The original state fair was one of the oldest in the nation when it folded in 2009. The event had been losing money for years, and then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm vetoed funding that would have kept it going.
Since then, the Michigan State Fairgrounds has been slated for redevelopment.
In 2012, a group of private investors revived the fair and moved it from Detroit to western Oakland County. 2022 marks its 10th anniversary in Novi.
The new owners hired some experienced people to make the new state fair as authentic as possible. One of those people is L.C. Scramlin. He and his wife are the fair’s livestock and agriculture directors. He is also the general manager of the annual Oakland County Fair in Davisburg.
Scramlin was instrumental in reviving the state fair.
For him, it was a matter of professional and personal pride.
“They can see agriculture at its best.” — State Fair livestock and agriculture director L.C. Scramlin
“I’d spent 46 years at the old state fair,” he recalls. “Seeing my children grow up and be so impacted by it, I kept saying to my wife, ‘You think we really need to help revive the state fair?’ She asked me if I thought I could face my grandkids and tell them there was no state fair. That made it a pretty easy decision.”
A smaller venue presents challenges
The decision may have been easy, but putting the fair together was not. Scramlin says holding the event in a convention hall is different than having it at the Michigan State Fairgrounds, which had several buildings for specific purposes.
“When I was superintendent of the state fair, all the pens and facilities for the animals were the way we left them the year before,” he says. “Here, we have to set every pen, every cage, every animal facility has to be set back up from zero.”
The COVID-19 pandemic prevented the fair from having guests in 2020. When the crowds returned in 2021, organizers say almost 300 thousand visitors attended. Scramlin says there’s a lot to see.
“They can see agriculture at its best,” he says. “We have a great bunch of vendors, a wonderful carnival and the Shrine Circus.”
And would would a state fair be without a butter cow? That’s a cow made entirely of butter.
“When you walk in, the first thing you’re going to see is the butter cow,” Scramlin says. “99 percent of the people have to walk directly in front of her.”
Passing the torch
Scramlin says he and his wife stepped in to help the state fair for his grandchildren. He says teaching the next generation to appreciate the fair is critical to keeping it going for years to come.
“We give out $40,000 in scholarships to kids on Monday,” he says. “As long as we’re smart enough to keep these young people involved, the magic of fairs still keeps working.”
The Michigan State Fair runs Sept. 1-5.
Photo credit: Pat Batcheller/WDET