Military in uniform always are admitted free to the Lake County Fair, but on Thursday the courtesy was extended to all veterans.
The inaugural Veterans Day at the fair featured a concert by the Great Lakes Naval Band "Horizon" and, for the first time in decades, a fireworks show at night.
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The driving force behind the effort to honor vets were the members of the Lake County Fair Junior Board, a group of 16 to 22 years olds formed to find ways to attract teens to the annual event.
The junior board also helped select this year's fair theme -- All American Fair! -- and thought a concert for veterans "to tie in with the fair theme and go with something near and dear to our hearts," said Jenelle Brodzik, president of the new group.
"That was just what we wanted to do," added Brodzik, an 18-year-old graduate of Warren Township High School. Brodzik, who has been involved in 4-H for 10 years and also will be showing rabbits, chickens and pigs at the fair, is the daughter of Fair Board President Jon Brodzik Jr.
"Individual veterans were surprised a group of young kids would come up with something like this," Jon Brodzik Jr. said.
The day also included T-shirts sales, with all proceeds going to Jared Allen's Homes For Wounded Warriors, a charity founded by the new Chicago Bear to provide financial assistance and support to injured veterans.
"Overwhelmingly, everyone wanted to honor the veterans," said Sheri Vyfvinkel, fair business manager.
Veterans visiting the fairgrounds Thursday were appreciative of the special recognition.
"It should be that way, that they know and understand," said Ken Nastali, a Marine veteran and Mundelein resident who served in Vietnam.
"We've never come to the new fairgrounds, and it was Veterans Day so that was another reason," said his wife, Cindy.
Bob Haynes of McHenry served in the Army 2nd Infantry Division from 1966 to 1968.
"It's pretty cool that they think of us," he said of Veterans Day at the fair.
David Patterson of Island Lake spent 20 years in the Navy.
"We've got all these guys coming back from Afghanistan. I think they deserve something special," he said. "It's a great thing. We have to do more of this."
Army Staff Sgt. Daryl Malisiak, 26, who has been recruiting in the Round Lake area the past 2½ years, manned a booth at the fair.
"I think that it's pretty cool that teenagers are giving respect to people in the military," he said. "It's not very often you have younger people thinking about it that much, so it's great they designated today as Veterans Day."