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Kandiyohi County Fair honors veterans on opening day, judging begins

Sloan Stanke cuddles ones of her rabbits that was shown at the Open Rabbit Judging Wednesday evening at the Kandiyohi County Fair in Willmar. Erica Dischino / Tribune1 / 6
Bailey Hovland / Tribune Ron Mackendanz, a Vietnam war veteran, is shown on stage Wednesday when he served as special guest speaker for Veterans Day at the Kandiyohi County Fair in Willmar.2 / 6
Bailey Hovland / Tribune Karen Welander, from left, a veteran from the Army, and Chip Manson, a veteran of the Air Force, enjoy the Veterans Day program and a free meal Wednesday at the 2018 Kandiyohi County Fair. 3 / 6
Erica Dischino / Tribune Rebecca Bergh, 12, holds a rabbit for Mallory Thorsrud, 10, and Grace Strom, 10, to pet during the Open Rabbit Judging Wednesday evening at the Kandiyohi County Fair in Willmar.4 / 6
Bailey Hovland / Tribune The Prairie Winds Summer Band plays to a crowd of veterans and others Wednesday at the County Fair. Their performance included many patriotic classics, recognizing each branch of the military with their song lineup. Wednesday's fair theme was Veterans Day.5 / 6
Bailey Hovland / Tribune Hospice workers from Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar serve a free meal Wednesday to honor Veterans Day at the Kandiyohi County Fair.6 / 6

WILLMAR — With a high of 87 degrees and a warm breeze coming off Foot Lake, the Kandiyohi County Fair opened its gates to the public at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

The first events of the day began earlier, starting with 4-H dog agility judging, followed by 4-H horse games judging, an FFA tractor driving competition, 4-H poultry judging, and 4-H livestock weigh-ins.

Up the gravel road from the fair's gates, the Prairie Winds Summer Band welcomed visitors to the County Fair, playing patriotic tunes from the Heritage Square Stage.

Their musical selections fit with the fair's opening day theme honoring veterans. The County Fair honors several groups during its official four-day run at the fairgrounds in Willmar. Still to come are Senior Day on Thursday — with a program at 2 p.m. at the Heritage Square Stage — and Kids Day on Saturday, the final day of the fair.

Just after 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Ron Mackendanz took to the stage to honor the day's theme — recognizing veterans for their service to the United States and its citizens.

Mackendanz, a Vietnam combat veteran from Kandiyohi, was drafted into the U.S. Army. He was wounded twice during the time he spent in Vietnam. After working on the railroad, he decided to dedicate his life to helping fellow veterans in their daily lives back in the United States, he said.

"Back in 2002 I was working on the railroad. I don't know if many of you remember the movie 'We Were Soldiers,' but it was a movie that showed really what Vietnam was. ... Shortly after, I started dealing with my demons."

Mackendanz told the crowd that he sought treatment from the Veterans Affairs health care system in St. Cloud for post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues.

"I made a promise to God that I would do everything I could to help every veteran that I know and every veteran I run into," he said.

His portion of the veterans program Wednesday also stressed how important it is to pay attention to the mental health of veterans.

"Sadly, many of these young men and women have been dealing with the demons of war that just keep haunting them. ... Listen to them. Listen to their stories. PTSD is real. Many veterans from all wars have suffered in silence for years," he said.

Gwen Krebsbach, a member of the Kandiyohi County Fair board of directors, emphasized how important it was to appreciate veterans on the first day of the county fair.

"We like to open the fair with a day for the veterans ... to all our military members here today, thank you for your service," she said.

The program was followed by a free veterans lunch at noon, served by hospice workers from Rice Memorial Hospital. Veterans who served from 1955 to 1975 were honored after the program with pins and certificates.

The rest of the day at the fair featured two more entertainers on the Heritage Square Stage, as well as open sheep judging, open rabbit judging and 4-H horse judging.

The Wednesday night grandstand boasted a new fair feature: Great Frontier Bull Riding, "a dirt kickin', wicked good time," according to the company's website.

The festivities will continue Thursday morning, starting with FFA and 4-H open beef judging at 8 a.m. The museum-exhibit log cabin, Bengal Tiger Encounter shows, KnockerBall, climbing wall, blacksmithing and corn shucking machine demonstrations, and gas engine display are daily features, available every day of the Kandiyohi County Fair.

To find out more about upcoming fair events, go to kandifair.com.

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