Passing the torch
Malt stand crew says goodbye with donation to Lyon County Fair
MARSHALL — You can serve a lot of milkshakes in 40 years. The Lyon County Dairy Association has tallied up thousands, as their members worked at the malt stand during the county fair each summer.
“The best part is seeing the smiles on kids’ faces when they get the malts,” said Ken Persoon. Persoon was one of several association volunteers who have kept coming back to work at the malt stand over the years.
“We have a lot of fun. It’s a lot of work, though,” said Gary Erdmann.
After running the malt stand at the fair almost every year since 1981, Dairy Association members said it was time for someone new to take over. The association officially disbanded this week. However, association members still wanted to contribute to the fair. On Wednesday they gathered together with Lyon County Fair Board members to present a final $5,510 donation.
The money will be used to continue the association’s work supporting Day Care Day at the fair.
Fair board members said they wanted to thank the Dairy Association and area dairy farmers.
“The Lyon County Fair Board really appreciates everything they’ve done,” board member Mark Sleiter said.
The malt stand’s history started with a regional Dairy Days event held in Russell in 1981, Erdmann said. The Dairy Association had rented a malt machine for the occasion.
“That was the first time I had ever worked with one,” Erdmann said. The malts went over extremely well, and it got the association interested in starting up a stand during the Lyon County Fair.
The malt stand was popular from the start. In 1981, the Dairy Association sold a total of 3,430 malts during the county fair. The numbers have stayed strong through the years, too. According to the association, more than 24,000 malts have been sold since the 2016 fair. In 2022 alone, the stand sold 4,264 malts.
Serving up all those shakes took a lot of dedication and teamwork by volunteers.
“None of this could be done without everyone’s help,” Erdmann said. Some of the Dairy Association members who were at this week’s check presentation, including Gary and Beth Erdmann, Ken and Phyllis Persoon, Cheryl Allen and Gary Crowley, had been volunteering for many years. Erdmann said association members Daryl Swan and Mark Meulebroeck were also longtime volunteers.
Persoon said one of the memories that would stick with him was learning “how many malts you could make in a minute.” He and fellow volunteers remembered how a sudden rush of customers could keep them busy.
But at the same time, volunteers had fun.
“The best part of working there was, you had to eat your mistakes,” said association member Gary Crowley.
Over the years, the Dairy Association put the profits from the malt stand to use in a variety of ways. Erdmann said the association helped support the Lyon County Fair and 4-H clubs in the county. They’ve also helped provide ice cream machines for public schools in Lyon County, and donated dairy products like butter and cheese to Lyon County Heart To Heart.
In 2017, the group started a “Day Care To the Fair” program, which provided free transportation for day care providers to bring children to the Lyon County Fair.
“We invited all day cares in Lyon County,” Erdmann said. In addition, the Dairy Association worked to make sure there were agriculture-related activities for the kids who attended, and items like coloring books for them to take home. In 2022, a total of 393 day care children took part in Day Care To the Fair, the association said.
Although the malt stand has become a tradition at the county fair, Dairy Association members decided that after four decades, their work had come to an end. There are few dairy producers left in Lyon County now, they said. The association decided to donate its remaining funds to keep supporting day care visits at the fair.
“It’s going to be a little different” without volunteering at the malt stand, Crowley said. “It’s been almost like a social event.”
But although the Dairy Association members were saying goodbye, fair board members said it didn’t mean the end for malts at the Lyon County Fair. Erdmann would be working with Josh Lingen and the fair board on a future transition, board members said.