The Kansas Fairgrounds Foundation (KFF) continues to grow every year; 2023 was no exception. Thanks to our board members, staff, volunteers, and especially our incredible donors, the Foundation had a historic year that has allowed us to make a strong start in 2024.
We started 2023 by inducting three new board members: Abby Miller, Monica Lair-Junghans, and Tawnya Roenbaugh. These three have added incredible value in their first year on the board. They bring unique perspectives and have added diversity to the board from industry, backgrounds, expertise, and regions represented.
Regarding staff, Executive Director James Fisher celebrated his 2nd anniversary with the Foundation. Patty Snyder, who handles donor development, accounting and many other contributions (too many to name!), and Hannah Beam, marketing, branding and graphic design for the Foundation, celebrated their one-year anniversaries with KFF last year. This dedicated team has been integral to the growth and success of the Foundation as they handle essential day-to-day operations of KFF.
A big first in 2023 was the launch of the First Friday E-Updates. The E-Updates have been sent to our email list every month since January 2023. Throughout the year, we have maintained a 40% open rate, nearly double the industry average for open rate. We feel privileged to have such a strong group of engaged and enthusiastic supporters!
The E-Updates themselves have also grown and changed throughout the year. The first addition was the Volunteer Spotlight articles, which feature a monthly key volunteer. We have also added a column written by board member, Richard Shank, called Shank’s Take. This unique column adds perspective and historical ties to the current events on the Fairgrounds and with the Foundation.
A major accomplishment of the Foundation this year was the complete rebuild of the historic House of Capper. The House of Capper was rebuilt entirely in the same architectural style as the original with the addition of the adjacent Capper Cooperative Park. The Capper Cooperative Park is the only public educational exhibit in the country teaching about cooperatives in America. The project was dedicated in July and made a big splash at the 2023 Kansas State Fair, hosting events such as live bands, dance performances, and the Chiefs Super Bowl Trophy event. This project was made possible by our donors and through a partnership with the Kansas Cooperative Council and their members, along with a $450,000 SPRINT Grant award from the Kansas Department of Commerce which secured funds to finish the Capper Project.
The Kansas State Fair was another significant part of 2023 for the Foundation, besides the celebration and enjoyment of the new Capper Project. The Fair saw record attendance, and the Official Kansas State Fair Merchandise Booth, operated solely by Foundation volunteers, also had record-breaking sales.
In other record-breaking news, Boots and Bling 2023 – Champagne Life was a smash hit with a sold-out crowd of 700 attendees, the largest event to date. JACAM CATALYST of Sterling, Kansas was the Presenting Sponsor. The number of silent auction items increased from the 2022 year, with donations from throughout the Hutchinson community and from across the state. The live auction set a new record with the most total funds raised for the third year.
2023 also saw big steps made towards new projects such as the Bison Arena, Fountain House, and 1861 Club. The Bison Arena is in the early planning stages and will be a state-of-the-art agriculture education and innovation center. The Fountain House was the featured fundraising project for the TAG 2023 Program, Together Achieving Greatness! Funds raised for this project in 2023 will go towards renovating the building into a more usable space for the fairgrounds, including housing the Official Kansas State Fair Merchandise booth during the Kansas State Fair.
The 1861 Club – an Event Venue on the Kansas State Fairgrounds, will be completed for the 2024 Kansas State Fair. It will be a food, beverage, and entertainment venue during the Kansas State Fair. Then, it will transform into a high-quality event venue, specializing in weddings, corporate, industry, and unique event destinations. This project aims to become a source of regular income for the Foundation that will support even more renovation and beautification projects on the Kansas State Fairgrounds.
Local partnerships strengthened in 2023, especially with the Hutchinson Chamber of Commerce. The Foundation had a booth at their yearly member event and attended the Annual Chamber Banquet.
Looking forward, 2023 has set the Foundation up for another successful year in 2024 with more vendor events to promote the 1861 Club, several projects in the pipeline, and even more outreach to potential donors in the works.
We look forward to working with all of you again in the New Year to continue to support the Kansas Fairground Foundation purpose: To further the renovation, construction, preservation, and beautification of the Kansas State Fairgrounds.