Friends of Illinois County Fairs
The distinguished Friends of Illinois County Fairs award went to four worthy individuals at the 2022 IAAF convention. Award winners were acknowledged for their service to agriculture, county fairs and youth.
Fellow fair board members say there is no one more enthusiastic about the Boone County Fair than Lyle Lee. “His enthusiasm is contagious, and he inspires others to become more involved, wrote his nominator.
Lee has served as a Boone County Fair Board member for 29 years. He has served 18 years as a director and for the past 11 years as president of the Boone County Fair. Lyle began his work with the fair board as the Sponsorship Chairman, a position he continues to hold. He is responsible for securing countless volunteers as well as over $750,000 in sponsorship funds over the years. While president, attendance at the Boone County Fair grew consistently with a record attendance in 2019. Throughout the difficulties of Covid-19, Lyle kept the focus on moving forward.
During the fair, Lyle spends his time on the grounds, checking to see what needs to be done. He’s known for his ability to pitch in and do whatever it takes to keep things running smoothly.
The Boone County Fair is owned and operated by the Granges of Boone County. Lyle has held numerous positions, both locally and at the sate level, within the Grange organization. He is a veteran and has served his country with honor.
George Fewkes of Albion’s love for fairs started in 1945 at the age of 10. He began showing cattle, sheep, a heritage passed on to his daughters, grandchildren and great grandchildren. His love for fairs allowed him to judge, work and enjoy fairs across many states, from small county fairs to the larger state fairs.
The Edwards County fair in Albion has always been a huge part of his life. He has served on the board over the years as treasurer, sheep superintendent and parade chairperson. His greatest pride is in helping kids at the 4-H barns, seeing and exhibiting in the Floral Hall and visiting with friends and neighbors. George has served the IAAF as Southern Zone director and President in 2013 and 2014. During that time, George and his wife, Nieta, traveled to fairs all over the state. George has also judged many county and state livestock shows and served as superintendent of the sheep and swine at the DuQuoin State Fair for many years.
In 2020, the Edwards County fair was canceled. It would have been 75 years of attending the fair every summer. When the fair opened in 2021, George was right back in the crowd bidding on desserts at the Senior Citizens auction or saying a prayer before the livestock shows.
His grandson, Nathan Gentz, accepted the award on George’s behalf at the state convention.
“French Fries…. Come and get your French Fries.” That’s the voice of Jim Culler, owner and operator of Cullers French Fries, which has been in business for 76 years. He took over the business for his uncle, Forrest Cullers, after Forrest died. Jim had worked the French fries stand since he was a teen and is a friend of Illinois County Fairs.
Founding owner Forrest Cullers loved the queens at the fairs and gave each queen a bracelet and free fries, a tradition that Jim continued. Jim and his wife, Darcie, purchased the business, supporting county fair queens, supporting 4-H by purchasing the Bake-Off cake at the Logan County Fair, giving memorial baskets and horse racing blankets in memory of Forrest for grand prizes at Logan and Champaign County fairs.
The Cullers have 3 French fries stands traveling in Illinois, Indiana, Carolinas, Ohio and Georgia. The prepare 23 tons of fresh fries every year for county fairgoers. Wash, peel, slice, soak, dry, fry. It takes 8 minutes to process a potato. No ketchup allowed; only salt and apple cider vinegar.
Marla Calico, IAFE President & CEO, is the epitome of someone who lives and breathes fairs. Called the “Fair Chick,” she has traveled and documented fairs all over the country, as well as all the international countries that belong to the IAFE. She brings members along on her travels via Facebook Live feeds, documenting visits of interesting exhibits and conversations to county, state, national and international fairs. Marla also hosts the IAFE Podcast, “Marla by the numbers,” featuring the latest fair trends.
Marla holds a bachelor's degree in agribusiness from Missouri State University and was general manager of the Ozark Empire Fair prior to joining the IAFE professional staff as director of education and chief operating officers. She was named president and CEO of IAFE in 2016. She has also served the Springfield, Mo community as a volunteer and/or board member of numerous civic organizations. She has been recognized as an Outstanding Yo
ung Alumni from Missouri State University and one of the Springfield Business Journal’s “Most Influential Women.”
Her nominator wrote, “Marla is a tireless leader, an advocate for agriculture around the world and a cheerleader for fairs.”