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Aksarben embraces 'big vision' as Nebraska State Fair takes control of stock show

"My heart's pounding, not from being scared, but excitement." Greg Harder of Minnesota has joined the Nebraska State Fair staff to run the Askarben Stock Show (NTV News)

The Nebraska State Fair takes the reins of the Aksarben Stock Show, with an agreement to produce one of the nation’s top livestock shows.

“My heart's pounding, not from being scared, but excitement,” Greg Harder said, as he was introduced as the stock show director.

Decades after he attended the Aksarben Stock Show as a youngster from Minnesota, Harder will be running it, still passionate about building young leaders in agriculture.

“It’s of a tremendous benefit, getting kids involved in the livestock facet,” he said.

The show moved to Grand Island last year, after 90 years in Omaha.

“We were thrilled with the operation last year in 2017,” said Sandra Reding, president of the Aksarben Foundation.

The foundation previously signed a contract with a consortium known as the Grand Island Livestock Complex Authority (GILCA), with plans to transition ownership of the event from the Aksarben Foundation to the Grand Island community.

A GILCA leader describes a web of connections, as GILCA works with the State Fair and Aksarben Foundation, to reach an agreement that turns over control of the stock show to the State Fair “in perpetuity.”

State Fair Director Lori Cox said, “I always it we need another stock show like we need a hole in the head. Got plenty of stuff to do. We felt really strongly, this brand merge between the two -- and I say that lightly because Aksarben will always be Aksarben -- has the opportunity to showcase one another's best interests.”

For the Aksarben Foundation, it’s a decision they think aligns with their mission to raise scholarship funds to support 4-H kids. The foundation awards nearly $1 million in scholarships every year, including $267,000 just for Aksarben scholarships at the 2017 show.

“I think what sealed the deal was a big vision,” said Sandra Reding. “A big vision. I think the plans for the Aksarben Stock Show are amazing. I think it will become something others will want to model.”

Aksarben leaders think it expands their reach statewide, while helping the State Fair deepen ties to eastern Nebraska.

Cox, the fair’s executive director said, “We also really like the opportunity of making really good friendships happen again with Omaha, quite frankly. That is really important to us.”

40 years after he showed livestock at Aksarben, Greg Harder wants to give today’s kids that experience.

“We want to be as efficient and exhibitor friendly as we can possibly become,” he said.

The State Fair now has financial control of the event.

Nicki Stoltenberg, the one employee hired by GILCA is now a State Fair employee. Shelby Leonhard of Thedford has joined the team as operations manager.

That gives the fair three full time staff members, and Harder said he is also bringing in two interns, all focused specifically on the stock show in September.

The horse show is September 22-23 and livestock show and scholarship auction September 28-30.

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