MAXBASS Regardless of the countless carnivals, exhibits and grandstand shows she's seen in the past 40 years, Bette Furgeson of Maxbass still gets excited about going to the fair.
"I like fairs," she said. "I like corn dogs, and I like the kids."
In June, Furgeson is almost a constant presence at the Bottineau County Fair as one of the fair's board members. Furgeson takes a break from her job as facilities manager at Midwest TeleServices International in Mohall to help her fellow board members get ready, watch over and clean up after the four-day fair.
Jill Schramm/MDN •
Various fair brochures spread out before Bette Furgeson represent the different fair-related activities that she is involved in this year.
She also can be found running the talent contest at the North Dakota State Fair in July. In addition, each year she takes in a sampling of other county fairs across the state, just to enjoy the atmosphere and the corn dogs. (Her tip: The best corn dogs are at the Wells County Fair.)
Furgeson, who has five children, traces her interest in fairs back 43 years to her children's enrollment in 4-H and its horsemanship programs. They broke, trained and showed horses across North Dakota.
Furgeson later moved to Washington state, where her children raised dogs to show at the Monroe Fair. After 13 years on the West Coast, she moved back to Maxbass. When grandchildren came to live with her, she found herself involved in 4-H again, only this time with sheep.
In her 20 years on the Bottineau County Fair Board, one of her greatest pleasures has been seeing the satisfied look on the faces of young people holding up their blue ribbons. She points out a livestock award winner pictured in the local newspaper and recalls watching him develop from a timid, little boy into a confident, capable showman.
Kids are a big part of any fair, she said in explaining why carnivals and 4-H and FFA exhibits are crucial.
"This is why I am here," she said. "That's why I have stayed all these years. It's for the kids. If you don't have them, you don't have much."
Furgeson also credited the success of the Bottineau County Fair to the support of the community from the business that provides four-wheelers for the use of board members during the fair to the FFA leader who involves the youth in fairgrounds improvements.
"People are so good to us. There's not much we ask for that we don't get," she said.
The Bottineau County Fair is the oldest fair in the state. Bottineau and Pembina counties have a good-natured rivalry because Pembina bills its fair as the longest-running, Furgeson said. Although older, the Bottineau County Fair wasn't held one year during World War II.
Furgeson also sees her local county fair getting better with age. Bottineau's Jaycees chapter took on a demolition derby and has grown it from six cars to more than 50. The local rodeo association brought rodeo to the fair and does the work to keep that event going. The North Dakota Junior Livestock Association holds a show that attracts top quality entries from youth across the state.
The fair board awards a scholarship each year to assist a youth with the expense of traveling to livestock shows. The scholarship was established in memory of Furgeson's grandson, Matt Blomberg, who died while serving with the military in Japan.
The fair also has a successful beer garden, although Furgeson said a great deal of resistance had to be overcome to get it started. The county eventually agreed 15 years ago to grant a liquor-license transfer to the fairgrounds, despite public protest.
"They actually picketed," Furgeson said. "They said it would be the end of the Bottineau County Fair, but it hasn't been."
Furgeson's history with the fair and organizational skills are assets to the fair board, said board member Jennie Lodoen of Westhope.
"She's very dedicated to our county fair and wants us to keep up with the growing trends, to keep moving forward and keep the kids happy as well as the older population," Lodoen said. "She definitely does her research and knows what she's talking about."
Furgeson was instrumental 19 years ago in bringing an amateur talent contest to the Bottineau fair. She went on to advise other counties that wanted to start talent events.
Several years ago, she talked to the manager of the North Dakota State Fair in Minot about putting the county winners on the main stage. There were technical difficulties with that plan, but she was granted a free stage for a talent show.
Furgeson now is involved in another State Fair talent competition, open to the first 15 senior and 15 junior applicants. She begins planning for the show in February, when she sends out brochures seeking applicants. This year's show is July 23.
In addition to her work with the county and state fairs, she is a director representing north-central North Dakota on the board of the North Dakota Association of Fairs. The association includes 30 fairs and celebrations.
The association recognized Furgeson in 2006 as its Fair Person of the Year.
"Bette is energetic and enthusiastic," said Neil Fleming of Cavalier, secretary-treasurer for the association. "Whenever she is given a job to do, it gets done."
Furgeson also is appreciated for her likable personality. Fleming said Furgeson enjoys good-natured kidding and is just a fun person to be around.
And fun is what fairs are all about. It's hard to be grumpy eating corn dogs, watching the kids in the show ring or taking in the other entertainment, and that's another thing Furgeson likes about fairs.
"People are happy," she said.
(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or Managing Editor Kent Olson at 857-1939. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.)