Volunteers Play Important Role in Fair Success but More Needed


One million visitors and counting, and now the Nebraska State Fair gears up for year five in Grand Island. Fairgoers are sure to see plenty of new things this year. But while they invest millions in new facilities, they could use a little more free help.

Volunteers are there to make sure visitors see a friendly face as soon as they enter the gate.

That's why Dale and Gay Crandell volunteer several times during the event.

Gay said, "I really enjoy meeting all the people. It's so much fun. Helping them with things, and finding their way around, just visiting with strangers that become friends."

Another volunteer, Justine Knodel said, "It's great for community, great to help out, help out, meet so many people from Nebraska."

A volunteer program is something the fair never had in Lincoln, but fair leaders appreciate what they've meant in Grand Island.

Executive Director Joseph McDermott said, "They make the difference in that when people walk on the fairgrounds, they're made to feel welcome. That starts everybody's day off well."

Retirees like the Crandells fill many roles, believing it's important for those in central Nebraska to support the fair.

"They should volunteer at least a few days, at least a few," Dale said.

"His sister is from Gering and is hoping to come this year as well," Gay added.

But they're behind pace, and have been 100 or more people short of where they'd like to be.

"We've experienced a bit of a lag this year," volunteer coordinator Dana Miller said. "In the past few weeks, we've seen an increase, but about 70 behind so we'd like to continue getting some volunteers in."

With the fair now in its fifth year, volunteer interest may be slowing, even as the fair seems to set new attendance records every year.

Miller said, "There's always exciting when it's new and the first year. But it's just as important this year, new Nebraska Building and other things coming up."

So they challenge businesses to do what Centris Federal Credit Union has done, and serve together.

Justine Knodel said, "A group of us from work decided that would be a good way to volunteer for the community and help out."

Justine has greeted tour buses and worked in an information kiosk. This year, she'll be in the gift shop. No matter the job, she says it makes a difference.

"When you get here there's so much to do and it can be overwhelming and it's great to have somebody to ask, look for yellow shirt," she said.

The fair has been embraced in Grand Island, and business people say they want to support it.

"It is the the big event, brings a lot of people to town, get to see what GI has to offer," Knodel said.

Volunteers have perks, like free passes and the yellow shirts. But the Crandells say the real reward is helping others.

Gay said, "I enjoy meeting all the people, it's so much fun."

In the coming weeks, NTV will have access to the new building and we will see how this year's concert lineup is a change of pace, and how they book the acts.

Those who are interested in volunteering can sign up at