By Conrad Dudderar
EL RENO – A three-decades dream has become reality for Dan Wedman, Canadian County’s longest-serving fair board member.
Dan Wedman, of Calumet, takes pride in the county’s new fairgrounds’ complex that opened in July.
“It’s a wonderful feeling,” said Wedman, the fair board’s vice chairman. “This facility is well above anything I would have expected 20 or even 10 years ago.
“It’s all because we’ve had good leadership from the county offices and good support from citizens of Canadian County. Canadian County citizens are proud people … and they should be!”
The Canadian County Expo & Event Center, near Jensen and Alfadale roads in southeast El Reno, is preparing to host the 67th Annual Canadian County Free Fair. The new facility will be bustling with activity during the Aug. 23-28 festivities.
A professional rodeo, youth livestock competitions, open exhibits, farmland Olympics, horse shows, carnival, food trucks, kids’ zone, and more are on tap.
“I think we’ll see the biggest fair that we’ve ever had in Canadian County,” said Brad Tipton, secretary of the Canadian County Fair Board. “Having a facility befitting this county is the reason we’ll be able to achieve that.
“We’ve been so ‘spread out’ in different buildings – that’s been an Achilles heel of our county fair for years. Now we’ll have everything under one roof.”
Since 1955, the Canadian County Free Fair had been presented at facilities built by farmers on N Country Club Road in El Reno. After years of planning, this month marks the first time since then the fair will be at a new place.
Canadian County’s original fairgrounds, constructed 100 years ago, was east of the El Reno Cemetery near U.S. 66 and Highway 81.
Wedman was first appointed about 25 years ago to the nine-member Canadian County Fair Board after several years as beef superintendent.
He served many years as board chairman, striving to find space and develop an adequate fairgrounds’ site to suit the steadily growing county.
‘BIGGER AND BETTER’
Wedman had just joined the board in the 1990s when he learned about the desire for a new, larger fairgrounds.
“Virdin Royse had been chairman of the fair board about 30 years before that,” he recalled. “He was among the farmers who helped build the old facility with tractors and front-end loaders.
“Virdin told me, when I was chairman, that we needed to be thinking about getting better facilities that what they built in the ‘50s. Canadian County was bigger and better, and needed better facilities for our FFA and 4-H kids, and everybody else in the county to utilize.”
The Country Club Road site served its purpose for many decades, but fair board leaders knew it was time to find a larger site.
“Canadian County has enjoyed exponential growth in all those years,” Wedman said. “The county deserves this kind of facility that we’ve never been able to provide until now.
“The county has been very supportive of all the activities the fair board has had over the years.”
The new Canadian County Fair venue – just south of Interstate 40 and east of Highway 81 – features a 19,000 square foot event center, 46,000 square foot indoor arena and 19,000 square foot open-air pavilion, along with around 15,000 square feet of office space.
All areas will be busy Aug. 23-28, and there will be a carnival and live entertainment outdoors.
Canadian County in 2019 purchased the 50-acre property for $1.25 million from the Jensen family.
Funded with county use tax revenues, the $15.2 million first phase is substantially finished. There is room to expand during proposed future phases.
“We’ve been lucky to have good leadership in our county to bring this thing along,” Wedman said, crediting county commissioners.
“The county has grown, and the use tax has gotten bigger. That’s what we’re using to fund it.”
Canadian County is among the fastest-growing counties in the U.S.
“We also have the one of the highest average incomes in Oklahoma,” Wedman noted. “There’s a lot of ‘movers and shakers’ in Canadian County.
“We want to see the county continue to grow. We hope this (new expo center) will be one of the attractions bringing people to Canadian County from distances away.”
SOMETHING ‘VERY SPECIAL’
Other Canadian County Fair Board members beside Wedman are Chairman Kelly Beck of Yukon, Treasurer Clint Reuter of El Reno, Michael Beard of Calumet, Justin Atkinson of El Reno, Ken Carpenter of Mustang, Phil Carson of Yukon, Brent Hunt of El Reno, and Mike Crowly of Calumet.
“Every fair board member – past and present – has been very sensitive to the wants and needs of all the people of Canadian County,” Wedman added. “We’re trying to achieve that goal to provide something that’s very special.
“We want to transition Canadian County from a ‘pass-through’ county to a ‘destination’ county. We believe this facility will really help, along with the many other positive things going on in our county.”
The fair board’s spring county livestock show has been among the best in Oklahoma, Wedman added.
“It was a revamped auction this year due to the pandemic and we still had a record premium sale,” he said. “This is the kind of support that Canadian County youth have always had – and will continue to have – as long as we can provide the facilities.
“The fair board is very thankful for the support that Canadian County citizens have given us over the years. And the commitment to see ag youth and rural families be able to exhibit some of the finest livestock in the state of Oklahoma – right here in Canadian County.”
Canadian County Fair Board members offered props to the county’s OSU Extension office to their great help presenting the annual fair.
Staff members are secretaries Carisa Jones and Bandi Oliphant, county extension director Kyle Worthington, family and consumer sciences educator Donna Stangl-Jung, horticulture educator Courtney Keck, and 4-H educators Todd Branson and Alexis Graham.
“Without these folks, there would NOT be a fair,” said Tipton, the fair board secretary. “They provide an invaluable service to the fair board and citizens of Canadian County with all they do to make it possible.”