'Insane devotion': Gene Meier steps down from fair board

By: 
Charlie Denison
Reporter

 
Gene Meier stands by the horse statue in front of the entrance to the Fergus County Fairgrounds Thursday with the grandstands visible behind him. Meier stepped down from the fair board this month after serving 13 years.
Photo by Charlie Denison

 

Gene Meier can still taste the hamburger he had at his first Central Montana Fair in the early sixties.

“It was wrapped up in a white napkin,” said Meier, who just this month turned in his resignation to the Fair Board after 13 years of dedicated volunteer service. “I was four or five years old. It just stuck with me. The whole experience did, really. We rode the circle ponies on that trip, too, which probably started my love for horses, too: I loved the sounds, the smell and the sights.”

This memory never left Meier, and – although much has changed since the sixties – the fair has remained a home for Gene: the place he met his wife, the place he feels most alive as part of the community.

“The more I was out there, the more I loved it,” Meier said.

Meier said he got out to the fair as much as he could in those early years. By the eighties, Meier was volunteering, riding horseback as a member of the Fergus County Sheriff’s posse.

For the past 35 years, he hasn’t stopped volunteering, dedicating much of his time to the fairgrounds, especially during his13 years on the fair board from 1990 to 1996 and again from 2007 to 2016.

“While being on the board I’ve probably averaged an hour a day – 365 days a year – work at the fairgrounds; finding this, taking that, taking my tractor down and working the arena,” Meier said. “There was always something.”

Other board trustees noticed this effort.

“He has always given his all to the fairgrounds,” Fair Board trustee Brett Maxwell said. “I’m not sure, but I think he lives down there (laughs) because he is usually fixing or taking care of something at fairgrounds somewhere.”

Considering Meier also runs Lewistown Propane and Fertilizer, Maxwell and fellow trustee Bertie Brown say they don’t know how he has “found the time and energy” to work so hard on making the fair successful. He works tirelessly, Brown said, and makes things happen.

“This year, for example, [Meier] spent many hours working with three different county fairs to get them to hire Dreamland carnival,” Brown said. “This gave Dreamland a route so the Central Montana Fair would have a carnival.”

 

Meier’s pride and joy

As entertainment committee chair, booking talent for the Friday Night shows and making sure everything went smoothly was one of Meier’s biggest roles on the board. Through the years, he worked with Rocky Mountain Talent Association to bring such acts as Kansas, Three Dog Night, Faith Hill, Chris LeDoux, Brooks and Dunn, Tracy Lawrence, John Anderson, Tanya Tucker, Travis Tritt and others.

There have been years that sold well and years when shows that didn’t make as much as hoped, but all in all, the night shows were always something special.

“We may not have always made money on the shows, but we always brought people to the fair,” Meier said, “and you have to bring people to the fair. That’s one of the biggest parts of having a successful fair.”

Money and help are the other big factors, Meier said, and Meier has contributed to those aspects, as well.

“Whenever there was a shortfall on money, there was always an anonymous donor who stepped forward,” Fair Board Chair Paul Huff said. “It was Gene.”

Pushing to make improvements on the fairgrounds, the grandstands, grounds upkeep, carnivals and more, Meier has had his hands in most of the big changes and improvements to the fairgrounds in the last decade and a half. One of the biggest changes of late, one Meier said he is particularly proud of, is the new sewer system and new campground installed in 2015.

“That was badly needed,” Meier said, “but so were many of the other changes. We’ve done a lot in the last 13 years, and particularly in the last few years. I’m proud to be a part.”

 

Labor of love

If you ask Gene Meier why he has put so much into the fairgrounds, he says it’s a “labor of love” and “insane devotion.”

“I’ve always loved the fair and I’ve loved having a part of it,” Meier said. “It’s bittersweet to leave.”

But, as is the case with term limits, Meier’s time is up. It’s time now to let someone else take his place.

Maxwell said that’s easy for Meier to say and harder for someone to attain.

“Gene has a wealth of knowledge about the fairgrounds which simply can’t be replaced,” Maxwell said. “He lived and breathed the fairgrounds.”

Huff agreed with Maxwell, saying it’s hard to imagine the fair board without Meier.

“The guy is incredible,” Huff said. “He has done so much and spent so much of his own money and time. He’s been so passionate about the fairgrounds.”

Huff said Meier has been the “go-to-guy” for the past number of years.

“Every time something came up, he’d be able to take care of it,” he said. “He is a driven man, and he’s always stepped up when something’s needed to be done.”

Such action and drive has left an impression on fellow trustees, Maxwell said.

“I learned a lot from [Meier] and consider him a great mentor,” he said. “It was a great honor and pleasure to have worked with him over the years. I hope he looks back on his time with pride because he has really accomplished a lot.”

Fairgrounds Manager Faith Robertson shared similar sentiments.

“I appreciate all he’s done,” Fergus County Fairgrounds Director Faith Robertson said. “[Meier] made a tremendous contribution to the fair and fairgrounds and has been a great resource for us, and he’s always been available to help us.”

 

Big shoes to fill

Appreciative of the comments, Meier said he does look back with pride, and he also looks back with gratitude.

“I can’t say enough about the crew out at the fairgrounds, the volunteers and the community,” Meier said. “It takes a lot of people to make this work, and when it does, there is no feeling like Saturday night when everything is done and we can look back on a successful year. It’s an amazing feeling seeing the kids happy on the midway and looking out at the grandstands knowing part of this was my doing.”

Meier said there are so many who have stepped up to help – be it sponsors or volunteers or others – and he can’t say enough about what it means to have been a part of the team.

“The community is amazing, how it steps forward and makes something happen,” he said. “That’s why we had a fair of this quality, and that’s especially the case with sponsorships.”

Meier has taken his responsibilities of his trustees very seriously, and he’s stepped up on all occasions, Brown said, and he will be missed.

“Whoever replaces Gene on the fair board will have some mighty big shoes to fill,” she said.

 

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