The Ohio State Fair’s longest-running general manager, Virgil Strickler, can now add another accolade to his vast list of accomplishments: Ohio Fairs Hall of Fame Inductee.

At the Ohio Fair Managers Association (OFMA) Convention in January, Virgil was recognized alongside his peers in recognition of his devotion and invaluable service to the Ohio fair industry and for revolutionizing the youth education and livestock program during his tenure at the Ohio State Fair.

Strickler’s dedication to the Fair industry dates back to his childhood. He grew up on a Fairfield County farm and participated in 4-H for 11 years and FFA for four years. He participated in both the county and state fair, showing cattle, hogs and grain, and participating in woodworking, welding and livestock judging projects. His family was selected as the “Fair Family of the Day” to tour the Ohio State Fair with Governor Rhodes in 1969; a photo of this visit is proudly displayed in his office to this day.

Following a 12-year stint at Producers Livestock Association, Strickler was named Livestock and Agriculture Director of the Ohio State Fair in 1993. He dedicated each day to creating a quality Junior Fair in which youth were rewarded not only for the quality of their animals, but also for their knowledge of the species’ nutrition, genetics, anatomy and more. In the wee hours of the morning in his garage, Strickler came up with a way to award all participating youth for excellence. He took his idea and ran with it, collaborating with Ohio 4-H and FFA to create the Youth Reserve Program, placing caps on livestock animals sold in the Sale of Champions and simultaneously reallocating those funds into what is now a multi-million dollar scholarship program that has served more than 32,500 Ohio youth. This program, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2015, has been duplicated at other state and county fairs.

In 2011, inspired by the initiative of Gov. John R. Kasich, Virgil Strickler worked with the Ohio Department of Agriculture to create a groundbreaking program to educate Ohio’s youth about the state’s largest industry – Ag is Cool. This program, which allows exiting fourth grade students and a chaperone to enter the Fair for free to learn about agriculture in an exciting and interactive setting, has been named as the best special or specific agricultural education exhibit, event or program for the fairgoing public for fairs with annual attendance between 500,001 and 1 million by the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE).

Under his direction, the Ohio State Fair has seen a plethora of innovation and achievement. The length was shortened from 17 days to 12 to capitalize financially while maintaining a nationally-recognized livestock exhibition. The Fair has set, and broken, many attendance records, most recently in 2014 with 916,724 attending. Several buildings have been upgraded, improving the quality of experience for exhibitors. Most notably, the 360-acre Ohio Expo Center has seen great improvements in the area of grounds beautification. During Strickler’s tenure, the Ohio State Fair has greatly expanded its greenhouse capabilities and currently grows approximately 40,000 plants and flowers each year.

Strickler is involved in the International Association of Fairs and Expositions and previously served as the Zone 3 Director for the international association. He received his Certified Fair Executive designation in 2000. In addition, he has been recognized with several industry awards pertaining to agriculture programs established at the Fair. In 2000, Strickler was recognized with the 4-H Fifth ‘H’ Award for his contribution to youth development, and in 2005 he was presented with the Honorary State FFA Degree. Virgil is involved in many organizations, and holds membership in the Ohio Agriculture Council, FFA, Ohio Farm Bureau, Greater Ohio Showmen’s Association (GOSA), National Independent Concessionaires Association (NICA) and the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE). He is an avid golfer and lives in Lakeview, Ohio with his wife Kimberly, and is the proud father of four daughters, and grandfather of one grandson.

Strickler was also one of 36 individuals and two organizations were recognized by the Ohio Department of Agriculture for outstanding service to their local fairs. Of this group, he was the only individual to receive a special Governor’s resolution for his exemplary service to the Ohio State Fair.

Strickler was inducted into the Ohio Fairs Hall of Fame alongside three other outstanding fair supporters: William “Bill” Fulmer of the Ashland County Fair, Keith Sheridan of the Greene County Fair and Paul G. Oechsle of the Van Wert County Fair.

The award was presented at a special breakfast ceremony on January 11, 2015, during the 90th annual Ohio Fair Managers Association Convention in Columbus.

The Ohio Fair Managers Association is a voluntary, not-for-profit corporation, serving state, independent and county agricultural fairs, shows, exhibitions and festivals within Ohio. The OFMA represents 95 fairs in Ohio and more than 240 associate members from allied fields. Throughout the years, the OFMA has remained true to its purpose of promoting and encouraging the development and improvement of agricultural fairs, shows, and expositions. The OFMA is actively engaged and supports the International Association of Fairs and Expositions as well as the Federation of State and Provincial Association of Fairs.

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