Shari Black isn't leaving her fair roots.
But she is leaving the Waukesha County Fair after 15 years of managing the state's oldest county fair.
Her last day as the fair's executive director is March 4, before the town of Waukesha mother of three begins her new position as the event services director at the Wisconsin State Fair.
'I've been there for a long time and change is always good,' Black said. 'So this is just the next step in my career.'
Nonetheless, Black said 'it's tough' to leave a job she has held since she was 23 years old.
'It wasn't an easy decision,' Black said. 'I'm certainly going to miss it.'
Black was active in 4-H and showed animals at the Waukesha County Fair as a child, along with her siblings, carrying on a tradition started by her grandfather. Her dad is also in the Waukesha County Fair's Hall of Fame and served as a vice president and president of the Fair Board Association for 16 years.
She then became the face of the fair in 1997 when she became the Waukesha County Fairest of the Fair and was the runner-up at the state level as a teenager. When Black was in college she continued to stay close to the fair working as an intern.
When the former director resigned, Black applied for the fair's top position while still a student at Carroll University.
'I still had a semester in college left so I was very fortunate they (the fair board) took a chance on me,' Black said.
Black said it took about five years to realize the commitment needed to run the fair, which first opened in 1842, and is held every July on the grounds of the Waukesha County Expo Center.
She realized the amount of planning that was required so everything can run smoothly for those five days in July.
'I learned a lot and grew from those early experiences,' Black said.
But Black also realized that as much planning as she did, there are some factors she couldn't plan for. Take for example 2010 when more than six inches of rain the first night resulted in poor attendance for one of its main concerts. The fair sought the public's help in trying to make up the financial deficit. Black added it took a while for the fair to bounce back from the financial hit that year.
Last year's up-and-down weather, despite a record first-day crowd, was also a factor in lower than usual attendance, Black said.
For a nonprofit that only has one employee — the executive director — a tough year at the turnstiles can make it a challenge to recover from financially. But Black credits the fair's sponsors and volunteer base in growing the fair's rich tradition.
'I'm going to miss all of the volunteers and the fair board,' Black said. 'I've really worked with great people over the years.'
Black's new roles
Much of these same people, however, will still be able to see Black.
While Black is getting a new job, she'll still be at the fair quite regularly this year and beyond as her children continue to show their animals. Black's oldest children, ages 13 and 11, already show pigs, and her 8-year-old son will soon follow suit.
'I'll get to spend more time with my kids now,' she said.
Her long days at the Waukesha County Fair in July — some extended to 14 hours — will now shift to August at the Wisconsin State Fair.
'It's 11 days, too, so that will be an adjustment,' Black said.
Fair has evolved
But Black adjusted to the pressures of running the county fair as a 20-something and said she tried to adapt to the changing landscape of county fairs.
'Farms are changing,' Black said. 'There are less farms in Waukesha County, so we really have to look at ways at getting kids involved. Things have certainly evolved.'
One way she said she helped the fair evolve is with the addition of a special attraction each year. Two years ago, an alligator show was part of the fair's lineup, and last year a shark encounter exhibit was a highlight of the fair. Moreover, Black also brought back a hot air balloon launch to the fair for the first time since 2008.
These developments and the fact that all of the bands and major attractions are already scheduled for the 2016 fair are why Black feels it's a good time to start the next chapter of her career.
'The fair is in a good place,' Black said. 'We've built up our financial reserves and I'm happy that it's in a very stable spot.'