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Talking with Don Storlie: Running the fair's a big job

This is a busy time of year for Don Storlie and the rest of the Dakota County Agricultural Society.

Three years ago, Don Storlie sold the business he'd built and run for more than 30 years. He's far from retired, though.

These days, Storlie is the guy who is more or less in charge of one of the largest county fairs in Minnesota. Not only is Storlie the president of the Dakota County Agricultural Society - otherwise known as the fair board, since the Ag society oversees the fair -- but this year, he's the manager, too.

His dual role started in November, but it's really just the evolution of a love that started years ago.

"I've been around the fair all of my life," Storlie said. "I started showing in 4H when I was a kid."

Like anyone who enjoys the Dakota County Fair, Storlie is looking forward to next week's opening. Before things got too hectic, though, he sat down to share a few thoughts with us.

How was it that you wound up being both the president and the acting manager?

Well, at the time we started it, we did that - the board wasn't sure they wanted to go out and hire a manager right now. The board wanted to change a few things by putting board members in charge of certain areas, then we would all report to the board. It's a whole new experience for all of us, but we feel that we have things pretty under control right now. There's some areas where we're weak in, but there's some areas we're pretty darn good at.

So what exactly does that mean you do out here these days?

What do I do? I do everything. I help out on the grounds, and help run some of the machinery. When they need an extra hand I'll go out there and help them. It could be anywhere from doing mechanic work to loading stuff that we have to get rid of, or taking entries. Anything. I'm not fussy. I'd rather be dirty and outside than be in the office writing papers.

You're kind of following in the footsteps of Jerry Stelzel, aren't you? He was president and general manager for a long time.

Yes, for a long time. I don't think you'll see me here for that long. I knew Jerry quite well. We were both in an advertising movie one time for IH Case.... He was great guy. He did a lot for these fairgrounds. A lot of people have, like Henry Fox. Henry Fox has done a tremendous amount for these fairgrounds. And now, I'm in his position and Henry's still very important around here, because he knows everybody. He just takes his golf cart and goes to the hog barns or whatever he wants to do. But he's a great person.

For all the time you were on the fair board, did you really ever think you understood what the manager's job included?

Well, I had a pretty good idea because I was in business for 30 years, and we had 30 employees. But there's a lot of inner workings that I'm not familiar with. That has to do with working with the county government, but I'm fortunate enough to know a lot of people who know how to deal with that, and I just go to them and they help out.

So is there anything that kind of surprised you about it?

No, I don't think there is. It's a lot of work. A lot of work. That's why you need the support of the board to handle certain areas that you have -- because you can't possibly try to do all that yourself.

Why did you get on the fair board in the first place?

A friend of mine said I should get on the fair board, and I'd kind of retired -- they call it semi-retired, but don't believe that -- and I should go on, so I just ran and I got on.

Got a few more years out here for you?

Depends on how I feel. I'm sure I'll be involved around the fair. There's a lot of really nice people out here. In Dakota City, they have a board over there. There's some really nice people who work really hard take care of Dakota City. We do have times when it's frustrating because of the economy, and what it takes to make the money to run it, but they're good people.

Okay, this is the biggie: What is your favorite fair food?

Pork chops on a stick. I'm very kind to food. Very kind. Too kind.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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