Backers of keeping vets home in Grand Island offer Heineman message at State Fair

Tam Allen of the Nebraska State Fair board, left, greats Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman during an opening ceremony Friday in the Family Fun Zone at the Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island.

It's finally here!

The Nebraska State Fair kicked off Friday and will run through Sept. 2 in Grand Island.

The World-Herald's David Hendee was on the scene and tweeted live updates throughout the day. Check out his tweets and some from our sister paper, The Grand Island Independent, via the Twitter widget below.

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GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — The 1 millionth visitor to the Nebraska State Fair since 2010 will walk through the gates today.

But for some residents of the fair's new hometown, the No. 1 visitor they wanted to see — and for him to see them — was Gov. Dave Heineman.

About 50 people clad in orange T-shirts emblazoned with “Keep Veterans Home here in Grand Island'' greeted the governor during Friday evening's opening ceremony and parade. They sat and stood where Heineman could not avoid seeing them.

The Nebraska-nice protest was in reaction to the state's recent decision to move a Nebraska veterans home from Grand Island to Kearney.

The Nebraska State Fair

Where: Fonner Park, 700 E. Stolley Park Road, Grand Island

When: Friday, Aug 23, through Sept. 2

Building hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. through Sept. 1. Sept. 2 hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Gate admission: adult (age 13+) advance purchase, $7; adult daily purchase, $10; Five Dollar Days (age 13+), Aug. 26-28, $5; season pass, $55; child (ages 6-12) advance and daily, $3

Free parking: lots accessed from South Locust Street and Stuhr Road

Preferred (paid) parking: $10 daily. Gate 6, off Fonner Park Road

Off-site parking shuttle service: North Route — Sam's Club and Conestoga Mall; South Route — South Walmart and Vanosdall Field (northwest corner of U.S. Highway 34 and South Locust Street)

Pay concerts: Trace Adkins, 6 p.m. Aug. 25, $18; Chicago, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 31, $30; Lynyrd Skynyrd, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 1, $31

Heineman congratulated the community for making the fair a success.

“Grand Island, I'm very, very proud of you,'' he said. “You've embraced the State Fair. You've done a great job.”

The fair opened its fourth year at Fonner Park after moving from Lincoln. The fair continues through Sept. 2.

It's Nebraska's annual celebration of the state's top industry — agriculture. The party is spread out across 250 acres of roasted corn on a stick, deep-fried Girl Scout cookies, newborn farm animals, antique trucks and tractors, racing pigs, leaping dogs, marching bands, Nebraska beers, and rides in combines and on carousels.

It's where city meets country.

Shortly before 2 p.m., a Dorset ewe gave birth to a 20- to 25-pound lamb in the Birthing Pavilion while two dozen bystanders stood quiet watch. The only noise was the sound of a big steel fan pushing air around the room and occasional bleats from the ewe. A few stalls away, a sow nursed some of her eight piglets born earlier in the day.

“I've seen this all my life, but it's still quite something,” said Darwin Sterkel of rural Nelson, Neb. Sterkel stood next to a granddaughter, Jessica Sterkel of Madison, N.J., and explained what was happening as the lamb emerged into a pen of clean straw over the course of 10 minutes.

“Neat,” said Jessica, a high school freshman.

Grandma Sandy Sterkel stood back. “I've seen this many times,'' she said.

In the Pinnacle Bank Expo Center, corn, pork and soybean farmers showed off an exhibit of 11,115 cans of donated food fashioned into displays of a combine in a cornfield, a pig in a soybean field and a grocery store front.

The joint food and farming exhibit illustrated how farmers can be sustainable, use modern technology and add value to their communities.

Nearby, sisters Ann and Kay Prigge tried milking Annabelle, a Fiberglas cow, displayed by the Midwest Dairy Association. Water squirted into a bucket. They are the daughters of Rex and Amy Prigge of Surprise, Neb.

Around the corner, a Patriot Truck with a 1937 Nebraska license plate attracted old-timers with memories of the brand. The truck was produced from roughly 1918 to 1924 by Hebb Motors Co. and Patriot Motors in Havelock, now a Lincoln neighborhood. The antique vehicle features a box and cab made of lumber.

The Patriot Truck was one of the few vehicles produced in Nebraska that developed a national reputation. Its ability to handle heavy loads under harsh conditions made it popular for farm and delivery work.

But when a historic beer arrived at this 144th State Fair, it came in a refrigerated 21st-century truck.

Storz brand beers made their first public appearance outside of Omaha in the fairgrounds beer garden. Tom Markel, who is part of a team of Gottlieb Storz descendants relaunching Storz Brewing Co. of Omaha, unveiled a limited selection of lager, wheat, amber ale and pale ale beers. Storz once produced one-third of the beer sold in Nebraska.

Jana Kruger of Arlington, fair board chairwoman, said she could feel electricity in the air as the fair opened.

“The best way to start the day is to walk through the barns,'' she said. “The dairy people are up early. They're used to it. They're so proud of their industry. Then I walked through the chickens, and roosters are cock-a-doodle-dooing. We have a great crowd for opening day.''

Friday's political fireworks over the veterans home were a sideshow to the fair.

Jolene Didier of Grand Island said in an interview that she and her daughter, Ronda Bennett, want Heineman to understand how much local people care about losing the veterans home. Didier said she has had a cousin, a brother-in-law and friends live at the home.

Heineman, who took a verbal spanking from a few Grand Island residents during a radio call-in show Monday, took a few more licks from Vietnam veteran Russ Barth of Doniphan, Neb. Sitting five rows back from a stage where Heineman and the State Fair Board sat, Barth stepped out of his electric scooter and hollered at the governor to talk about the veterans home decision. Others in the crowd shouted in agreement.

Heineman didn't respond. Barth sat down at the urging of friends.

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