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Family's legacy memorialized at McHenry County Fair

New building on fairgrounds bears Dahm name

Published: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
(Kyle Grillot –
Jane Dahm (right) and Judy Porter organize the antiques area of building D at the McHenry County Fairgrounds on Tuesday. Dahm's family has been involved with the McHenry County Fair since the 1920s and now she contributes to the fair in the antique show and has passed down the tradition to her grandchildren who show in the 4-H competitions. Dahm's family will be recognized this year with the dedication of a new beef barn named in memory of her late husband, George.

WOODSTOCK – For decades, McHenry County Fair-goers have been nearly guaranteed to see three things: livestock, antiques and someone from Jane Dahm's family.

With roots in the fair going back to the 1920s, the 82-year-old and her family have been as synonymous with the five-day fest as the 4-H competitions they helped organize throughout the years. That's why the newest building on the fairgrounds will be named the George Dahm Memorial Beef Barn in honor of her husband, who died in 2005.

The 2013 McHenry County Fair begins Wednesday and runs through Sunday at the fairgrounds, located at the corner of Route 47 and Country Club Road in Woodstock.

Dahm said she and her husband had saved money to donate to the fair to build a small beef barn, but outside donations led to the construction of a large, state-of-the-art barn that will be used for 4-H livestock competitions.

She said the dedication ceremony planned for 6 p.m. Wednesday is a priceless gesture to her family, who first became involved with the fair in the 1920s when her father served as secretary.

"We've always been involved with this fair and had children and grandchildren that would show in the 4-H competitions," she said. "They're all coming Wednesday for the dedication. It means a lot to all of us."

Frank Kearns, a volunteer organizer for the fair, said he remembers George Dahm helping him show his livestock when he was a child in the 4-H competition at the fair.

Kearns said it is obvious how much the Dahms have meant to the 4-H and agricultural community, as tens of thousands of dollars have been donated and companies have freely given dirt, concrete, limestone and other materials for the building to become a reality.

The new facility will provide more growth opportunities for 4-H, Kearns said, continuing a strong trend that saw the organization increase its youth membership from 480 people to 780 in a couple of years.

"The Dahms have been involved in the 4-H forever and Jane is still very active," Kearns said. "It's absolutely great to see and it's not only a huge addition but really the focal point of the fairgrounds."

Ken Bauman, president of the fair board of directors, said the building could be used year-round because most of the features can be easily removed and set up, which allows the building to be used for commercial purposes, such as company picnics or 4-H events, such as some of the science programs it offers.

The new facility is the second in two years after volunteers raised money in 2012 for a new swine barn that was dedicated to the memories of three young Huntley 4-H members who died in separate incidents less than three years apart.

Bauman said the facility upgrades became a priority after it was determined that a discussed move to Route 14 near Lake Shore Drive stalled and would not be feasible in the near future.

"When you talk about moving all the infrastructure, that is just a lot of money that we never see ourselves getting back," he said of the decision to stay at the fairgrounds. "But we keep growing here."

Chris Dahm, a former board president of the fair, said there is no greater honor than having his father's legacy memorialized by the fair. Like his family, he said the building and fair would not be possible without the volunteers that come back every year to help from the time they are 7 to 70.

It is that deep connection those involved with the fair have that will keep it alive as it evolves throughout the years.

"The great thing about the building is whether it's showing cattle or photography, this building was made for multiple uses and can change as the fair changes," Chris Dahm said. "It was a lot of hard work from a lot of people, and we are just excited to finally see it come to fruition."

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