OWATONNA — Would you be surprised to learn that the man who handles the Steele County Free Fair’s taxes doesn’t do his own?
Well, that just happens to be the case when it comes to Tim Arlt, who has been the acting treasurer for the fair since 2013. Before that, however, Arlt had already served on the fair board for nine years as the director of vendor parking.
Yet even before that, Arlt was serving the fair dating back to 1979 as a University of Minnesota Extension Agent. At that time he helped the 4-H members with their general projects before becoming heavily involved with the beef show.
“I would just do whatever needed to be done,” Arlt said about his first few years at the fair. “The fair was definitely different back then. It wasn’t as big as it is today.”
Over the last 40 years, Arlt has continued to watch the Steele County Fairgrounds evolve and expand — from new barns being built to the buildings being relocated. He said he still remembers when the fair office was in what is now the Beer Garden and when the Auto Museum used to house the 4-H projects.
“We didn’t have nearly as many food vendors,” Arlt added. “And racing was really big here. Pretty much all our grandstand shows were motorsports, but we even had some horse races.”
In the mid-‘90s Arlt was designated as the 4-H liaison for the fair board, gaining his first exposure to what all goes on in Mother’s Rest during their monthly meetings. He jokes about how, when his job reorganized him out of that position, the other directors asked him to run for the board — “for some reason” — and that he accepted — also “for some reason.”
The rest was history.
“I just helped with whatever people needed,” Arlt said, stating that teamwork is essential in making the fair successful. “It always amazes me how busy it gets and how everyone will just jump in and help wherever needed. If you’re around you might find yourself hauling something down to a barn. You just do what’s necessary.”
Because Arlt will be retiring from his full-time job with Extension during the same year of his 40-year fair milestone, the fair board and staff honored Arlt at the Volunteer Appreciation Supper with a fishing pole, stating that he hopefully will find time for one of his favorite leisure activities. As for his position as treasurer of the fair, Arlt still has another year left on his term. After that, he’s not yet sure what his next step will be.
“I think I’ll always volunteer at the fair,” Arlt said, admitting that it would be difficult to walk away after 40 good years. “I’ve really enjoyed my position, but change is good. I don’t want to stick around beyond my usefulness, but I also don’t know when that will be.”
Regardless of what he decides in the next coming years, his contributions to the fair haven’t gone unnoticed. Fair Manager Scott Kozelka said that Arlt is without a doubt one of the more important behind-the-scenes players at the fairgrounds year-round.
“He is just a rock of a director,” Kozelka said. “He spends tremendous amount of hours on our books and finding us grants. Without Tim a lot of this wouldn’t be able to happen.”
And while serving as treasurer keeps Arlt inside the fair bank most days of fair week, he said he’s simply happy that he has been able to help keep the fair the way it should be.