I’m back. In fact, I’ve never stopped walking around the Iowa State Fairgrounds, except this time it’s different. It’s still the best place in town for a quiet respite, on foot or by bike. It’s still an A-more gem of a place to spend a morning, afternoon or early evening – when hundreds of thousands of sweaty people aren’t crowding together to buy something on a stick.
Unlike when we christened this space “Our Des Moines” in May 2021 with a story that the fairgrounds are a place to relax when visitors aren’t around, there has been considerable activity during the last ride.
There are only a few days left until the 11-day fair begins on August 11. Permanent restaurants are mostly prepared. The new grass in the Bill Riley stage area has matured. The animal barns have been in use throughout the winter and spring, so they are always ready for use. Same thing with the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center, the William C. Knapp Varied Industries Building (VI, for us regulars) and the Elwell Family Food Center.
The life-size steer statues appear to have recently taken a bath. They stand proudly just down the street from the big revolving clock, and as I pass by, I often text their photo to a fellow sportswriter at the Austin American Statesman. I remind him that our Bevos are ready to take over when his Bevos, also known as the Texas Longhorns, head to the Southeastern Conference. He’s laughing.
Yeah, it’s starting to take shape for the opening this week. The Bud tent and The Depot seem almost ready for customers. The 27 degree beer sign atop the Steer “N” Stein restaurant is also attractive. And look, across the street, could that be Connie Boesen putting the finishing touches on one of her four Applishus booths?
Connie knows the 400 acres of the fair better than anyone. She grew up there, quite literally, when her father, Ken Fulk, was the fair’s longtime manager. The house she lived in until her graduation from East High School in 1969 is still in the same location on the Fairgrounds property – minus the swimming pool.
“The Midway was our front yard,” she said.
At 14, she was selling sodas, candy and even cigars while working from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. at a kiosk near the administration building.
“Swisher Sweets for a penny,” said Des Moines City Councilman Boesen. “Working that many hours and selling cigars at 14 probably wouldn’t be allowed today, I guess.
“I remember one evening after leaving work, I came home and we were all in the kitchen. All of a sudden dad came along with (singer/songwriter/actor) Paul Anka.
That was another perk of being a fair kid – hanging out with rostrum performers.
“Sony and Cher. Elton John,” she recalled. “Andy Williams and the Osmond brothers. The Fifth Dimension was great. They came home too.
The house is a short walk from one of its stalls.
“I don’t remember going back there since I moved,” Boesen said. “That was the time.”
Randy Peterson, a sports columnist covering Iowa State University, is a Des Moines native and East loyalist, except when he’s relaxing in Okoboji. He has written for the Des Moines Register for six decades. Reach him at [email protected] and on Twitter at @RandyPete.