New Leader of Nebraska State Fair Says Pandemic Changes, Doesn't Ruin Event

Aug. 27, 2020, 6:45 a.m. ·

Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)

Listen To This Story

The 151st Nebraska State Fair gets underway Friday in Grand Island, an event that will be focused on FFA and 4-H showcases as officials scale back on some entertainment because of the pandemic. NET’s Jack Williams spoke with new Executive Director Bill Ogg, who starts his job amid some unique circumstances.

NET News: Bill, first of all, welcome to Nebraska. You’ve been on the job now for a couple of months getting ready for this State Fair. Have you ever had to deal with circumstances like these in your career where you’re really limited in some respects in what you can offer fair-goers?

Bill Ogg: It is an absurd kind of a year, particularly planning for a public event, so no sir, not in my career. I’ve had to deal with some serious incidences. I was general manager of the Kansas State Fair during 9/11, so tough, tough calls, nonetheless, not in the preparation or the planning. We plan for serious instances of weather and other horrible things, but you can’t plan for this moving target and staff has done a great job in preparation and I genuinely applaud the board for moving forward with a celebration of Nebraska 4-H and FFA youth.

NET News: The public is still invited to the fair despite the pandemic and the twist this year is, admission is free. What are the other biggest differences about the event that begins tomorrow compared to a typical year?

Nebraska State Fair Executive Director Bill Ogg. (Photo courtesy of Nebraska State Fair)

Bill Ogg: What won’t be happening of course is the carnival midway, national touring act, entertainment and many of our other ticketed events. That aside, we will have nightly music beginning Friday and carrying on through Labor Day and invite people to come out and enjoy a beverage in a socially distant atmosphere and again, celebrate what we have to be grateful for.

NET News: What has the fair put in place when it comes to protecting visitors from COVID-19. Will masks be required and what else has been done to make it a safe environment?

Bill Ogg: The staff and board members long before I arrived have been meeting weekly with the Central Health District here involving Hall County and so have kept very closely abreast of what is transpiring with the COVID-19 situation, getting their input and their guidance, their recommendations. The fair was planned to be in Phase 3, which we’ve been in now for several weeks and in fact, there’s a chance we may be in Phase 4 yet before the fair begins but nonetheless, we’ll operate with those same protocols as Phase 3, which means masks are strongly recommended, not required, but strongly recommended. We will have significant signage on the grounds and some of it’s pretty cute and funny actually in terms of, remember to keep a cow’s length apart and things like that, again, just reminding people to be responsible for themselves and for others.

NET News: Have the circumstances kind of forced you to be more creative when it comes to entertainment?

Bill Ogg: Absolutely. Not only creative, but again I think it’s really important to share with our listeners that we have eleven bands that have so generously agreed to perform at no charge. They love to perform, they’re hungry for a live audience and they support the fair and are coming out at no charge to play music from 7-10 p.m. nightly in the open air. We’ve got that marked off within the tavern environment of seating for eight and then equally good viewing and listening areas for non-alcoholic age groups and all of that and that’s marked-out in pods where people can stand and enjoy the music as well.

NET News: You come into a job and a State Fair that has had its share of turmoil over the last few years, with leadership changes, bad weather, allegations of financial mismanagement and even misconduct and a board that doesn’t always get along. Why are you so confident this is a good place to be and this is a good job?

Bill Ogg: (With laughs) Well, you may well question my intelligence and occasionally I do myself. Nebraska has a strong, strong Midwestern fair, a rich history certainly beyond the 150 years just for longevity, but it has a reputation for being respectful and allegiant to agriculture. Personally and professionally that’s kind of where my heart and soul is at, so that certainly is an attraction. The board has had some controversy. I think and genuinely feel that is coming around and really looking at what is the best interest of the fair and setting aside some of the particular incidences or individuals that have caused some division. The backbone of this organization, of this institution, is so solid that I’ve used the expression, we can polish a valuable jewel, it’s not like we have to go reinvent the wheel or do that. We can improve by recognizing and celebrating what we are, and that is a fantastic showcase of not only Nebraska, but certainly of all of Midwestern agriculture and culture in general.