MONTCALM TOWNSHIP — Mike McGonigal took over Montcalm County 4-H Fair Board presidential duties last November, replacing six-year president Pat Schuster, who is now chairman of finance and fundraising.
“I would never have stepped aside if he hadn’t taken over,” Schuster said. “I think very strongly he’s a perfect fit.”
This is not McGonigal’s first rodeo. As a 4-H club leader, parent and board member, McGonigal, a pharmaceutical salesman, has been getting ready for fair for many years. This year, as board president, fair preparation has new meaning for him.
Getting ready for the fair
The Montcalm County 4-HFair will take place June 24 to 30 — one week earlier than usual — at the new fairgrounds located at the corner of M-91 and Peck Road in Montcalm Township.
The 15-member volunteer fair board is putting in many hours to make sure the fairgrounds are ready.
“We’re working very hard to be sure buildings and grounds are prepared,” McGonigal said. “And getting grass on the ground to keep the dust down, which was a problem last year.”
The board’s main priority is to get the exhibit building ready to house still exhibits, such as artwork, food, plants and woodworking projects.
The exhibit building — named the Ash Foundation Building after philanthropists Stanley and Blanche Ash – was partially funded by a $250,000 endowment from the Ash Foundation.
“We have a way to go on finishing the interior,” McGonigal said. “The initial donation put up the shell and concrete, and hopefully we’ll have bathrooms soon. 4-H families, leaders and groups have really stepped up to help.”
Getting operational campground sites before fair is another priority. Several electricians are donating their time to get electrical and water to at least 50 campsites before fair, according to McGonigal.
“With the new fairgrounds, we have to look at things differently,” Schuster said. “Mike’s younger and has kids in fair. I’m more of a grassroots kind of guy, and Mike uses technology to get things done.”
Benefitting local youth and economy
Nearly 500 youths participate in the Montcalm County 4-H Fair each year and 15,000 to 20,000 people visit.
Horses, cows and livestock are a big part of 4-H, but McGonigal said it also has a broad spectrum of other offerings.
“If your child has an interest in writing, woodworking, public speaking, you name it, 4-H is able to offer your child something,” he explained. “For children who live in the city, it builds awareness of how animals are raised and taken care of, as well as the role agriculture plays in the community.”
McGonigal s known 4-Hers who have pursued careers in animal science or veterinarian medicine. He believes participation not only builds an important foundation for youth, but helps contribute to the livelihood of the local economy. He boasts of the quality of the fairgrounds facilities and different types of venues he hopes will bring in great revenue.
“Supporting the economy is of huge value,” he said. “We realize what an asset this can be to the local community.”
Making it even better
“To make the best better,” is the 4-H motto, as well as McGonigal’s.
“People are just now beginning to realize the potential of what we can offer that we weren’t able to do at the old fairgrounds.” McGonigal said.
He wants to keep steering in the right direction for future growth by marketing year-round fairgrounds activities – weddings, banquets, animal shows, and group meetings, among others.
“We’re much focused on keeping everything family friendly and a pulpit for the community.”
Many activities already are scheduled, including a notable Michigan Quarter Horse Association Show, the District 5 Michigan Interscholastic Horsemanship Association (MIHA) competition and a tractor pull and camping during the Danish Festival.
“How quickly we progress will depend on the future level of contributions,” McGonigal said. “The esthetic details – plants, brick driveways and gardens – will come last. The main priorities are to finish the exhibit building and get power and water to campsites. Building one more animal barn and a third horse barn is yet to come.”
Schuster said McGonigal is headed in the right direction as fair manager.
“I’m still on the board as chairman of finance and fundraising, so I’m not going anywhere,” Schuster said. “I’ll help him as much as I can. The new fairgrounds needs to be utilized 100 percent for community.”