Joe Rankin

Joe Rankin stands next to a statue at the Wyoming State Fairgrounds, which portrays a real-life moment he vividly remembers of a little girl sitting on a man’s shoulders after winning a rosette.

The Wyoming State Fair has been known to bring visitors, exhibitors, and rodeo event competitors to Douglas from around the country and world each year, showcasing top-notch talent while also signifying the near end of summer. However, this notorious affair would not be as well-recognized as it has been in recent years without the efforts of the Wyoming State Fair Board, a board that came about in the statutory rewrite of 2018.

“They used to have an advisory board here that had no operations over the fair,” Wyoming State Fair Event Complex General Manager Courtny Conkle said. “And legislatively, they felt it was in the best interest of the organization to create a board that manages the operations of the state fair.”

Joe Rankin, the first appointee to the Wyoming State Fair Board, which consists of 15 members, has decided to step-down from his position representing Converse County and the City of Douglas as his 4-year term is set to expire on Sept. 1.

According to Rankin, he found himself affiliated with the state fair when he was just a couple months old given his family’s involvement in 4-H, making his transition into a seat on the state fair’s long-established advisory board in 2007 an easy one. He served on the previously known Wyoming State Fair Advisory Board for 2.5 terms before the statutory rewrite went into effect.

“I became a part of the fair posse when it was first organized,” said Rankin. “When the new legislation came out to create an actual new state fair board, not knowing who was going to be on that board, I applied and this will be the end of my term.”

Both the City of Douglas and Converse County officials deem Rankin’s departure from the Wyoming State Fair Board a big loss, considering the guidance he has provided, however, his position has opened up, allowing both departments the opportunity meet with applicants in hopes of appointing the next board member by Sept.

“Joe is ready to step back and the state law says that Douglas and the county jointly appoint this position,” Converse County Commission Chairman Jim Willox said. “The governing body Joe is on includes people from regions around the state, then it includes a representative from each Department of Tourism and Department of Ag, the Business Council, etc. There’s all these different representatives that are both guiding the state fair and then the year-round use of it. So that’s the goal of that board.”

Willox said that when the state legislature decided to change the state law, there was more emphasis put on the year-round use of the fairgrounds.

“With Joe stepping back, we are now opening that up and accepting applications from people that are interested in serving on that board and bettering the state fair, and bettering the use of that facility to promote Douglas of Converse County,” he detailed.

According to Willox, the county has met with city officials and decided to conduct interviews jointly with hopes that the new appointee will be in place for the upcoming meetings, taking place Sept. 13 and 14, which will also likely be Rankin’s last meetings.

“We will miss so much about Joe. He was the only continuity on the fair board. The only person that has served on both that and the advisory board when that was in existence,” said Conkle. “And without Joe’s continuity I think that it would have made the learning curve a heck of a lot deeper for all of us.”

According to Willox, one of the first things the new advisory board did was hire Conkle as the Wyoming State Fair Event Complex Manager, and she has certainly depended on Rankin for guidance.

“He’s been able to help guide the ship over the past four years of transition and he has just been instrumental in helping us to make sure that while we move into a new era, we’re still holding true to our traditions and making sure to honor our heritage at the state fair,” Conkle noted.

Nonetheless, Rankin has found solid reliability in Conkle, which the next board appointee can expect. He recalled his memories of the 2020 Wyoming State Fair following the beginning on the COVID pandemic.

“During COVID, we were one of three state fairs in the country. She (Conkle) jumped through so many hoops to just make sure that the sate fair went on,” Rankin said. “Like the rodeo, there were a lot of world champions who came because there was nowhere else to go, so they showed up to Douglas.”

Rankin detailed that some of his job responsibilities aside from visiting with fairgoers also includes aiding volunteers with the upkeep of the fairgrounds, ensuring successful execution of Wyoming State Fair and the year-round operations of the facilities.

“I know there are a lot of county fairs in Wyoming and especially across the United States that are bigger, which is okay, we are the smallest populated state, but the nice thing about our state fair is its homey. Even in this day and age, its safe,” said Rankin. “I don’t think a lot of people realize that this is the state championship for most kids that show. Just like football, basketball, volleyball, track, and so on. They worked all year whether it be livestock projects or static exhibits.”

Rankin also stressed that, aside from his replacement, the fair is in dire need of both sponsors and volunteers between now and throughout the fair week.

“It might be weed eating, it might be painting, it might be just cleaning up the grounds and it may be just taking tickets at the grandstand,” he said.

According to Rankin, it is necessary to look at this event as a business project to ensure costs for participants remain affordable, which is something the next appointee will have to be mindful of.

“If we charge these kids what it really costs, they wouldn’t be able to afford to come. We can’t burden them with any more expense,” Rankin said.

Rankin cares deeply for the youth attendees of Wyoming State Fair, which can be expected considering his childhood years involved in 4-H attending shows at the same fairgrounds.

“The friendships you make, the experiences you have, those just keep continuing,” he said regarding the transition from being a youth participant to being a member of the Wyoming State Fair Board.

Rankin said that what separates his viewpoints of the fair from others is that it “runs in his DNA”.

“My wife and I see it different. It’s kind of in my DNA and it’s not in hers. ‘Well it’s the same as last year,’ she says. ‘Well yeah, it is! What’s wrong with that?’” Rankin recounted.

Although Rankin will certainly be missed by staff, volunteers, exhibitors and fairgoers following the positive impact he left on their hearts, Converse County and the City of Douglas are excited for what is to come.

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Application deadline is Aug. 19 at 5 p.m.

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