There are images from the Missouri State Fair that are etched in the minds of the visitors who may only go to the historic grounds once each August and to the Pettis County Residents who frequent the Fairgrounds on a weekly or perhaps even daily basis.
From the Coliseum or any one of the other 46 structures on the Historic Register located on the grounds, to the Murphy Brother’s Carnival Midway, the Highway Gardens or the parade of livestock that can be seen on any given show day moving from their barns to the show arena, each individual has perhaps, a lasting favorite image.
If the Fair had to have a face to represent it, it both literally and figuratively does, thanks to the creation of the Starline Brass Trail’s End Sculptures and the volunteer work of one individual at the Fair, Larry Wilson.
“I’m not the only person who volunteers here by any means,” Wilson said Saturday morning. “There are a whole lot of other people who do just as much as I do if not more to help out during the Fair and year round for that matter.
“I came on the Fair Foundation 20 years or so when Jim (former state Sen. Jim Mathewson) asked me to come on board after he and Lowell (Mohler) came up with the idea for it,” Wilson added. “I guess really you can blame it on them and my mother because she just loved the Fair and so I guess I wanted to help with it for her.”
For both Mathewson and the executive director of the Missouri State Fair Foundation, Wendy Faulconer, Wilson’s contributions to the Fair Foundation and the volunteer work they do are significant.
“Whenever there is a project that needs to be done, Larry is one of the first people I call, like so many of our volunteers, he is always willing to pitch in and help,” Faulconer said. “That is true any time I ask and not just during the Fair itself.”
Mathewson and Wilson, whose ties go back to their days as elected officials can often be found sharing breakfast together at a local restaurant, with other friends swapping stories and a great deal of laughter.
“Larry has been a friend forever and there isn’t anything he wouldn’t do to help me, or anyone else,” Mathewson said. “He comes from a great farming family and has always been active in 4-H and FFA and here at the Fair.
“He took over the water that we sell for the Foundation years ago and has helped to grow that program so much,” Mathewson added. “He has such a love for the community and for the Fair and he’s dedicated to both and has been for years.”
Wilson can’t say what year he started to help distribute the water at the Fair, but recalled that it happened a number of years ago when the gentleman who was in charge asked for help because he was no longer able to keep up with the job.
“I remember those first few years we thought we were doing something great when we sold 1,500 bottle of water each year,” Wilson said. “When we started to sell 5,000 and then 10,000 we thought we would never top that.
“Last year we sold 74,000 bottles,” he added with a smile. “We’re progressed a lot from the early years.”
Wilson said that Cam Jennings was a tremendous help doing much of the work that Wilson also does in keeping the water stocked and ready for thirsty Fair visitors.
“We keep refining the process as the years go by,” Wilson said. “When we first started we just had a couple of round coolers that we would fill a few times a day and that was about it.
“But then we decided if we were going to do it we were going to do it big and that’s when we got the six gazebos and the big coolers for each one,” he added. “I learn something each year we do this and I always think I can predict it but I can’t”
The proceeds from the water sales go to the State Fair Foundation, which is committed to the historical preservation and maintenance of the Fair’s buildings and grounds and educational programs.
“What we do is real important for the Fair but also it’s important year round and for the kids,” Wilson said. “We’ve been able to make a lot of improvements to the swine barns and the sheep pavilion and look at what we did over at the Children’s Barnyard this year.
“Showing livestock, that’s something real important for the kids and that’s one of the main reasons why I want to do this,” he added. “I know how much I enjoyed competing when I was younger and how much 4-H meant to me because all I ever wanted to do was farm.”
That may be all he wanted to do, but that is not where his work ended.
“After I ‘retired’ I realized I was far too young when I did,” he said with a laugh. “That’s when they talked me into running for office.”
Wilson served as a Pettis County Commissioner for 18 years and he realizes the economic impact the Fair has on the county.
“When I was on the commission I heard a lot about the Fair, believe me, but I doubt if people realize how much it brings to our economy,” Wilson said. “It (the Fair) really is a big deal for Sedalia and Pettis County and not just during the 11 days it is here in August.”
Although Wilson is no longer serving on the commission, it is through his volunteer work that he became the “Face of the Fair,” without even knowing it at the time.
“I was working with Doug (Kiburz) and he would send me photographs from various events, and in a couple of the photographs I kept seeing this one face,” J. Michael Wilson, sculptor of the Trail’s End Bronze figures said in April of 2105 to the Democrat in a phone interview. “I incorporated some of his facial features into the trail bosses face.”
The face that Michael Wilson saw, from his home and studio in Utah, was that of Larry Wilson.
The two men are not related and in fact had not met until the Trails End dedication weekend in April of 2105.
“I know it’s quite an honor for him to have done that,” Wilson said about his facial features becoming the likeness of the trail boss. “I didn’t know about it until after the dedication so it was a surprise to me as well.”
Wilson dedicated a summer to the Trail’s End project just as he has dedicated most of his summers to the State Fair.
“I have so many memories of my time at the Fair I really couldn’t pick just one,” Wilson said. This is my last year on the Foundation Board but I’ll still be around helping.
“The people and especially the kids and the old buildings are why I want to do this,” he added thoughtfully. “We have to keep working for them.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484.