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updated: 7/24/2014 5:31 AM

Lake County Fair fan working it for 62nd year

Volo woman says Lake County event has been a 'learning experience'

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  • Annie Petersen, in her 62nd year working at the fair, awards the first place and best in show ribbon for paintings on Wednesday. Petersen first fell in love with the fair as a 10-year-old.

      Annie Petersen, in her 62nd year working at the fair, awards the first place and best in show ribbon for paintings on Wednesday. Petersen first fell in love with the fair as a 10-year-old.
    Megan Swindell | Staff Photographer

  • Annie Petersen, who has worked at the Lake County Fair for 62 years, talks Wednesday with Ginny Zerang, fair coordinator for competitions, about how paintings are judged.

      Annie Petersen, who has worked at the Lake County Fair for 62 years, talks Wednesday with Ginny Zerang, fair coordinator for competitions, about how paintings are judged.
    Megan Swindell | Staff Photographer

  • Annie Petersen has been working at the Lake County Fair for 62 years. These days she organizes the ribbons in the event center, but in past years she's been in charge of the entire event.

      Annie Petersen has been working at the Lake County Fair for 62 years. These days she organizes the ribbons in the event center, but in past years she's been in charge of the entire event.
    Megan Swindell | Staff Photographer

  • Country singer Elizabeth Lyons will perform at the Lake County Fair's veterans day concert tonight. Lyons' great-aunt, Annie Petersen, has worked for the fair for 62 years.

    Country singer Elizabeth Lyons will perform at the Lake County Fair's veterans day concert tonight. Lyons' great-aunt, Annie Petersen, has worked for the fair for 62 years.
    Courtesy of Country Roses Promo by Alicia Steffenhagen

 
By Megan Swindell
mswindell@dailyherald.com

Arvilla "Annie" Petersen fell in love with the Lake County Fair as a 10-year-old when she had the grand champion steer in a 4-H livestock competition.

Decades later, Petersen's passion for the annual event lives on as 2014 marks her 62nd year working at the fair.

"It's been a learning experience, plus I have made many, many great friends, so I've stuck with it," Petersen said during a break from preparations for Wednesday's opening day at the fairgrounds in Grayslake.

The Volo resident's work with the fair began while she was a grade school teacher in Wauconda. Fair officials asked her to help out because they knew she had the summer off.

In the years since, Petersen said she ran the entire fair about 20 times, when the fairgrounds were off Route 45 in Grayslake.

Since the grounds moved to Peterson Road, she has taken on the responsibility of organizing the thousands of ribbons and trophies for each department's competitions, as well as heading the registration process.

"I study the fair book, then I go ahead and look at each department to decide how many ribbons they will need," Petersen said as she handed out registration packets to participants.

She had each person, most of whom she knew by name, check to make sure that everything was included in the packet. All of the items were there every time.

"She's got it down to a science," said Sue Markgraf, spokeswoman for the Lake County Fairgrounds.

Longevity is a trait Petersen's shown beyond just her fair work. She spent 41 years teaching second grade in Wauconda.

Petersen, who was a onetime Lake County Fair queen, spends six weeks preparing for the fair each summer. She says she has to stay organized or she would not get everything done with the short time that she has to work.

Petersen stays behind the scenes from fair preparation until the awards are given out on Sunday.

"At the end, I always say, 'We'll see you next year.' It's words of encouragement to keep them coming back," Petersen said.

And they do. She said she has seen generations of the same families coming back each year for as long as she has been there.

Generations of Petersen's own family keep coming back as well.

Her great-niece, the budding country star Elizabeth Lyons, will take the Festival Square Stage for the veterans concert at 5 p.m. today.

"I'm very, very proud of her," Petersen said. "I'm just as excited as she is."

Coming straight from Nashville to perform, Lyons said she is just as proud of and excited for her great-aunt.

"She is so wise and truly loves life," Lyons said. "I admire that she has stuck with something for so long."

Lyons fully committed to her country music dream when she transferred from University of Wisconsin in Madison to Vanderbilt University in Nashville to pursue her music career two years ago.

Since then, she has sold 70,000 songs on iTunes and was named among the Country Music Association's "Who to Watch" in 2014.

Lyons said she remembers going to the Lake County Fair as a child.

"I'm excited to come back," she said. "It's very full-circle and it's military night. I try to figure out ways to give back to the military, so it will be an honor."

When asked if she will be back next year, Petersen said, "I never know."

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