Every August, hundreds of thousands of people flock to rural Sedalia, Mo., population 21,500, for the Missouri State Fair. The historic fairground has been in use since the first state fair in 1901 and is one of few historic fairgrounds remaining in the country. Sixty-four of the fairground buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, and unlike many modern fairgrounds, Sedalia’s offers a park-like setting with expansive grass lawns and giant shade trees. The historic buildings and setting are some of the fair’s biggest draws, but they also pose some of its biggest challenges, with upkeep of both consuming large parts of already slim budgets.
Wendy Faulconer takes on those challenges as executive director of the Missouri State Fair Foundation. In her role as the foundation’s only paid employee, Ms. Faulconer works to raise funds that support historic preservation, fairground improvements and agricultural education.
From January through June, Ms. Faulconer builds the foundation’s member donor base, composed mostly of Missouri farmers and other agricultural business owners. In July her focus turns to fundraising events such as the annual Governor’s Ham Breakfast, which draws elected officials and agricultural leaders from across the state. After the 11-day fair is over, Ms. Faulconer concentrates on showing appreciation to the foundation’s members and its 200-plus volunteers, and seeing that the funds raised are put to good use.
One building in dire need of foundation funds is the Womans Building, a three-story Georgian Revival-style house built in 1910. Its first floor is used during the fair, and the basement houses the fair museum.
“It’s the most beautiful building on our fairground, but it’s in need of a lot of renovation,” Ms. Faulconer says.
The first floor once featured a parlor where women could drink tea and enjoy craft displays. The second floor had a nursery and smaller rooms where women could nurse infants and let their children nap, and on the third floor there was a ballroom.
“It really speaks to the value of family and the fair being a place to strengthen family bonds,” she says. “At a time when women couldn’t even vote, they built a special place just for them.”
The fair’s primary aim is to celebrate Missouri’s thriving agricultural industry, but another purpose is to educate the general public, she says.
“I’ve always felt like the key to our success is roots and wings,” says Ms. Faulconer, a member of Thomas Hart Benton Chapter, Warsaw, Mo. “We need strong roots, like knowing where we came from and what made us who we are, so we have good direction for the future. We do that through a fun venue, but the fair is not simply about cotton candy and carnival rides. It’s about education, relationships and fostering agrarian values.”
Ms. Faulconer says she sees a lot of parallels between the fair and the DAR.
“Some of the things that have made our country successful from its birth have been agriculture, work ethic, spirit of independence, and a passion for doing something and doing it right,” she says. “Those fundamental agrarian values are all things our Founding Fathers fought for.”
Ms. Faulconer joined the DAR in 2009 after helping her 14-year-old son, Rayne, with a family tree project in school. She wanted Rayne “to know that he came from a really long line of men of integrity and purpose.”
Active in 4-H, her son has raised calves since he was 8 years old.
“I had no idea what I was getting myself into when he asked if he could show a calf at the fair,” Ms. Faulconer says. “I pay the feed bills, but he does all the chores. That’s his job, rain or shine.”