by Dennis Dalman
For 65 years, for a week each summer, Dolores Supan and family members have volunteered in the agricultural building at the Benton County Fair.
Supan, who has lived in St. Stephen for 23 years, was only 12 years old when a neighbor man asked her mother if Dolores could help out a bit at the ag building at the county fair in Sauk Rapids. The man was Ado Buegler, superintendent of agriculture for the open-class exhibits at the fair. After all those years, Supan herself became superintendent in 1972. At the time she started, back in 1949, Dolores, the daughter of Walter and Bertha Kath, was living on their family farm four miles east of Sauk Rapids.
Even as a girl, Dolores enjoyed the work, so much so she’s done it every year for 65 years and doesn’t plan to stop any time soon, health willing. Her fair work was truly a family affair. Her mother was involved in it in the baking and canning departments, and she did it every year until she was in her 80s. Dolores’ children always leant a helping hand, and now her grandchildren enjoy helping grandma.
What Dolores does is accept contest entries when growers bring them in to be judged. She makes sure there is the right number of vegetables, fruits, herbs or other food items for each plate she provides. For example, in the green-beans category, each contestant must have 12 samples of green beans. For potatoes, there must be 10; four onions, two small pie pumpkins, and so forth. Then, making sure all the information on the entry tag is correct, she affixes the tags to the exhibit plates and places them on the many wooden shelves for the enjoyment of fair-goers and the judges.
The open-class ag competition has nothing to do with 4-H, which is a completely separate contest, Supan noted. Anyone of any age can enter the open-class event.
“When I first started, 65 years ago, the ag exhibits were all under the old grandstand, but that was torn down years ago,” she recalled.
On Aug. 5, Supan arrived at the fair in the afternoon, ready to accept and to prepare the entries. At her side were her helpful grandchildren – Sean Levitz, 16; Johnathan Supan, 15; and Annie Supan, 8. Her other two grandchildren, now fully grown, Tyler Levitz and Mathew Supan helped out in earlier years.
Before them was a veritable parade of colorful produce that growers brought proudly into the ag building: waxy-green kohlrabi, plump red tomatoes, crisp green beans, bright-orange carrots, blood-red beets. There were also grapes, strawberries, apples, potted herbs – a virtual cornucopia of the goodness that pops up from the ground in central Minnesota.
“Last year, there were 369 entries submitted,” Supan noted. “There are junior and senior departments. Junior entrants must be 15 or younger. Our entrants come from all three of the counties – Benton, Stearns, Sherburne and some from Morrison.”
What really excites Supan is she is interacting with the third generation of exhibitors – the children of the children of the children. It’s always a thrill when someone mentions a grandmother or grandfather or parent who brought their entries to the fair so many years ago.
“Green beans are always hot items,” Supan said. “We get a lot of cucumbers too. Something fairly new are potted herbs that people grow in the house all year ‘round – rosemary, basil, oregano and such. My own favorite vegetables are – I’d have to say – green beans. I also like cucumbers, and strawberries are my favorite fruit.”
Weather, of course, affects the bounty of produce brought in. Last year, Supan noted, it was so wet people could hardly get into their gardens. This year, she’s thinking the weather – hot and dry in many places – might also have had an adverse effect on some vegetables.
“This year, it seems it’s late for everything,” she said.
Ribbons are awarded to the winners: purple for champion, blue for first place, red for second, white for third.
Supan, now retired, started her working career at First American Bank in St. Cloud right after graduating from Sauk Rapids High School. She was a stay-at-home mom for about six years but did a lot of volunteering. Later she worked for J.C. Penney at St. Cloud Crossroads and, still later, as a receptionist for Ameriprise Financial, an investment company in St. Cloud.
Her husband, Jerome, worked road construction and is now also retired. They have two children: Cheryl Levitz of rural Sartell, who is a private nurse for angioplastic surgery at the St. Cloud Hospital; and Jeffery Supan, a senior technician for SEH Engineering in St. Cloud. They have five grandchildren.
In all her years at the fair, Supan only missed one day – the time she and her husband had to leave for a scenic trip to Alaska. But, fortunately, her family came to the rescue. Her daughter, Cheryl, filled in for her.
“It’s a nice job because it’s only one week a year, and I really look forward to it,” she said. “I’ve both knees replaced and some back surgery, but I don’t plan to quit working at the fair. It’s a job I’ve always loved.”
People will have a chance to meet Supan who will be in the ag building at the Benton County Fair, which opened Tuesday. The hours are from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
photo by Dennis Dalman
Dolores Supan and three of her grandchildren plate vegetable entries in the Open-Class building at the Benton County Fair. Supan has done that weekly summer job for 65 years. The children (left to right) are Johnathan Supan, Annie Supan and Sean Lovitz. The Benton County Fair in Sauk Rapids opened Tuesday and will close Sunday at 5 p.m.
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.