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Fair brings home industry’s highest award

For The Madera Tribune

Tom Mitchell, Madera Fair CEO, center, and the Madera Fair staff accept the Merrill Award at the 99th annual Western Fairs Association’s convention in Reno, Nevada.


For the first time in Madera District Fair’s history, it was awarded the prestigious Merrill Award while attending the 99th annual Western Fairs Association’s convention in Reno, Nevada last month.

The Merrill Award, named in honor of Western Fairs Association Founder Louis Merrill, is given for those entries that clearly demonstrate innovation, vision, and excellence.

“This is a yearly convention and there were competitions we entered,” said Madera Fair CEO Tom Mitchell. “We always do very well with those because we have a great staff here. This one here was a big one. It was the first time Madera Fair has won the award. It means a lot.”

Madera Fair earned the nomination for Fair Camp TV, which evolved from Virtual Fair Camp stemming from the original Fair Camp collaboration with City of Madera Parks and Recreation in 2018.

“The program that we got the award for, Fair Camp TV, is really part of our fair camp program, which we developed with the city in 2018,” Mitchell said. “We started that and they had a need for a new location for their summer camp programs. We really wanted to do something that was more fair-centric. It was a perfect partnership for us. Then, COVID hit. The first year, we did it over Zoom, like everyone did. That was good. We got to the second year and everyone is burned out over Zoom. We have some creative people here and they suggested to do a TV-like thing. That way, people who aren’t watching it live don’t miss out. It was a fully produced thing and it turned out great. It was something unique for the fair industry. This was a program that will launch into something more into ag education outside of the fair.”

Madera Fair was in superior company as one of five finalists, which included the Big Fresno Fair, LA County Fairplex, New Mexico State Fair and San Mateo County Fair. All Merrill nominees presented their projects at a leadership luncheon to industry peers, followed by the evening’s Industry awards dinner, where The Merrill Award winning announcement came as a delightful surprise to Madera Fair staff in attendance.

“I was incredibly surprised because we were going against some big fairs,” Mitchell said. “We were the smallest one and didn’t think we had a chance. We were honored to be nominated and that was good enough. When they said our name, we were all quite shocked. We were hopeful. We all know how hard we worked and always try to do all we could for Madera. We weren’t expecting it at all.”

In addition to the industry’s highest award, Madera Fair was awarded four first place awards in the Achievement Awards Program serving to recognize excellence and share successful ideas and programs amongst members while also providing inspiration to the industry.

The winning divisions included: Overall Marketing Campaign for the 2021 fair, Drive-Through Food Events and Drive-In Entertainment with December 2020’s Hometown Christmas Drive Thru, Agricultural Programming with Fair Camp TVs live YouTube stream and New Fairtime Event, Exhibit or Program with the daily button distribution at the 2021 fair.

The WFA Achievement Awards are judged by recognized experts and/or industry professionals in the individual divisions.

Madera District Fair competed with fairs of like size such as Marin County Fair, San Bernardino Fair, Washington County Fair, San Mateo County Fair and more.

“It’s really more of an award that brings recognition to the Madera Fair for all the neat things we are doing,” Mitchell said. “For California Fairs, this is the top award any fair can get for creative programs. Generally, it goes to bigger fairs. The Fresno Fair received one this year, too. It’s really a big deal in the fair industry. It doesn’t mean much for the community. What means more to the community is what we do for the community. In the fair industry, this shows we are a leader in the industry.”

The 2022 Fair is in the development phase with big expectations for another great year with the Madera Fair, opening on Sept. 8 for the annual four-day run.

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Additional reporting by Tyler A. Takeda.


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