December 2023 Volunteer Spotlight: Mary Alice Lair

What better way to celebrate this season than by hearing from one of the founding members of the Kansas Fairgrounds Foundation (KFF), Mary Alice Lair. Mary Alice, as she is known to nearly everyone, has been involved with the Kansas State Fair (KSF) since the mid 70s and has been an integral part, not only of starting and building the Foundation, but in making the Kansas State Fair into what we know and love today.

Check out her video interview, filmed during the 2023 Kansas State Fair!

Upon her first visit to the Kansas State Fair, Mary Alice knew something had to be done. She said it was not much better than a county fair, an unimpressive presentation for something meant to represent the wonderful state of Kansas. She did her research and attended other state fairs such as Iowa, Missouri, and Minnesota. Thanks to her involvement in politics, Mary Alice was able to garnish support and funding the Kansas State Fair needed. 

Once the ball was rolling on the Kansas State Fair, Mary Alice knew the ball needed to keep rolling and that more could be done to continue to grow and improve the Kansas State Fair. Thus, the Kansas Fairgrounds Foundation was chartered in 2003 to help enrich the unforgettable memories and traditions you experience only at the Kansas State Fair and on the Kansas State Fairgrounds year-round. Inspiration for the Foundation came from other state fairs that had successful foundations to raise additional funds, especially the Iowa State Fair’s Blue Ribbon Foundation.

The Kansas Fairgrounds Foundation was created to generate additional capital to support the mission and purpose, “To further the renovation, construction, preservation and beautification of the Kansas State Fairgrounds; To help, assist, promote, support, maintain, enhance, endow and advance the interests of the Kansas State Fair; To encourage education of the public about the Kansas State Fair and its purpose and activities,” and the vision of, “Inspiring excellence and understanding of Kansas agriculture, industry and culture through the Kansas State Fair, activities, educational programs and opportunities.”

According to Mary Alice, the timing of the Foundation was perfect. When she thinks about how it has grown and evolved, she sees the money raised and the good it has done along with all of the incredible people who work with and support the Foundation. She sees how the Kansas State Fair has grown and improved and the vast number of visitors that come each year.

In a separate meeting during the 2023 Kansas State Fair, Mary Alice made this statement:

Coming to the Kansas State Fair today, I see all the people, and all of the improvements that have been made and I feel my mission is complete.

Mary Alice Lair on the 2023 Kansas State Fair

When asked about the most important work the Foundation does, Mary Alice of course said, “Raising money!” She went on to say the money raised by the Foundation is a luxury for the KSF and its money that wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for the Foundation. The second most important thing in her opinion is the people that are involved. The board members especially serve as a form of advertising for the Kansas State Fair in the way they advocate for it and are passionate about the cause. Just being involved creates a conversation starter that could create a huge impact.

An emphasis on great board members also encapsulates Mary Alice’s vision and hope for the future of both the Kansas State Fair and the Kansas Fairgrounds Foundation. She hopes as time goes on both organizations are able to maintain strong boards full of passionate people who love the Kansas State Fair. She wants both to be the best they can be, full of doers and sayers.

One of Mary Alice’s proudest accomplishments on the Fairgrounds is the Lair White House, which is named after her and her family. She told the story of how there used to be a pitiful, dilapidated old farm house where the Lair White House now stands and how it was this embarrassing place the Foundation had to bring guests to to entertain and talk business. Now, it is a beautiful and functional space that serves not only as the Foundation’s office and conference room, but also currently houses the Kansas State Fair Museum. It is full of life, hard work, and promise for the future. 

Like many others, Mary Alice’s favorite thing about coming to the Kansas State Fair is getting to see and reconnect with all of her friends.

Do you love the Kansas State Fair like Mary Alice does? Sign up today to volunteer and help KFF continue to grow and improve the Kansas State Fair, just like Mary Alice Lair set out to do.

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