From 4-H club to fair coordinator

KATHY Ninneman smiles and displays ribbons awarded for 4-H Club. Ninneman has loved the Green Lake County Fair since she was 10 and now is ready to share her lifelong passion for the fair with the community as she plans the 2021 Green Lake County Fair in her new role of Green Lake County Fair coordinator. submitted and Joe Schulz photos

by Joe Schulz

The Green Lake County Fair is at the center of many of Kathy Ninneman’s fondest childhood memories. 

To this day, Ninneman remembers exhibiting farm animals with the 4-H Club as if it were yesterday. 

“Growing up, I just always loved the fair; it was something I always looked forward to each year,” she said. “It was always fun getting together with all the kids from around the county at the fair because it was like a big family reunion.”

After working in the Green Lake County University of Wisconsin-Extension Office for the past nine years, Ninneman was named fair coordinator Aug. 19. 

As the new fair coordinator, she is working to plan next year’s fair and provide a new generation with experiences that become lifelong memories.

“I have always been passionate about the fair, following in my mother’s footsteps as an exhibitor, then as a parent watching my children exhibit and now as an employee of Green Lake County,” Ninneman wrote on the Green Lake County Fair Facebook page Sept. 1, announcing the promotion.

For Ninneman, it’s critical to continue executing the fair’s mission of providing “positive youth development and leadership skills, along with promoting family and community involvement through education and tradition.”

Her journey with the county fair began at the age of 9, when she became a member of the Busy Bees 4-H Club of Green Lake County.

“My mother grew up in Markesan and was a member of the Grand River Workers 4-H Club,” Ninneman said. “She showed dairy [cattle] and sheep, so my sisters and I followed in her footsteps and showed with the 4-H at the Green Lake County Fair.”

She grew up on a family farm near the Green Lake Conference Center and attended Green Lake School. 

After graduating from high school, Ninneman married, moved to Ripon and got a job at Ripon Printers, where she worked for about 25 years before moving into the Ripon Commonwealth Press newsroom as an office assistant. 

“I did advertising layout, I worked the front desk and sometimes I even did the Tuesday Express [delivery] route and the Wednesday route for the actual paper,” she said of her responsibilities at the Commonwealth

She eventually moved back to the Green Lake area, and was cruising right along at a steady job that she enjoyed. In spring 2011, however, Ninneman received an offer that she couldn’t refuse: The opportunity to work in the Green Lake County UW-Extension Office.

When Ninneman gave the former publisher of the Commonwealth, Tim Lyke, her two-week notice, she described working for UW-Extension as a “dream job” since childhood.

“As a little girl, I was always going to the [Green Lake County] Courthouse for my 4-H things, and I just always thought, ‘I would love to work there,’” Ninneman recalled. 

Since joining the extension office April 19, 2011, she’s supported the 4-H and agriculture educators by assisting with financial planning, ordering supplies, running the front desk, taking meeting minutes and other office tasks.

In her new role, Ninneman is spending about 50% of her time planning the 2021 Green Lake County Fair and the other 50% in that support role.

NEW GREEN LAKE County Fair Coordinator Kathy Ninneman shows a goat at a county fair from her youth. submitted photo

While next year’s fair is slated for Thursday, Aug. 5 through Sunday, Aug. 8, Ninneman noted she has contacted the company slated for next year’s carnival.

“I did talk to them and they are very excited,” she said. “They can’t wait to return because they haven’t done any fairs this year.”

In planning the 2021 county fair, UW-Extension will work with the Green Lake County Health Department to ensure the event is safe, as it’s unknown what the COVID-19 pandemic could look like by next August.

“We’re going to plan like normal for the 2021 fair,” Ninneman said. “With COVID, we’ll just be following our public health officials’ recommendations.”

Despite area residents hosting a pair of events — the Farm and Home Show and the Green Lake County Livestock Scramble — last month as stand-ins for this year’s fair, Ninneman believes the event’s cancellation left a void in the community this summer.

She hopes next year’s Green Lake County Fair helps fill that void, while providing youth development and leadership skills.

“We’re looking forward to planning a great 2021 fair for everybody in Green Lake County because everybody’s really looking forward to it and they really miss it,” Ninneman said. “With everything that’s happened in 2020, I think everybody’s really looking forward to the ‘Best Little Fair Around’ coming back even stronger.”