Bill McKinzie, middle is pictured with his two sons, Rick and Steve and his daughter Sherri Martin. Many of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren were present to witness the unveiling of the McKinzie Family Arena.

by Doug Toburen

More than 30 years ago, Bill and Shirley McKinzie began making the annual trek from Parsons to Oswego, Kan., hauling their three kids and their projects to the Labette County Fair.

Each year the family got more and more active and it wasn’t long before Bill and Shirley were just as involved as their children.

“The fair is just something that was important to us,” McKinzie says. “It’s good for the kids and that’s what it’s supposed to be all about.”

Bill has kept that attitude right up to this very day. In more than 25 years on the fair board, he’s seen a lot of youthful smiles, including those on the faces of his own kids and grandchildren.

“It won’t be long and I’ll have great-grandchildren participating in the fair,” he says.

Bill and Shirley passed their county fair enthusiasm on to their children who followed in their parents’ footsteps to help keep the county fair tradition alive and well.

This year, however, was a tough one for Bill and his three children, Rick, Steve and Sherri Martin. It was the first year they were at the fair without their loving wife, mother and grandmother, Shirley, who passed away in December.

“She was just as involved as I was in everything when it came to the fair,” McKinzie says. “She had the hard job — she kept me straight and she was the boss.”

However, showing the family dedication learned from Bill and Shirley, their daughter Sherri stepped up to help her dad work on the fair booster fund.

“This year Sherri took a hold and took (Shirley’s) place,” McKinzie explains.

According to Sherri, the fair is like a vacation to her.

“Going to the fair is how we were raised and it is all we know,” she explains.

After all the years on the fair board and all the events at the fair, one thing continues to be very near and dear to McKinzie’s heart—the livestock shows and, more importantly, the sale.

“We have a booster fund we developed in 1978 for the kids at our fair and I still work on raising money for it,” he explains.

The booster fund, according to McKinzie, was set up to support all of the kids who have worked so hard on their livestock projects.

“This gives everyone a fair shot at sale time,” he says. “If they don’t have a buyer I either buy their animal out of that fund or I bid it up to the average of the other animals sold.”

Although the booster fund is just one part of Bill’s fair activities, he feels it is an important one that compliments the efforts of the Labette County Fair Board and the work they do to put on a great county fair.

“This is a really good bunch that is on the fair board,” he explains. “When something needs done they get out there and do it.”

This year marked the 101st Labette County Fair and the board was proud to unveil a   brand new rodeo arena, something that Rick McKinzie has wanted to do for a long time,  according to Bill.

The new arena measures 150’ x 300,’ almost double the size of the old arena.

According to Bill, it’s one of the largest county fair arenas around and it will open up new opportunities for the fair.

“With an arena this size we can hold bigger sanctioned rodeos,” he explains. “It will also seat around 3,500 people so at big events, like the demolition derby, we won’t have to turn people away.”

The new arena will have a huge impact on the county fair but for the McKinzie family it means even more.

After Shirley passed away a memorial fund was established to benefit the Labette County Fair, so Bill took it upon himself, with advisement from his family, to add a little money to the memorial to try and do something for the fair.

A little money, however, is an understatement, a lot of money would be a more correct statement—$10,000 to be exact is what Bill gave to the fair.

“At first I wanted to take the money and buy livestock at the sale but I figured in a year or two it would be gone,” Bill says. “So, since I knew the new arena was built I asked what I could get for $10,000 in memory of Shirley.”

What he got was more than he ever bargained for.

On Tuesday night, the first night of the rodeo at the Labette County Fair, the fair board invited Bill, Rick, Steve and Sherri, as well as all their children and grandchildren to come to the center of the arena during the rodeo.

It was at that time that Bill saw what his $10,000 had got. As fair board member Rod Landrum introduced the family and talked about their dedication to the Labette County Fair, a huge sheet dropped uncovering the name of the brand new rodeo arena.

The sign read “McKinzie Family Arena.”

As the family watched, a smile came across Bill’s face and a tear came to his eye.

“It was pretty emotional and touching to see something named after our family,” he explains. “I had no idea they would make such a big deal out of it.”

According to Sherri, contributing the money in memory of her mother was something her dad really wanted to do.

“It was an honor and a privilege to get this opportunity. It was the right thing to do,” she says.

Some would say the McKinzie family is a pretty permanent fixture at the Labette County Fair. Between Bill and his kids and their kids it seems someone from the family is always around.

But now, the McKinzie name is truly a permanent part of the event as the sign above the rodeo arena crow’s nest testifies.

“I wanted to do something in memory of Shirley and for our family and this is more than I imagined,” he concludes. £

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