Henry County Fair counts on community during Illinois budget crisis

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CAMBRIDGE, Illinois -

The Henry County Fair is back for a remarkable 158th event in Cambridge from June 20-25. It remains resilient in the wake of a state budget crisis nearing its third year.

As youngsters work with animals on Tuesday, June 20, it says a lot about hard work in the show ring.  Work that's tougher to showcase, though, with state cuts and funding delays.

"It is very frustrating," said Nicole Haverback, 17, during a break in the Open Swine Show.  "I know how hard I work and people work with their livestock."

The fair expects up to 20,000 visitors this week.  They'll come to see animals, a carnival and entertainment.

These days, Illinois funding pumps in $13,250.  That's about one-sixth of the fair's budget.  Typically, state payments are late.

"With that check, we can upgrade things around the fairgrounds," said Fair Board President Rick Dobbels.  "But if we don't have it, it pushes everything back to next year or farther."

That makes it hard to plan and make good deals for fair activities and entertainment.

"The sooner you book concerts, sometimes you get a better price," said Dave Brooks, a fair board member.  "You get a better show and bring more people in, but you just don't know how much to spend."

That's why the Henry County Pork Producers keep the grill sizzling.

"People realize we're here to stay," said Doug Nelson, between flipping legendary pork chops.

This fair is counting on its community during uncertain times at the state level.

"You've got to learn to figure out a way to break even or make a dollar without state money," he said.

The Henry County Fair is insuring its future through sponsors, estate bequests and personal donations.

"We built a new building a couple years ago," Nelson continued.  "There was a chain reaction.  There's been  multiple other buildings built since then."

That's inspiring the next generation, like Nicole Haverback, who will be an incoming senior at Geneseo High School.

"I really have a passion for the livestock industry," she said.

A passion at the Henry County Fair that's fueled by a caring community.

"We're pretty fortunate for what we have up here," concluded Chris Dobbels, Cambridge.