Illinois county fairs wither as hamstrung state lessens financial aid
(Bloomberg News Service)
DECATUR — The grandstands sat empty on what should have been the Macon County Fair's opening night. Instead of a stage with pageant contestants in sparkling gowns, the central Illinois arena held only 20 truck loads of dirt spread out for a makeshift go-kart track.
The 158-year-old fair is broke.
Organizers canceled the event in favor of a scaled-down festival this year as the board struggled to pay about $300,000 of debt. The fair's demise in the county about 180 miles south of Chicago shows the vulnerability of a pastoral institution. The number of U.S. farms has dropped six straight years, and with them, demand for entertainments that convened growers who spend much of the year in their fields.
With state budgets under pressure and industrial agriculture helping to drain the countryside's population, urban legislators face tough choices. Illinois cut support for county fairs by 38 percent as attendance fell by almost a third from 2000 to 2013.
"They're all a-hurtin' because the money ain't there like it used to be," said Don Collins as he walked through the muddy Macon County fairgrounds on the festival's opening night in June. The 82-year-old retired sprinkler fitter volunteers on the grounds in the town of Decatur, doing everything from mowing the lawn to fixing pipes. "Fairs have to have something else going to make the money to keep it going. Money just ain't in the fairs."
The land of Lincoln isn't an outlier, said Paul Lasley, an Iowa State University sociologist who has studied rural communities for 33 years. Declining rural populations have created more urbanized states, taking a toll on the tradition, he said.
Rural and small-town America face a "growing demographic challenge," according to a November 2013 report by the U.S. Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service. Macon County hasn't been spared. Its population fell 1.3 percent from April 2010 to July 2013, while the state's grew 0.4 percent.
Jury selection began Monday in the Livingston County murder trial of a former Cullom woman charged in the 2011 death of a foster child in her care.
31-year-old Heather Lamie, who now lives in Kankakee, is charged with two counts of murder and one count of endangering the life or health of a child. The charges are for the death of 4-year-old Kianna Rudesill of Bloomington.
If convicted of the murder charges, Lamie faces natural life in prison. If convicted of the endangering charge, she faces 2 to 10 years in prison.
Prosecutors said the trial could last two to three weeks.
Rudesill was a foster child in the Lamie home when the Cullom Fire Department was called to the residence on May 3, 2011, for a child having "seizure-like" symptoms.
The child was taken to OSF Saint James-John W. Albrecht Medical Center in Pontiac and later flown to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, Peoria, where she died the following day.
A Peoria County coroner's jury ruled the death a homicide in August 2011. Her death certificate states the cause of death as blunt trauma of the head.
Lamie was indicted on the murder charges in June 2013.
Autumn arrives later today. And weather observers say the cool weather makes it obvious. Temps are expected to climb slowly this week, reaching about 78 degrees on Friday.
And some good news is that after all the rain from last week and damaging weekend, there is no threat of precipitation the entire week in Central Illinois. The National Weather Service reports temps will remain seasonal.
Sunshine and temperatures around 77 degrees are also expected for the weekend.