Scroll to the bottom of this page to see photos from the Columbiana County Fair.
LISBON, Ohio — Last winter when Delmar Karlen heard the old beef and sheep barns had been razed at the Columbiana County Fairgrounds, he drove down to take a look.
As he looked at the demolition site that was intended to be the new home of a long-awaited beef barn, Karlen had his doubts. Instead of a barn, the president of the county dairy beef feeder committee envisioned “the nicest, flattest place for a tent — and mud” come fair week.
Karlen wasn’t alone in his predictions. Many thought the building would never be done in time for the 2008 fair. Some still wondered if it would ever be built at all.
They were wrong.
Volunteers and contractors worked almost ’round the clock during the final weeks, but the new J. Herbert Thompson Beef Complex was ready by opening day.
The new 80-by-320 steel open span building housed the junior fair steers, beef feeders, heifers, and dairy beef feeders, as well as open class beef cattle. And there was plenty of room in the middle for a show arena/sale ring.
It bears the name of longtime fair board director and Hereford breeder and exhibitor, J. Herbert Thompson, whose family donated $50,000 in his memory to ensure the project’s completion. Thompson owned Vernon Dell Farms and Vernon Dell Tractor Sales near East Liverpool, Ohio.
“Six months ago, it was a dream,” said Thompson’s son, Jerry, during the dedication ceremony July 31. “Thank you for letting us help make it a reality.”
Thompson expressed the family’s gratitude for naming the building after his father.
“This building is a fitting tribute to his life,” added fair director Don Humphrey. “The gift was so overwhelming.”
The family of Betty Jo and Paul Zehentbauer also donated $25,000 in their memory, and a huge sign in the barn was filled with names of other donors and in-kind contributors.
“We never thought we’d see this,” Humphrey told the standing-room-only crowd. “This is an exciting night in the history of this fair.”
Not so fast
The naysayers were almost right. Just weeks before the fair, state building inspectors halted construction progress, saying a concrete block firewall was required across the width of the building to meet state code. Fair officials sought a variance, which was denied by the state Bureau of Building Code Compliance, and upheld by the Ohio Board of Building Appeals.
After a trip to Columbus to plead their case with the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the appeals board, fair officials were finally able to receive a variance. No firewall is needed, but the fair board must have a 24-hour fire watch during events in the building until a heat sensor system is installed.
One man’s mission
Many of the ceremony’s speakers attributed the building’s completion to fair board president Owen Unkefer, who regrouped the beef committee’s fundraising efforts last year, then spent 12- to 14-hour days at the construction site during the final two months before the fair.
“Owen is one heck of a man. That’s all I’ve got to say,” Delmar Karlen said during his remarks.
More work to do
In addition to the $10,000 heat sensor system, there is additional grading that needs to be done around the building, particularly on the back side to complete a road to accommodate trailers.
There are no permanent stalls, so the open-sided building can be used for other events, too, officials said.
Grand and Reserve Champion large livestock projects
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