Two Top Farmers Are Honored as State Fair Illinoisans of the Day

Brenda Besse and Prairie Farmer Master Farmer Harold Steele will each have their own day at the Illinois State Fair this year.

Published on: Jul 25, 2011

In mid-August, two Illinois farmers will be recognized as Illinoisan of the Day at the 2011 State Fair. 

Hillsdale farmer Brenda Besse will be honored on Aug. 16, which is Ag Day. Dover farmer Harold Steele receives the award on Aug. 17. The Illinois State Fair Museum Foundation honors 10 Illinoisans over the course of 10 days during the Illinois State Fair. This is the award series' third year.

Harold Steele should be familiar to Prairie Farmer readers as he was named a Master Farmer in 1970. Before beginning his farming career, Steele left the University of Illinois in 1942 to fight in World War II, where he attained the rank of captain. He fought in France and Germany and was among the first troops to liberate a Nazi-held concentration camp.

Upon coming home, he resumed his passion for farming. He is a fourth-generation farmer. His Dover farmstead was put on the map by his great grandfather in 1873.

Like Steele, Brenda Besse has also been featured in Prairie Farmer, just this past January in fact. Building and maintaining an enterprise such as Brierwood Farms, which boasts a prize-winning Brown Swiss herd, is a feat in itself. Considering Besse lost a leg in a 1981 farm accident, her accomplishments are nothing short of amazing.

After the accident, Besse continued farming and her other passion, sports. She's won over 90 golf tournaments. She's also turned her disability into a beacon of hope for thousands of farmers across the state through her work for the AgrAbility Unlimited program.

The Illinoisan of the Day program is just one of the duties that falls under the auspices of the recently created Illinois State Fair Museum Foundation, which officially came into existence Oct. 11, 2006. This date is exactly 153 years after the first day of the first Illinois State Fair ever held in Springfield.

The non-profit group is currently working toward the construction of a museum to preserve the rich heritage and traditions of the state fair. Other objectives include to solicit and maintain funds and property to support the Illinois State Fair and Fairground Buildings and grounds; to cooperate with businesses, industries, government agencies and individuals; to promote and develop activities and programs at the center; and to aid public bodies in the education and interpretation of Illinois products and people.

For more information on the foundation plus some interesting historical facts, visit www.statefairmuseum.org.