County OKs 4-H building deal

Family donates $100K for naming rights
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Contributed Photo The Huntington family includes, from left, front row, Bert Huntington and his wife, Carol Huntington, and, back row, their children, Bart Huntington, Paige Huntington and Shane Huntington.

A centerpiece of the Shawano County Fairgrounds is getting a new look — and a new name.

County officials have agreed to rename the Junior Fair Building in honor of a family that is donating $100,000 for a long-discussed renovation of the facility.

Bert and Carol Huntington, of the town of Richmond, extended the $100,000 offer after seeing that county funding for the building makeover was uncertain for the second year in a row.

With the family’s contribution, the facility sometimes known as the 4-H Building will be renovated next year and renamed the “Huntington Family 4-H Youth Building.” A sign will be erected on the exterior facade after the renovation work is completed.

Bert Huntington said his three children all were active in 4-H clubs when they were growing up, as he was, and he feels strongly that the county fair property should be upgraded for future club members. Huntington said he stepped forward to help when he saw that funding for the project was in doubt.

“I wanted to see it happen — that’s all,” he said. “This was something that I really believed in.”

Huntington is a retired business leader who served many years as president of North Country Homes of Bonduel, a manufactured home dealership that also owns three mobile home parks in the area.

Members of the County Board approved the naming-rights deal Wednesday, although not without some signs of hesitation.

Some supervisors voiced questions about details of the Junior Fair Building renovation plan, while others pointed out that United Cooperative already has its name on the building in exchange for a $2,500 annual contribution to the county fair.

“I don’t think we can just throw it away,” Supervisor John Ainsworth said of the United Cooperative sign.

Other board members, however, pointed out that the United Cooperative deal is only a yearly agreement, while the Huntington family’s donation is substantial enough that the family’s name will appear on the building for 50 years under the naming-rights deal.

Supervisor Robert Krause, chairman of the committee overseeing the county fairgrounds, said he was impressed by the Huntington family’s financial commitment.

“I think it’s very generous,” Krause said. “And I think we should accept it without question.”

Board Chairman Jerry Erdmann agreed, asking of his colleagues: “Do we want this donation or don’t we? To me, it’s a no-brainer.”
The board voted unanimously to accept the donation and approve the building’s new name.
Shawano County owns the county fairgrounds but leases the property to the Shawano Area Agricultural Society, a private group that organizes the county fair.

Leaders of the society last year presented a plan for upgrading the Junior Fair Building with a new roof, new doors, new interior lighting, insulation and other improvements, as well as a red- and green-colored exterior face-lift. The original plan called for $125,000 in county funds and $45,000 in private donations.

County officials last year allocated no funding for the project, saying that the Agricultural Society made its request too late in the county’s budgeting process. This year, county officials ranked the Junior Fair Building near the bottom of a list of capital spending priorities for 2017.

Dale Hodkiewicz, president of the Agricultural Society, said that with the Huntington family’s donation, he anticipates completing the building upgrades next year.

“It means we can get the ball rolling,” Hodkiewicz said.

The society will continue seeking county funding, and the project will be promoted at the 2016 county fair to try stirring up more private donations.

Huntington said he has enjoyed business success over the years in the Shawano area. The $100,000 donation, he said, is a way of giving back to the community.

“I just think that 4-H is such an important thing,” he said. “It’s a good thing for children.”