The Missouri State Fair has always had its focus be the youth and agriculture forum for the State. At the heart of the State Fair, though, are the families and individuals who work, volunteer, exhibit and perform there each year.
Perhaps no one individual can represent all that the Fair stands for, but one person may come close: David Dick.
“David has been at the fair a long, long time.” Mark Wolfe Director of the Missouri State Fair said. “He understands and knows the programs that he supervises probably better than anyone and he devotes his time to making sure that everything is taken care of both before the Fair starts and after it ends.
“He does an exceptional job of working with the kids, which is what so much of his job and the Fair is about,” Wolfe added. “He really does embody all that the fair is supposed to be.”
Dick who was born in early August said he wasn’t at the Fair the year he was born, but can’t remember another year when he wasn’t at the Fair.
“My father worked for the local television station,” Dick said. “He was always there covering the Fair and my mother simply loved going to the Fair.
“I know she didn’t bring her baby boy that first year,” he added. “I honestly can’t remember another year when I wasn’t there though.”
During the first decade of his life, he attended as a visitor to the Fair. He recalled stories of his mother packing picnic lunches of fried chicken and the family members eating meals with friends who they saw every year during the Fair.
“We would eat under a grove of pine trees down by the fine arts building,” Dick said.
Since he was a boy of 11, Dick has worked at the Fair in some capacity devoting a great deal of his time and efforts to ensure that others have their moment in the spotlight.
Dick began his tenure at the Fair in 1973 as an entry clerk in the Home Economics Building,
“I started working at the Fair because one of my neighbors, Dorothy Wissman, who was in charge of the building at the time said she needed a skinny boy who could climb in the glass cases and place the cakes and other items,” Dick said. “I guess I fit the size requirements,” he added with a laugh.
At times individuals would come to the building with as many as 200 items to enter in the Fair, Dick recalled.
“You would see ladies being driven to the building by their husbands in their station wagons,” Dick said. “I always felt sorry for those men because you could tell they wanted to be anywhere else but there dragging in all of those boxes filled with doilies and samplers.
“We’d just look at each other and I think I could tell what they were thinking,” he added. “But you could tell how proud they were when their wives won ribbons at the Fair.”
Dick said that after the Fair ended, the cakes, pies and other baked goods would be cut and packaged.
“We would deliver them to the area nursing homes for the residents to enjoy,” he said. “They can’t do that today because of food regulations.”
For the next 21 years, Dick worked in the Home Economics building in various capacities before he moved to one of his present jobs.
After the 1992 Fair, Dick was named the beef and cattle superintendent for the Fair.
Nineteen livestock species have a superintendent to oversee their classes. While each breed has specific rules and guidelines, all superintendents share many of the same responsibilities.
According to Dick, these basics include working with the specific breed associations to keep up to date with the rules, levels of competition and functions of each breed, hiring judges, assigning stall locations for each animal, and maintaining the paperwork for all entries.
Additionally, the superintendents also have to deal with everything from sound systems for their area, and details such as the number of ventilation fans and electrical outlets are available to the condition of the grounds and bedding for each animal.
“At times it was simpler,” Dick said. “When I first took over as superintendent we struggled to get 600 entries in the cattle competition. This year we have 1,986 in cattle alone.
“It’s not a problem any of us would complain about,” Dick added. “It can make for some late days though.”
One of the toughest jobs Dick said all superintendents face is finding judges.
“It used to be judges were a dime a dozen,” he said. “Today we compete with five other state fairs that run at the same time or overlap ours.” (Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky)
“You hope that the judges who live in Missouri, want to judge at their home fair, but sometimes they don’t,” he said. “It’s nice when some of the people who you remembered when they showed here, have grown and are now eligible to judge here and come back.”
This is especially true for Dick in the 4-H and FFA livestock shows.
“The people from within the state know these kids and families and are willing to work with them,” Dick said. “They have been there themselves and understand what it’s like for them.”
If doing that work seems difficult, consider that Dick is not only the Beef Superintendent; he is the superintendent for all 19 livestock shows at the Fair.
Named in 2000 by then Fair Director Gary Slater, Dick does not feel overly burdened by the position.
“I learned a long time ago that you surround yourself with the best, most competent people you can find,” Dick said. “I have been blessed to work with some amazing and talented people. Some of them have been the supervisors of their breeds longer than I have been in charge of cattle.”
The people are one of the reasons Dick has remained with the fair for over five decades.
“I like it; I like the people,” he said. “In many ways this is like home for many of us; it’s a family reunion of sorts.
“I’m on my third and fourth generation of exhibitor’s now,” Dick added. “There is something special about seeing the grandchild of someone you watched show when they were young, come back and exhibit.”
The exhibitors are not the only people Dick remembers during his work at the fair.
There are numerous people who Dick credits with helping him a great deal in his time at the fair.
This year marks the first time that one member of Dick’s extended fair family will not be working on the grounds this August.
Billy Ficken who has been a grounds supervisor for the Fair has been battling health issues.
“Billy was always a step ahead of all of us,” Dick said. “He knew what we needed even before we did.
“He would do what we asked even when he knew we were wrong,” Dick added. “He would just smile when he had to re-do it the way he knew it should be done all along. This will be the first time since I’ve been a superintendent that he won’t be here. I will miss him a great deal.”
Dick is very quick to credit all his superintendents and especially his staff in the Beef Office, many of whom have worked with him for more than 15 years.
“Jane McMullin, Gordoin Sparks, Bill Ellison, Randy Rittman all come to mind,” Dick said. “I have been surrounded by so many more quality people who have made my job meaningful.”
Dick remembers several historical events from his years at the Fair, including presidential visits from Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush a vice presidential visit from Dan Quayle as well as other milestones, but he still refers back to the young men and women and families from more humble roots.
“One of the most difficult parts of my job is when I have to tell an exhibitor that there has been an accident in their family,” Dick said. “…or worse yet if someone has died.”
He explained that as superintendent he knows the location of all the livestock and can find the family members more easily than others.
“When some of our families who are in the service would be deployed I would have to find them and tell the individual that they had to report to base,” Dick said. “At times we would take care of their families and livestock and help get them home.
“It’s what you do for family,” he said.
The lessons of the farm and family have stayed with him since he began a career at the Fair decades ago.
“Morris McCrea was a cattle superintendent here years before I took over, he told me, ‘The thing to remember is to treat everyone here the same, whether they have a million or if they had to borrow a million to get here.’” Dick said. “I took it to heart and it’s absolutely true.
“I took this job to help people accomplish goals they have set for themselves,” he added. “This, (the Fair) is a place where that can happen and where everyone should want to come.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484