OWATONNA — Come August, a new mascot will join the Steele County Free Fair’s famed Steely and Stella.
That’s what the Steele County Fair Board decided last Thursday night when Richard Dalen, the mascot superintendent and the original Steely, proposed the idea in full costume at the board’s monthly meeting in Owatonna.
“He’s cute,” Dalen said. “I think he’ll be a good addition to the fair.”
The addition, which will remain unnamed and unidentified until the opening ceremony of this year’s fair on Aug. 16, marks the newest mascot since 2010, when Stella — Joanne Nystrom, who is Dalen’s fiancée — became an icon of the fair.
Dalen said a third mascot was something longtime SCFF secretary-manager Elmer Reseland, who died in August 2012, always wanted.
“I’d always say, ‘No, we’re good enough, we don’t need three,’ but now that I have four couples as volunteers, so we can do it,” he said.
The volunteers were recruited last year by Julie Ebeling when Dalen’s health threatened the return of Steely and Stella to the county fair for the first time in the mascots’ history.
“She’s been a great asset for me,” he said. “She’s been doing a super job recruiting people.”
Because Dalen and Nystrom weren’t the only ones slated to slip into the mascot costumes, the fair board approved some improvements that would make them more adaptable, including the purchase of a new Steely head from a Canadian company. But when the new head arrived, it didn’t resemble the fair’s popular mascot.
“I was shocked,” he said. “It wasn’t Steely.”
Dalen said he ordered the Steely head from a company that was different from where the original mascots’ heads were purchased because the Twin Cities-based company had closed.
“They said they went by the description, but they didn’t,” he said. “They got the hat wrong. It’s supposed to be red and black.”
That’s when Dalen started to create the new mascot, a Texas Ranger who served in special operations as “a decoy” for capturing cattle rustlers in Houston.
“Things started falling into place when I pulled it out of the box,” he said.
Dalen disclosed that the new mascot is a relative of Steely and Stella’s who has heard stories the past five years about the Steele County Free Fair.
“He wanted to see what all the hype was about,” he said, explaining the story behind the new mascot’s arrival.
But before Dalen could run with the idea, fair board members had questions about the new mascot because the company goofed up and the fair didn’t receive the Steely head ordered.
“She said we could send it back and she’d refund us the money, but we didn’t have time to have a new one made,” he said, noting his frustration with the company but informing the fair board other adjustments to the mascot costumes are being made to make them more accommodating.
The fair board agreed to move forward with the new mascot but will continue discussing the mascots’ role at the county fair.
The new mascot will be introduced at 5 p.m. on Aug. 16 during the opening ceremony in Fair Square.
“We’re going to make it big,” Dalen said, noting that’s when “The Herd” will also be introduced. That’s what the mascot volunteers call themselves.
The new mascot — as well as Steely and Stella — will also provide some brief entertainment between acts in Fair Square this year and be available for photographs throughout the week.