On the heels of the Washington Town and Country Fair, Past Fair chairman and active Fair participant, Willard Luecker, looked back on some of his memories of the annual event.
Luecker has been involved with the Fair for more than 50 years. When he began, the Fair was limited to what is now the motor sports arena. It was expanded to its present location in the early ’90s.
“To me, the Fair was probably one of the greatest events in Washington,” he said. “It was the greatest civic thing I’ve participated in.” Luecker said it still “definitely” is one of the greatest events in Washington.
Originally a dairy farmer, Luecker, who will turn 83 this September, of New Haven, first was involved in the Fair through the livestock committee. The father of four children, Luecker attended the Fair to watch his children show Holstein cattle.
He continues to buy a dairy bucket with milk from the blue ribbon dairy each year to support the 4-H kids.
Luecker has volunteered in the parking lot, gates, helping with entertainment and every other facet of the Fair.
“I have marveled at what we did in the ’60s and ’70s compared to what they do today,” he said. “There are so many more events.”
The addition of the permanent main stage this year, he said, is an awesome improvement.
“My hopes are that this permanent stage will encourage other events and concerts. I can see many uses for the permanent stage,” Luecker said.
In the past, the main stage had to be set up and torn down several times for events like the horse show, which no longer takes place. Flatbed trucks were used for entertainment stages.
There were no golf carts or walkie-talkies like today.
When Luecker was a part of the Fair Board, in the mid-’60s, all proceeds were used for industrial development, which allowed diverse industry in Washington, he said.
“I think we have one of the best diversified industries in the state of Missouri for the size town that we have,” he said.
Now, Fair proceeds go toward various projects in the community, which also is a benefit.
In 1972, Luecker served as Fair chairman and 25 years later, in 1997, his son Steve was a chairman. It was the first time a father and son had both been chairmen.
Luecker said the Fair has been very fortunate with weather, with the exception of the Loretta Lynn show being canceled in the ’70s.
“She was very gracious,” he said.
This year, the REO Speedwagon concert was canceled because of weather.
At one time, the Fair Board would treat Fair queens to an evening on the Admiral, a riverboat in Downtown St. Louis.
“It was always an exciting evening with a live band, restaurants and we could see the sights of St. Louis along the Mississippi River,” he said.
The biggest change Luecker has seen at the Fair is the size and profits.
“The year I was chairman we made roughly $16,000 profit. We were hoping to make $20,000 which had never been done before.”
Now, the Fair nets six figures.
“It’s a tremendous asset to the community,” he said.
Luecker said watching the youth and his children and grandchildren showing cattle have been his favorite aspects of the Fair. Now, his children and grandchildren are grown and his great-grandchildren look forward to the day they can show animals.
A member of the Washington Optimist Club, Luecker also has been involved at the Fair selling waffle ice cream sandwiches and corn on the cob.
He has been an Optimist since 1976 and was named Optimist of the Year for 2012. He earned the Lifetime Achievement Award just a few years ago.
This year, Luecker participated in the Fair parade through the Chamber.
During his dairy farming career, Luecker served as president of the District Mid-America Dairyman Association, president of Dairy Herd Improvement Association and district president of the Holstein Association.
He also was the winner of the Washington Jaycees outstanding young farmers award and earned the balanced farming award for Eastern Missouri.
In 1971, Luecker sold his dairy business to his oldest son, Steve, but Luecker said he is still a farmer at heart.
“I love living here on the farm,” he said, adding that he and his son live in homes on his family’s farm.
“Agriculture is the largest profession in this country and hires more people and produces more product than any other industry or profession in the world. I’m always glad to be a part of that,” he said.
Luecker added that he still follows agriculture prices and attends the auctions at the Fair.
In the year following the sale of his dairy business, in 1972, Luecker earned his Missouri Real Estate Brokers license and became an office manager for Dolan Company in Union.
In the mid-’70s, Luecker became part owner and manager of a real estate company, Landmark Building and Realty Co., Washington. The company developed several residential subdivisions in and around Washington.
Later, Luecker became the sole owner of the business and transformed it into an appraisal company. He sold the business in 2006.
He has served on the board of the Franklin County Board of Realtors and is a past member of the International Right of Way Association and past president of the St. Louis Metro Chapter of the National Independent Fee Appraisers.
Luecker is an ambassador of the Washington Area Chamber of Commerce and is a past president.
In his spare time, Luecker enjoys building birdhouses, watching sports and spending time with grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
He and his wife Mary Lou, who have been married for 18 years, also collect antiques. Luecker enjoys woodworking and gardening.
He is a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church and said he is proud to be a part of the church’s new sanctuary. In the past he served as congregational president.
Luecker graduated from Washington High School and still attends yearly reunions. Each year, a new class joins the reunion.
Luecker said it means a lot for him to be involved with the city of Washington.
“The city of Washington has done a lot for me. I just wanted to give back,” he said.
Whether it’s through the Fair, Immanuel Lutheran Church, the Optimist Club or Chamber, Luecker is happy to show people the town he loves.
“It’s neat to meet new people and welcome them to our town,” he said.