Tara Bone, contributing writer
Jill Zollinger has worked for 24 years to keep a 138-year-old Cache Valley tradition thriving – the Cache County Fair and Rodeo. To her, it’s more than just an annual event; it’s a one-of-a-kind community gathering that brings people together to enjoy family and neighbors, celebrate hard work and talent, and teach youth life skills.
Growing up in Smithfield, Jill did 4-H every summer and loved making things to enter in the fair, and as a mother, she enjoyed watching her sons show their animals. Jill has seen the benefits from the fair firsthand, and year after year, has seen the joy it brings to families.
“A fair brings the community and families together, and it’s been a big part of my life,” Jill said. “Sometimes when I cook, I think back and realize some of those skills I learned in 4-H. It’s teaching youth a lot of good skills they will use throughout their lives.”
Jill started officially working with the fair in 1991 when fair management was placed in the County Auditor’s office. She has worked as the Fair Manager for 17 of those years. During the last three years, Jill has also served as the County Auditor/Clerk. While managing the fair, Jill and her staff at the auditor’s office still keep day-to-day operations running. Jill said there is “never a dull moment in our office.”
This is the last year she will work as Fair Manager. She said every year is a team effort among dedicated fair and rodeo committee chairpersons.
“I’ve had so many good experiences, worked with so many good people, and have seen so many volunteer hours,” she said. “You just realize how good people are and how they come together to make an event a great success. We live in a wonderful community.”
Jill said volunteers are an important part of the fair. “I can’t even fathom how many hours it takes to run the fair because there are so many different aspects of it and so many people volunteering and doing what they can to help,” she said.
One thing that is definite, is that the fair has grown. The most noticeable growth is the expansion of the carnival and the increase in the number of animals.
“It’s surprising in a way. Some think agriculture is going away, but we have a lot more animal exhibits this year,” Jill said. “Those kids have worked all year and it’s coming to fruition.”
Jill adds that the rodeo “gets better every year, too.”
It’s estimated that 10,500 fair ribbons were awarded last year and approximately 40,000 to 45,000 people attended the fair. With growth, comes change, too. After this year’s fair, the 4-H, Art Show, Community and Home Arts buildings will be torn down to make way for one new, large building.
For Jill, another important change to the fair is its cost to the county. If the weather is good and the fair is supported by the community, it won’t cost the county.
“When I started taking over the fair, it used to cost the county money,” Jill said. “All of us working together have made it an event that pays for itself.”
Jill said it will be bitter sweet to say goodbye to her fair responsibilities, but she will get to spend more time with family during July and August. Jill and her husband, Sid, have lived in College Ward for 44 years. Sid runs a farm and their four sons live nearby in Cache Valley with their own families. Sid and Jill are the grandparents of eight granddaughters and three grandsons.