BY GABE LICHT
MONTROSE, MN It all started at the Wright County Fair.
That’s where Liz and Jerry Paetow’s daughter, Carrie, was active participating in 4-H, after initially trying Girl Scouts.
“Because she was going to be here all week, I decided I was going to enter stuff,” Liz said.
She went on to enter items in the Carver, Hennepin, and Ramsey county fairs, as well as at the Minnesota State Fair. Liz had also grown up attending and enjoying fairs in Cambridge, Mora, and Braham, where she lived at the time.
“We wanted to go to more of them,” Jerry said. “The more we went to, we said, ‘We might as well do all of them.’”
That was in 2007, and the couple from Montrose completed the feat Aug. 26, as their 94th stop was the Southwest St. Louis County Fair in Floodwood, a small fair with no animals or rides, where they say they were welcomed warmly.
When fair officials in Floodwood learned their event would be the final on the Paetow’s list, one of them reached out to Liz saying the board wanted to honor the couple and their accomplishment.
“It was very cool for them to be excited for us,” Liz said. “We were treated like royalty. I mean, we got there, and they greeted us so warmly. They gave us some food tickets, so we could eat at their food stand. They took us on the garden tour. When we got back from the garden tour, they gave us a gift bag with stuff from around the area there . . . It was wonderful.”
They were also honored in the fair’s “5 minute” parade, which Carrie and her husband drove from Chaska to see.
Though the Paetows received special recognition in Floodwood, in addition to coverage of their quest in the Pioneer Press and on the WCCO television and radio stations, the Paetows never set out to be noticed.
Rather, they just wanted to take in everything they enjoyed about fairs throughout the state.
They enjoy exhibits the most.
“I like seeing going and seeing what everyone has made,” Liz said. “I love to see all the sewing, knitting, crafts, and photography. You’d be surprised how many wonderfully talented artists there are in the whole state. There are things you see at these fairs that there is no way I could ever attempt to do: beautiful woodworking, rosemaling, photography, quilting, painting, woodcarving. It’s just amazing what people can do.”
Though Liz may not be able to do all those items she enjoys viewing, there are plenty of things she can. She estimates she submits between 100 and 125 entries at the Wright County Fair, while also coordinating baking and canning submissions there as an assistant superintendent.
While looking at entries, Jerry encourages Liz to try new things.
“He points out things and says, ‘You can do that,’” Liz said.
Her sugar cookie was awarded “Grand Champion Cookie” at the Minnesota State Fair in 2015, she earned a blue ribbon there for her German chocolate cake there in 2014. She has also been a grand champion for flowers and baking at the county level, while earning many ribbons for canning, photography, and crafts.
Jerry is no slouch, either, as he has been a grand champion vegetable gardener.
The couple is impressed by the things they has seen at the Wright County Fair, as well as submissions at other fairs, saying many of them can compete at a higher level.
“Some of that stuff at the state fair is at your county fairs, and is just as beautiful,” Liz said.
They are also interested in animals at the fairs, including chickens, rabbits, goats. Jerry has a special appreciation for cattle, especially dairy cows, as he grew up working on his family’s dairy farm near Elbow Lake. In his younger years, he also participated in 4-H for 10 years, including showing at the Grant County Fair.
He still promotes the values of 4-H and said that, because of Carrie’s experiences in the organization, she was able to go on to become a Waverly Princess, Fairest of the Fair in Wright County, and the St. Paul Winter Carnival Princess of the West Wind.
“I put it all on being self-confi“I “I put it all on being self-confident, growing up doing all that stuff,” Jerry said.
It is no surprise, then, that they support 4-H food stands on a regular basis.
Their favorite fair food, however, is the Oof-Da Taco: frybread covered with all the typical taco fixings.
“It’s a big plateful,” Jerry said. “You have to eat it with a fork and knife.”
Food is just one aspect of a fair, though. What is their favorite fair overall?
They don’t hesitate to say that it is the Wright County Fair.
Following behind are the Clay County Fair in Barnesville and the Dakota County Fair in Farmington.
“It’s a pretty fairground,” Liz said of the Clay County Fair facilities.
Jerry added that many fairgrounds include historical buildings that impress him.
The couple has noticed intricacies of the different fairs, including similarities between some in the same geographical areas, and differences between others throughout the state.
“All have baking and canning, but not all the same things,” Liz said. “ . . . Way up north, they’re smaller fairs. Sometimes they don’t have a carnival. The fairgrounds are older. It’s kind of cool to see.”
“Arts and crafts are different in different parts of the state,” Jerry added.
Some seem to specialize in quilts, others have more word working. Western Minnesota has a sugar beet category. Different areas also have categories for different types of grains.
The trek has not only exposed the Paetows to a variety of fair entries, but to a number of new people.
“We’ve learned how genuine people are,” Jerry said.
“Yeah, we strike up conversations with people at almost every fair we’ve been to,” Liz added.
Taking in all the sights of the fair and meeting fellow fairgoers throughout the state requires a lot of driving.
Though they did not keep track of the miles they have traveled, they acknowledge the number is in the tens of thousands, especially because they rarely stayed overnight to visit a fair, sometimes driving several hours for a 30-minute visit before road-tripping back.
Planning those trips had been Jerry’s task, one he looked forward to each year.
In winter, he would start asking if the Minnesota Federation of County Fairs had released the fair schedule yet. Once that schedule was released, he would map out different routes to visit as many fairs each weekend as possible.
Their travels are laid out on a map Carrie gave to them. Jerry carefully placed a pin as close as possible to each fair location in each county, with multiple pins in some counties, and no fair in Cook County in northeastern Minnesota.
Liz relishes the view she has had from the passenger seat.
“Minnesota is a beautiful state,” she said. “It has been a wonderful way to see the state. There are parts of the state I’ve seen in the past 11 years that I don’t know if I would’ve seen them had we not decided to do this.”
Now that the journey has come to an end, the couple admits it conjures up some emotions.
“We’re sad, but looking forward to next summer not having to worry about having to visit any fairs,” said Liz, who was too exhausted to submit any entries in the Minnesota State Fair competitions.
What’s next for the couple who enjoys baking, canning, gardening, playing board games, and watching the Twins and Vikings?
“We haven’t thought about what we want to do next. People have joked about us going to all the state fairs,” Liz said with a laugh, adding that such an undertaking would not be coming to fruition for them, though they may visit some fairs in other states, while taking time to relax and enjoy their other hobbies.