Wood Lake small in numbers but it doesn’t show at fair

WOOD LAKE – A carnival worker set up at the intersection of 3rd Street and 2nd Ave. in Wood Lake on Monday, filling four arms of the crossed streets for a block in every direction with rides and concessions.

Not bad for a town of 438 residents.

Wood Lake puts on a festival every summer for three days from Monday to Wednesday.

“All I can say is it’s been going on since 1935,” said Dewayne Schaffran, mayor of Wood Lake and president of the community club. “They took off the four war years and ’46 because of the polio epidemic, so this is our 73rd year. It’s gotten smaller since I was a kid, but it’s still pretty big.”

Schaffran credits the success of the fair to community volunteers. At the famous hamburger stand 12 people work three two-hour shifts every evening. During the course of the three-day fair they serve between 3,500-3,800 burgers, use 400 pounds of onions and 2,100 pounds of fresh-cut potatoes.

“We do lots of telephoning,” said Donna Ricke, member of the community club that coordinates volunteers. “Some just sign up on their own, some in groups. Say the elevator takes a slot, then they come in as a group.”

Almost all of the long-term residents have grown up with the fair, and many who have moved away return for it.

Aimee Falkum grew up in Wood Lake and is a graduate student in Syracuse, N.Y.

“I live right down the street and I’ve been to the fair each and every year,” Falkum said. “I think it just really brings the community together and it’s a pride of place to the community. I get to see old friends again before they go back to school. And the burgers are legendary!”

Wood Lake has a 15-year relationship with the carnival people who make it a regular stop on their yearly circuit. They just came from the Murray County Fair in Slayton and will pick up and move on at the end of the week.

“We love to see it come, and by Wednesday we’re ready to see it go,” said Pat Haneca, owner of Haneca’s Country Store. “It’s a lovely tradition. It’s affordable. People can bring their kids and park themselves somewhere. Older people can touch base with people they haven’t seen for a while, and lots of visiting gets done.”