Logan County Fair

For the Father of the Fair, Dean Bruns, slowing down means someone else will drive the golf cart

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[December 13, 2018]  Preface: During the 2018 Logan County Fair, Lincoln Daily News ran a living tribute to Dean Bruns, a man we loved and respected greatly. We spent many days at the fair, and we saw Dean nearly every day. We heard him speak at several events, and each time, we sensed that he was saying good-bye to something he loved beyond belief.

We at Lincoln Daily News do believe in heaven and we do believe that Dean is there. He is reunited with people who were important to him on this earth and he is seeing many of the people whose lives he influenced with his many good works.

Nila Smith recalls the first day of the 2018 Fair Livestock Shows. "I walked into the barn and, of course, Dean was there. His daughter Gayla saw me first, and she said, 'He's been looking for you!' When I made my way to him there it was, that wonderful great big smile and the hug I always got. Rest in peace dear friend. When my day comes, just know, I'll be looking for you.”

Each year as a prep for coverage of the Logan County Fair, staff at Lincoln Daily News get together to discuss what is going on fair week and who will be in what location. The group also talks about what interesting stories might be found, and what significant changes may have occurred since last year.

This year, during that meeting, someone mentioned they had heard a rumor that Dean Bruns, was “slowing down.” It stood to reason, that at 90 years of age, if the long-time fair board president wanted to ‘slow down’ he had certainly earned that right. What does a slower version of the happy, chatty, fun loving Bruns look like? Did it mean that maybe we wouldn’t see Dean at the fair this year? These were questions that we decided needed to be answered.

Sometimes referred to as “Father of the Fair,” Bruns has been involved in the Logan County Fair for close to 70 of his 90 years, and was an attendee and participant even before that. And, if Dean Bruns is the father of the fair, then the beloved 'nephew of the fair' would have to be Board Secretary Mike Maske.

This time of year, Maske is easy to find if you know how to bird dog just a bit. Go to the fairground, look for the red pick-up and tail it until it stops. Chances are you’ll find Mike anywhere on the grounds, working on something very important that will help deliver a good fair experience for visitors and exhibitors. One thing you can be sure of is that you won’t find him with his feet propped up sipping coffee somewhere. Like Dean, the fair belongs to him, and while the two may not be related, they both have the Logan County Fair in their blood.

As expected, on a warmer than warm mid-July morning, we found Maske, zipping from one location to another checking on people who were putting up tents, building risers, and helping out along the way. Always happy to talk about his fair, Maske took a minute to hear the question. Is Dean Bruns slowing down this year? Will we see him as much as we normally do?

Maske had a slightly puzzled look, and with a furrowed brow he said that he really didn’t know anything about Dean slowing down. He said there was one thing he was certain of though, “as long as Dean Bruns is able to take a breath, he will be at the Logan County Fair.”

So with a sigh of relief, knowing our beloved Dean would still be at the fair, in spite of maybe, supposedly, slowing down, LDN staff headed on their way, but not before getting a phone number for the person we will now forever know as the ‘daughter of the fair,' Gayla Hughes.

Gayla is Dean’s daughter, and for those who may not know, she loves the Logan County Fair as much as her dad does. And why not, in more than 60 years, she has missed only one day at the Logan County Fair.

We called Gayla to check on Dean, and to ask her to relay to him that there would be a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Main Gate on Tuesday morning, just as there has been for the last umpteen years. In talking to her, we mentioned the rumor that Dean is slowing down this year. She too seemed to be puzzled by the comment. If there is any slowing down involved, Gayla said that this year she thinks she will be the one driving the golf cart, but “dad will be right there,” and the two of them will continue to meet and greet visitors, and give rides to whomever needs a lift. She laughed and said, “He would be there right now, if I was there to drive him!”

She reported that Dean has moved into town from the country. He did so earlier this year, and took an apartment at Castle Manor in Lincoln. She said it was a change for him and that it had taken some getting used to, but he did like it there. She mentioned that he was among people that he enjoyed, and like him there were those with fond memories of the fair, and they enjoyed sharing.

She added that the fair was ever on his mind this time of year, and every time she talked with him it was the same, “We’ve got to get out there and check on things.” She said that she was driving him out to the fairgrounds every chance she had, and that the weekend before the fair she would be moving her RV to the campground to stay the week.

That brought about the conversation about the 'daughter of the fair.' She said that growing up and throughout her adulthood, coming to the Logan County Fair was a must. She put it beautifully when she said, “being at the fair just makes your heart complete.” For her and her dad, that is truly how they feel. At the fair they are in the thick of things. They spend time with friends, they visit the shows, they visit the vendors, they go out and talk with people, something Dean’s is very good at, and we suspect Gayla is too.

She shared her brief story of the fair saying that at 60 years of age, she has been coming to the Logan County Fair MORE than 60 years, because her mom, while pregnant with Gayla never missed a day. However, Gayla did miss a day, one day, and it was a devastating blow. She noted that it must have been terrible because in all her years, the memory has stayed with here.

