Michigan State Fair stands strong with tradition

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published August 21, 2017

 Midway rides such as the Ferris wheel are big hits at the Michigan State Fair.

Midway rides such as the Ferris wheel are big hits at the Michigan State Fair.

Photo provided by the Michigan State Fair

NOVI — Holly farmer Jackie Scramlin, 65, the Michigan State Fair livestock and agriculture director, doesn’t easily give up on her passion.

Maybe it’s her lifelong agricultural background — having grown up on a dairy farm near Grand Rapids — or her love of family that bring everything together at the Michigan State Fair, which she has been a part of for 49 years. But she didn’t lose hope on her fair, even after it shuttered eight years ago. 

“We’re not letting our state fair die. We are having a state fair,” Scramlin, who operates a sheep and hay farm, said of the revamped fair. “The Michigan State Fair, the original state fair, was a huge family tradition.” 

Attendees of the 2017 Michigan State Fair — to be held Aug. 31-Sept. 4 at Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi — might notice the familiar faces of Scramlin and her husband of 45 years, L.C., among a slew of others who worked at the fair when it was held at the former state fairgrounds in Detroit, before they were closed down eight years ago. 

And that is on purpose, fair Executive Director Steve Masters said.

“What we’re trying to do with this whole community that we brought together is really re-establish the Michigan State Fair and interpret it in the modern era,” he said. “Have an opportunity to do a redo and reinterpretation of what the modern state fair looks like in today’s landscape.”

The Michigan State Fair isn’t your great-grandmother’s fair. Last year, staff livestreamed the making of a cow sculpted of butter, and they tweeted their hearts out — but many traditions remain, Masters said. This includes features that “resonate with crowds and speak back to the traditions and the history of the Michigan State Fair while … embracing technology, embracing social media.”

Other new features include a State Fair Superstar contest, a talent contest that includes a cash prize and a recording deal.

“There is a whole community that is coming together around (the state fair),” Masters said. “Just a wonderful group of people that are working hard to establish the Michigan State Fair in 2017.”

The Michigan State Fair debuted in Detroit in 1849, according to www.michiganstatefairllc.com. 

It was one of the first statewide fair events to take place in the United States. It was moved to the Michigan State Fairgrounds on Woodward Avenue in 1905 and stayed there until 2009, when it was shuttered due to budget issues.

The sixth annual revamped fair, presented by Ram Trucks, will feature midway rides, live music shows, livestock shows, exhibits, parades and a Detroit Shrine Circus performance, according to a press release.

The fair will run 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Aug. 31 and Sept. 1-3, and 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sept. 4 at the roughly 320,000-square-foot Suburban Collection Showplace, 46100 Grand River Ave.

Scramlin said she began exhibiting at the Michigan State Fair in 1970; her husband, also a livestock and agriculture director, started in 1965.

“He showed a dairy cow,” she said, adding that exhibiting animals is the Scramlin way. “My son started showing … almost before he turned 3 at the old Michigan State Fair in 1976.”

The Scramlins, who run the livestock exhibit, have turned their own exhibiting portion over to their son.

Scramlin said that livestock exhibitors hail from throughout the Midwest.

“We have a lot of exhibitors that show at a lot of state fairs, and the comments that (are) made is exhibitors are made to feel welcome. They are valued,” she said, calling the fair a “tremendous” salute to agriculture. 

Masters agreed: “Agriculture is very important to what we do.”

The 2016 Michigan State Fair had more than 151,000 guests in attendance.

Craig Stigleman, a Detroit Shrine Circus representative and Michigan State Fair Executive Leadership Committee member, said he expects 200,000 people this year.

Stigleman said that when the fair was revamped in 2012, fair officials thought there would be 15,000 people.

“(We) ended up with 50,000,” he said. “We’re trying to ... maintain the old traditions of the state fair. We have a lot of the ties to the old state fair that we like to try and maintain.”

Stigleman said he understands that the growing state fair takes a little getting used to.

Last year, he asked a woman how she enjoyed the fair, and she said that it wasn’t like the original one.

“I said to her, ‘Yeah, you’re probably right. You’ve been in an air-conditioned animal barn all day long. Your feet aren’t covered in dust and dirt. … Your car is probably right where you left it.’ She kind of smiled and said, ‘Yeah, it is kind of nice,’” Stigleman said. “It is a nice, neat, clean facility. … The animals are up close and personal. … You’re standing next to cows. … It’s pretty thrilling.”

Tickets to the fair cost $6-$30.

For more information on tickets, pricing and the schedule, go to www.MichiganStateFairLLC.com.