Waltke inducted into fair hall of fame
CENTREVILLE — A man who had a big influence on the St. Joseph County Grange Fair received a prestigious and posthumous honor Thursday.
During a ceremony prior to the animal auctions at the fair, Jerry Waltke, who was the fair board president in 2021 and who passed away unexpectedly in November, was inducted into the St. Joseph County Fair’s Hall of Fame.
Waltke served on the Board of Directors for the fair for 13 years, and was its president for one year, 2021. He was also the co-owner of G&K Gas in Sturgis. In his younger years, Waltke showed animals during the fair as a member of 4-H, and was also a superintendent for the Open Class Beef category for a number of years.
Current Fair Board President Keith Bowers noted Waltke’s dedication to the fair in his speech inducting Waltke.
“He vigorously dedicated much of his free time striving to make the fair a better community event,” Bowers said. “His busy life did not lessen his love for the fair, and over the years, he participated in many capacities, some of which were raising and racing his horse, showing a wide variety of animals, becoming a 4-H leader, and teaching his children and other 4-Hers from the Burr Oak 4-H Club how to raise and show their livestock.”
Bowers said the board appreciated Waltke’s “selfless contributions to the fair,” and welcomed his memory into the hall of fame.
Members of Waltke’s family then came up to receive a plaque commemorating Waltke’s induction. Penny Waltke, Jerry’s widow, called it a “great honor” to have her husband inducted into the fair he enjoyed.
“He was a great man, gone too soon. His memory will live on through his kids and grandkids,” Penny said. “He’ll be remembered for what a good guy he was, and he was always able to help.”
Jerry’s induction to the hall of fame wasn’t a surprise to Penny, who was on the committee who selected him to be inducted.
“Normally, it’s a surprise, but they couldn’t do that,” Penny said.
Fair Board member Mindy Timm said Jerry’s impact on the fair was “huge,” which is one of the reasons he was selected. When the fair board learned of his passing in 2021, Timm said it was “hard” for the board to hear.
“He was our core leader, and we were very tight with him. We all talked with him pretty much every day with him on the phone,” Timm said. “I had a very tight relationship with Jerry; Jerry’s the reason I’m on the fair board. He wanted me to run, and so I ran and that’s the reason I’m here. So, it hit us very hard.”
Overall, Timm said the honoring Jerry’s service to the fair was important for them.
“It’s nice to be able to honor him in this way and have his legacy still at the fairgrounds with the memorial building that they’re putting up, so it makes us super happy,” Timm said.
Later in the day, a pig was auctioned off to raise money for a memorial pavilion in Jerry’s memory. The 88-foot-long pavilion, which the family hopes will be completed by next year’s fair, will cover the wash rack and extra grass lot between the 4-H cattle barn and the Open Class cattle barn, barns 29 and 30.
The pig was donated for the auction by Jerry’s granddaughter, 8-year-old Brynleigh Sherman, who received the pig as a gift from Jerry before his passing. The 289 lb. pig sold for $110 per pound to a group of 79 people and entities that donated money to the cause, a total of $31,790. Members of Waltke’s family were increasingly emotional as the price of the pig went higher throughout the bidding, culminating in the final cost.
Penny said she was proud of Sherman for being willing to donate the pig for the occasion, and looked forward to seeing the pavilion put up.
“It feels good; I’m pretty proud of her that she’s doing that,” Penny said. “The pavilion will be something that’ll remain on the fairgrounds for a long time in Jerry’s memory.”
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or firstname.lastname@example.org.