Gayla was a young girl, but old enough that her parents allowed her a little time out and about at the fair on her own with friends. There were rules though, including the time she was expected to be back at the car and ready to go home. On one particular night, she missed the deadline, only by a few minutes, but none-the-less, she missed the deadline. When she got to the car, her parents grounded her, and her punishment was that on the next day, she would not be permitted to attend the fair. Gayla said she had no recall of what she did that day, or where she stayed, perhaps with a grandparent, she just knew that she was hugely disappointed that she was not at the fair. That was the first and last time she missed curfew, and the only day in more than 60 years that she was not in attendance at the Logan County Fair.

Dean Bruns has seen it all at the Logan County Fair, but his story begins as a youngster. In an interview with LDN a few years ago, Bruns said that he started attending the fair when he was a youngster, but not with his parents. He said his parents weren’t fair goers, but as he was growing up, a farmer across the way from where Dean’s parents lived showed dairy cattle at the fair. One year, Dean got a job helping with the cattle, and that resulted in his attending the fair. He loved it. He loved the showing of cattle, he loved the fair and all the experiences that came with it.

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Dean with his Logan County Fair Borad Vice President - Kevin Kurtz

He would go on to show cattle, become a superintendent of the Milking Shorthorn Show, then become a part of the fair board, and finally he would step up and take on the role of Logan County Fair Board President, a position he has held for many years now.

In his years at the fair, Bruns has worked to make it a good experience for everyone.

John Fulton, former Logan County Extension Advisor and current Logan County Fair Board member knows the investment that Bruns has made in the fair. “Dean Bruns has become the face of the Logan County Fair. He represents the fair at the association meetings, the Queen Contest, and at other fairs. Before becoming the fair board president, Dean was involved in many other ways at the fair. He was the Milking Shorthorn Superintendent at the fair, back when the show was so large it had its own day in the show arena. Dean also has quite a bit of sweat equity in the fair with countless hours of carpentry, replacing light bulbs, and even transplanting the hackberry trees at the fairgrounds from his farm. It seems like he worked for weeks straight on the old grandstand before each year's fair. And, of course, Dean is always on the go at the fair. He makes sure to welcome, and thank, everyone he meets, and makes sure the queen gets to the right place at the right time!”

Fulton mentioned Bruns looks after the queens. It is something that Dean takes quite seriously. You will see him every year at the pageant, and he will be the first one to congratulate the lady who is crowned. He loves the pageant and from time to time, has served to lighten the mood when a night did not go completely as planned.

One such night came in 2013 when rainy weather forced the crowds to gather inside the north exhibit barn and the queen contestants onto the much smaller Lincoln Stage. It wasn’t the first time that had ever happened, although fact is it doesn’t happen as often as one would think.

On that night, LDN’s Jan Youngquist was at the pageant, and she recorded for history how that Dean made the situation light and funny by relating stories from the past.

“Later in the event, Dean Bruns, president of the Logan County Fair Board, who is fondly considered "Father over the Fair," recalled a few of the unusual years.

Now in his 64th year working the fair, Bruns has seen it all. He observed that while the rain drove everyone into the tight quarters of the exhibit barn, the fair is a farmer's event. Farmers are used to dealing with the weather, and his proclamation, "They like rain!" brought chuckles. So, those running this year's fair weren't complaining this day.

Bruns also recalled the year that a heavy rain began during the pageant. It became necessary to move across the midway, which was not paved then, to finish the event.

"Luckily, there were only five contestants that year," Bruns remembered, as when the contestants crossed the midway, they all lost their shoes in the mud. After they finished, the girls all had to go back into the mud to find their shoes.”

Dean also loves attending the traditional Wednesday night grandstand event at the fair, the 4-H scrambles. In 2016 he talked about that part of the show along with going out and watching the kids show their livestock in the show barns at the north end of the fairground, saying it was an important part of our fair tradition, and one that he loves to see each year.

Logan County Extension Advisor, Terri Miller, recently expressed her appreciation for Bruns and all the fair board members, noting that the Extension is really blessed to have the full support of the board members. “Dean and the county fair have always been great supporters of Extension and 4-H, including allowing us the use of facilities and buildings for events, workshops, our Master Gardeners Plant Sale, the Calf Scramble, and of course the Extension Office. Our participating youth, volunteers, and staff have always received a warm welcome. We are so appreciative of his and the fair board’s efforts and are very grateful for such strong support.”

For Dean, supporting 4-H is cultivating the future, and assuring that if and when he does retire, there will be those who love the fair as much as he does, and who will step up and take on the task of being a wonderful fair ambassador.

Dean’s passion for the fair is strong, and it is valuable to the fair, as was well noted by his Board Vice-President Kevin Kurtz. “It would be hard to find someone with a stronger passion for the Logan County Fair than Dean. He loves fair week, to see the community come together every year to catch up with friends.”

So, has Dean Bruns “slowed down?” Perhaps a bit. And what does that look like? Well, what we can tell you right now is that at 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning he was front and center at the ribbon cutting ceremony smiling and tending to his queen and helping to snip the ribbon on his fair.

We anticipate seeing him on Wednesday out and about and he will be keeping an eye on the dairy show. And perhaps, unbeknownst to anyone, he will spend time with a future fair board member, who is inspired by the ‘Father of the Fair,” to be a part of one of the greatest events of the year in Logan County.

[Nila Smith]

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