The 2017 Butler County Fair had many attractions, but one was clearly the attraction: The newly opened Butler County Event Center.
Fairgoers entered the facility to find their favorite exhibits, plenty of room and a comfortable temperature. They tended to stay longer, visit with their friends and avoid the heat. They had predictable reactions to the blast of cool air: “This is cool.” “Isn’t this great?” “We really needed this.”
Most Butler County Fair weeks have their share of hot weather, and once in a while a deluge of rain. This year the heat may have convinced some doubters.
“What a test for (the building) as hot as it was,” said Marilyn Smith, president of the Butler County Ag Society.
She acknowledged that some voters who opposed the $1.9 million bond issue in May 2014 were probably not on board yet. Even though there was not a vocal group opposing the issue, it passed by only votes. And back in 2012, an earlier proposal was handily defeated.
Smith said she respected those who had concerns about the new building and its viability, and she predicts that future will prove those concerns to be unfounded. She was glad, however, to meet one person whose perspective had changed.
“An elderly lady told me she was a naysayer before,” Smith said, before adding: “She said, ‘I love this building.’”
The Ag Society didn’t have too much time after getting the keys to the building before the exhibits started rolling in. Now that the fair is over, the all-volunteer board can assess this year's fair and determine how to use the 100-by-170-foot building, along with the other buildings on the grounds.
“It was a learning experience,” Smith said. “Marilyn (Zeilinger) and Colleen (Coufal) did a great job, and the ladies with Extension did a great job."
The air conditioning was a popular feature for people who attended grandstand events, livestock shows and the carnival. Fairgoers brought in their food from the concession stand to tables in the north room of the event center. A long table was set up with crayons to give young children and their parents a break from the heat.
In past fairs, visits to the historic round exhibit hall and the Hain Building didn’t take as long and wasn’t as inviting. Horticulture entries were purposely delayed because the vegetables and flowers didn’t last in the round exhibit hall. By Sunday, the flower exhibits were still holding up well in the event center's north exhibit hall.
On Thursday, about 50 people, mostly parents and grandparents of exhibitors, took in the 4-H Style Show in the new building. Chairs were brought out to arrange seating for the event. Ag Society members are considering other improvements, such as a portable stage, so that more fair events could be accommodated.
The exhibits were ringed with about 20 vendor tables offering products or raising awareness of local causes. Joining the regular vendors were the Butler County Area Foundation Fund and the Butler County Historical Society. The Historical Society featured photos of the 1967 Nebraska Centennial Beard Contest, which drew men from across the county.
Many fairgoers said they came to the fairgrounds specifically to see the new building. Without taking an official count, however, Smith said it would be difficult to estimate whether the new building boosted attendance. Smith said Friday's heat and humidity probably hurt the attendance of the Figure 8 races, but the fair enjoyed better weather for Extreme Bullriding on Saturday and the demolition derby on Sunday.
Now the Ag Society can focus on promoting the Event Center and building its brand.
A manager for the facility is still in the works, and the Ag Society will be working on the manager’s job description. Until then, Smith is spending much of her time fielding phone calls and other questions about the event center. Other details include obtaining a permanent liquor license.
The facility booked a wedding soon after the May 2016 primary election, and six more have been added to the list. The latest one planned, but not yet finalized, is for October 2018, Smith said. Weddings are planned far in advance with caterers, photographers and music to arrange. A few high school graduation parties are also planned for May.
Businesses and organizations are making their plans for the facility too. Benes Service will hold a combine clinic in the center on Aug. 5, and Butler County TeamMates will hold a banquet there on Aug. 12. Timpte will use the center for its employees’ family party.
The Ag Society had rented out the 45-year-old Hain Building before, but with limited air conditioning and no restrooms, it was a challenge, Smith said.
A few graduation parties are also planned for May. Before the election, the Ag Society emphasized that it would take some time to get on solid ground with bookings.
Now that the new facility is open, some are hoping that a Butler County’s lodging capacity can be increased with a new hotel to join Rose Motel. Smith pointed out, however, that the fairgrounds’ RV campground provides an opportunity for groups that want to come for multi-day events.
She noted that there are other fairground facilities in the area which don’t have a hotel facility right next to them.
The wrapup of the 2017 fair was unlike any other in the past, when the small cramped office and the other buildings turned back into storage buildings. Now the Ag Society has the challenge of operating the facility on a day to day basis. Crews will be back in the building to finish installation of heating equipment in the mezzanine. Until that work is done, the upstairs storage space won’t be available.
Smith praised the work of the Ag Society members who work long days before and during the fair to have a successful event. On Monday morning, fair volunteers enjoyed comfortable temperatures in the 70s as they put away the tables, chairs and other gear.
“They take vacations from their jobs to work all week at the fair,” she said.
Trev Moravec’s second consecutive reserve champion finish at the International Livestock Auctioneer Championships is a testament to his lifelong commitment to auctioneering.
“Since it’s been two years in a row, obviously it wasn’t a fluke the first time,” said Moravec, who bested all but one of the 24 competitors from Canada, the United States, South Africa and Australia during the two-day event.
Preparation for the competition, held July 14-15 as part of the Calgary Stampede in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, includes simply doing what auctioneers do — taking the block to get top dollar for their clients’ livestock.
“It’s a full, 100 percent real auction, real sale,” Moravec said. “The award is based on everything you do on the auction block.”
After a preliminary round, the 10 finalists showed off their chants in front of a five-judge panel that critiqued them on everything from spotting bids and livestock knowledge to their rhythm and timing.
Moravec, who brought home $2,000 and a Stampede buckle for his performance, got interested in auctioneering through his father Russ, who owns Moravec Auction Company in David City.
“It’s something I started doing from a very young age,” he said.
He received his license from the acclaimed Worldwide College of Auctioneering in Mason City, Iowa, when he was 17 years old and went to work for his father.
In 2007, he won an international junior auctioneer contest, which put him on the radar of international heavy machinery auctioneering house Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers. The Burnaby, British Columbia-based company hired him in 2008.
“I’ve been to places I never thought I’d go — the Middle East, Europe and Australia,” Moravec said. “It’s broadened my horizons quite a bit.”
While his job has him traveling the globe, when he’s not working Moravec hangs his hat at his home on Lake Socorro south of Schuyler.
“There’s a reason for that," he said. "I love Nebraska, I love the area and I love my family. I still love doing sales right around home.”
And he still enjoys participating in auctioneering competitions. Moravec’s father Russ, who was named the Nebraska Auctioneer of the Year in 2015, also went to the international championships, finishing fifth.
“Going to these competitions helps you out professionally because there’s people you can meet at the event,” Moravec said.
Although he grew up around auctioneering and has been doing it himself for a decade, Moravec said the competition still adds a level of pressure.
“When you’re doing what you do day in and day out among your peers, you’re always going to be on edge or more aware of how you conduct yourself, and nerves will get to you,” he said. “Because there 24 competitors and all eyes are on you. So if you make a mistake they’re going to catch you.”
Moravec is motivated to continuously improve because he knows sellers are putting their trust in him during each auction.
“It is someone’s livelihood you’re working with,” he said. “So I want to get top dollar for who I’m working with.”
He plans to continue competing with a goal of eventually claiming the top prize.