When the Verdigis River topped its levy in July of ‘07, flood waters rushed into east Coffeyville and destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses. When the waters finally receded, the damage was severe, and one by one, fair board members got the call. The 2007 Coffeyville Inter-State Fair and Rodeo was canceled.

“You don’t really know what you’ve got till it’s lost,” said livestock co-chairman Michelle Green. “The barns had to be cleaned up, and our whole livestock office was totaled. Everything had to be thrown away.”

Every structure in Coffeyville’s Walter Johnson Park sustained some degree of water and oil damage, and fair board president Richard Johnson said content and structure losses totaled close to $1,000,000. Green said ribbons, trophies, maintenance equipment, the fair board’s sound system and electrical receptacles were all destroyed. All evening entertainment was canceled, but the market livestock show was salvaged thanks to an invitation from the Labette County Fair Board in Oswego, Kan. FFA and 4-H participants showed at Labette County’s livestock arena, and the premium sale was held at Coffeyville Community College.

“Companies from outside the area and even some Tulsa businesses bought at the sale,” Green said. “Everyone pulled together and 10 percent of the premiums were put in the fair’s revitalization fund.”

In the fall of 2007, Inter-State Fair and Rodeo board members met to discuss the fair’s future and the possibility of celebrating what was supposed to be the livestock show’s upcoming centennial year. Money and time weighed heavily on cleanup efforts, but 2008 fair board president Richard Johnson said the association understood what the fair meant to Coffeyville.

“As soon as we got permission in October, there was never a doubt in our minds that we would have the fair and plan our centennial,” Johnson said.

A rehab of Walter Johnson Park and the fairgrounds began with a team of fair board volunteers, city employees and participants of a Kansas work program.

“They dug up all the gravel in the barns and laid new gravel,” Green said. “They’ve painted and power-washed everything.”

After months of hard work, she said all of the livestock buildings are ready for exhibitors. The rodeo office was completely gutted, new fencing was installed around the rodeo arena and city utilities have been restored. Also, Green said the city is working to complete Coffeyville’s recreation center in time to house non-livestock exhibits. President Johnson said the cleanup process has been a true team effort.

“The city took the bull by the horns, and it’s just been a phenomenal rebuild time,” he said.

Every Tuesday and Thursday night, Green said volunteers have showed up at the fairgrounds to work on various projects. Cleanup is top priority, but the fair association also is planing new attractions and events geared toward the livestock show’s centennial.

“This year, the barns are going to be a lot of fun,” Green said. “We’re going to have a dunk tank on Wednesday night, feed companies will pass out certificates to the hardest-working exhibitors throughout the week, and at the premium sale, we’ll show a history of the livestock show over the past 10 years.”

Other changes in the works include the elimination of the open dairy show and the introduction of DNA testing on market animals during weigh-in. As for evening entertainment, Johnson said a new stock contractor is slated for Coffeyville’s four nights of PRCA rodeo action, and the music act has been up-scaled to country music headliner Miranda Lambert. A truck and tractor pull, freestyle motocross action and the widely-known demolition derby are all returning in 2008.

Fair board member Joyce Allen said she thinks ticket sales will be up this year because of new and popular things to entice people. All fun passes were refunded in 2007, but Allen predicts last year’s cancellation will not affect fair-goers.

“People missed it after the flood, and they saw how popular it was,” she said. “I think everyone looks forward to it. It gives Coffeyville a name.”

After a summer of devastation, community support now reflects a new and improved Inter-State Fair and Rodeo. President Johnson said he has already received feedback from members of the community and he is excited to bring back Coffeyville’s biggest summer event.

“They’re ecstatic,” Johnson said. “Everybody I’ve talked to is so happy the fair is coming back. We want everyone to come out and enjoy it and thank those wearing a fair board badge for making it all possible.” o

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