LINCOLN — An 89-year agricultural tradition in Omaha is moving down the trail to Grand Island.
The Aksarben Stock Show, the nation’s largest 4-H livestock show, will be held at Grand Island’s Fonner Park this fall, ending a run in Omaha that began in 1928.
The show, coupled with a professional rodeo added in 1947, has been an autumn highlight in Omaha.
The top animals were auctioned off at the end of the event, last year raising $250,000 for scholarships.
Submitting a winning bid was a point of pride for Omaha steakhouses, who posted photographs of the grand or reserve champion cattle, hogs or sheep they purchased in the lobby of their restaurants.
“When I was a 4-H’er growing up in Iowa, it was probably the ultimate show,” said Jay Wolverton, a native of Oakland, Iowa, who is now a veterinarian in Seward, Nebraska.
Wolverton, 53, said that when he was showing animals in the ’70s and ’80s, the exhibitors stayed in a dormitory above the offices at the old Aksarben complex near 66th and Center Streets. He still recalls his brother selling a calf, raised through a special “catch-a-calf” contest, for twice the going market rate.
“It was just one of those special experiences,” Wolverton said.
Kevin Kock, executive director of the Aksarben Foundation’s Agriculture Initiatives, said the move is about growing the regional event, which last year drew 1,055 4-H participants from Nebraska and Iowa and other surrounding states.
Space was limited at the CenturyLink Center, which had hosted the Stock Show since it opened in 2003, Kock said. Animals had to be hauled up freight elevators, down a hallway and into a ballroom for the auction.
By contrast, Grand Island’s Fonner Park, where the stock show will be held, has $42 million worth of state-of-the-art livestock show barns built in recent years to host the Nebraska State Fair.
“If we’re going to grow this thing, we need the physical space to do it,” Kock said. “I hope we have created a sustainable model for the 4-H stock show to continue and grow.”
Participation from 4-H members in western Iowa and Minnesota might decline because of the new locale, he said, but more entries are expected from Colorado, Kansas and other states closer to Grand Island, about 150 miles west of Omaha.
Cindy Johnson, president of the Grand Island Area Chamber of Commerce, said the community is excited to host the Aksarben show, which will be held from Sept. 28 to Oct. 1. A local committee, she said, is being formed to run the annual Purple Ribbon Auction.
“It’s a win-win for central Nebraska and for the Aksarben Stock Show,” Johnson said.
The move of the Aksarben Stock Show does not impact the Aksarben Coronation Ball or the annual rodeo in Omaha.
Kock said a contract for the 2017 rodeo has yet to be signed. “Hopefully, that’s a story in a couple of weeks,” he said.
Moving the stock show to Grand Island is part of the Aksarben Foundation’s commitment to make an impact statewide and to draw leaders from across the state, according to Kirk Kellner, chairman of the Knights of Aksarben and regional president of Wells Fargo Bank.
“Moving the Aksarben Stock Show to Grand Island demonstrates a commitment by the Aksarben Foundation to maximize its impact in greater Nebraska and grow the Knights of Aksarben leadership network,” Kellner said.