different perspective. The Fair is a showcase for the best of the best in Missouri agriculture, entertainment, competition, food, shopping and more. I’m honored to be in the position to help create experiences for children, teens, parents and grandparents so that they, too, can have fond memories of the Fair just like I do.

-Kari Mergen, Marketing Director