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Get to Know the State Fair’s New CEO

Plus the woman who's first in line for the fair, the collector with more than 1,000 State Fair buttons, and this year's Princess Kay of the Milky Way is crowned in today's Flyover news roundup.

Courtesy of Minnesota State Fair

Welcome back to The Flyover, your daily digest of what local media outlets and Twitter-ers are gabbing about.

It seems like all anyone can gab about on day one of the Minnesota State Fair is the State Fair itself, so... bearing that in mind, here's an all-fair Flyover for your reading pleasure. Not a fair fan? Check back tomorrow for a return to your regularly scheduled programming. And don't miss Viraluae's other recent fair-related stories, from our first State Fair Bingo game to our highly anticipated annual ranking of the new beers of 2023 by their Minnesota-ness to this love letter to the Blue Ribbon Bargain Book to our chat with the creator of a State Fair-themed RPG called Butter Princess.

From Rejected State Fair Intern to Get-Together CEO

The first time Renee Alexander applied for a job with the Minnesota State Fair—as a rising college senior interested in a sales internship, back in 1989—she didn't get the gig. Today, she's kicking off her first Minnesota State Fair as CEO, making her the first woman ever to hold that role. (She takes over for the wonderfully named Jerry Hammer, who held the title for 27 years before stepping down in February). MPR's Tim Nelson sat down with Alexander to talk about her decades of service with the fair, the importance of getting national acts to see the grandstand as a legitimate amphitheater, and her plans—which aren't drastic, at least yet—for the future of the fair.

Alexander tells Nelson what the folks who love the fair know: That it's not about any one person making decisions from an office, but the sum of the experiences of thousands of people over a few weeks each summer. “You don't think anything of it and those moments happen out here all over the place where people sit at a picnic table with strangers and talk or they pass a bucket of cookies down the row at a Grandstand show,” she says. “I mean, the fair's a lot of small moments that build up into this giant amazing thing.”

First at the Fair

While we're at it, let's meet another cool State Fair lady: Ginger Johnson, who's arguably the get-together's biggest fan. KARE 11 caught up with Johnson outside the fairgrounds late at night last year, where she'd been waiting patiently since about 11 p.m. for the doors to open Thursday morning; she spends her whole vacation each year attending every single day of the fair. The 62-year-old from Apple Valley says she's competitive about being the first person to step onto the fair's hallowed, not yet flattened cookie-covered ground, and adds that her day job is as a grocery store donut fryer means she's used to rising in the middle of the night. Impossibly, KARE—which also met up with Johnson earlier this year—did not take advantage of her expertise to get a take on the fair's best mini donuts.

Enough Butter Busts, Let's Talk Button Boss

Ya know, let's just round this thing out with a third human interest story about someone who loves the State Fair. That someone is Sue Buetow, a collector who has more than 1,000 different State Fair buttons. The fair itself has put out an official button every year since 1976, Buetow tells FOX 9, and of course, she has them all. She also has lots of others, less official but no less precious to her, including one from way back in 1910 and lots from politicians or other groups with booths. "My very favorites are the anniversaries or the birthdays—100 years of the Cattle Barn, and they put out a button, or 50 years of the milk stand, and they put out a button," she says, adding that the 4H buttons can be very hard to come by: "The kids are pretty protective of their buttons," she chuckles.

This Year's Princess Kay of the Milky Way Is...

Emma Kuball! (We lied, we still care about butter busts.) Last night, the 19-year-old from Waterville became the 70th PKOTMW, WCCO reports, earning her the right to be the first dairy farm ambassador with her likeness carved into a butter bust this year. (ICYMI, revisit Viraluae's story from 2022 about what it's like to eat your own buttery head here.) If you head to the Dairy Building today, she's the one you'll see patiently sitting for sculptor Gerry Kulzer in that chilly rotating cooler.

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