Greg Harder, the Aksarben Stock Show director and livestock director for the Nebraska State Fair, was terminated Monday in a move that involves the State Fair’s relationship with the stock show.
Harder was hired in April 2018 to be the Aksarben Stock Show director. This year, he was also livestock director for the fair.
Harder, 58, said he was “completely blindsided” by the move, coming on the heels of a successful Aksarben Stock Show this weekend.
Harder was dismissed by State Fair Executive Director Bill Ogg.
Harder said Ogg told him that he was “unprofessional in starting a corporation” and trying to protect the Aksarben Stock Show name “into perpetuity, basically.”
Earlier this year, Harder and two other people started a corporation called Nebraskans for Youth Livestock.
That corporation, Harder said, is meant to ensure the Aksarben Stock Show continues if the State Fair ends its involvement with the stock show.
The corporation was not created for personal enrichment, Harder said.
The Aksarben Stock Show, which just concluded its 93rd year, is important to young people and many others throughout the Midwest who appreciate its heritage, he said.
“It means so much to so many,” Harder said.
The Aksarben Stock Show, presented by the Aksarben Foundation, is managed and produced by the Nebraska State Fair.
Harder created an Aksarben Stock Show logo, which is in the shape of an eartag. The logo refers to the stock show as “AK” for short, and includes the year of each show.
He said he was encouraged by people from the Aksarben Foundation “to create your own logo for the stock show, so there’s a separation between the Aksarben Foundation and the Aksarben Stock Show, because they’re not one and the same.”
Ogg and Beth Smith, chairwoman of the State Fair Board, said they had no comment for this story. Neither did Gretchen Kirchmann of the Askarben Stock Show.
Harder said his dismissal came as a surprise, delivered just after the Aksarben Stock Show had its “most successful collection of entries in decades.”
It was an “extremely, extremely successful weekend,” he said. “I mean, we blew the doors off it.”
More than 1,300 young people from 14 states participated. The weather was beautiful and the city of Grand Island “made these people so happy,” Harder said.
This was the fourth year the Aksarben Stock Show has been in Grand Island, and the third year the show was produced by the State Fair, Harder said. The Aksarben Foundation, which is based in Omaha, produced the event the first year it was in Grand Island.
Four years ago, 752 animals were brought to Grand Island for the show. In 2018, the first year Harder was involved, the number was 909. The total grew to 1,900 last year and 3,500 this year. The growth in participation, he said, “was just remarkable.”
Harder said some Nebraska State Fair Board members who “really weren’t in favor of the Nebraska State Fair doing Aksarben anyhow decided that I needed to be terminated.”
Some State Fair Board members “want to get out of the stock show business,” he said. “They just want to run the State Fair and they don’t want to also have the Nebraska State Fair associated with the Aksarben Stock Show.”
Starting the corporation was a way to prepare for what might happen “to make sure we still have a stock show,” Harder said.
The Aksarben Stock Show means a lot to young people in the Midwest, he said. The show is open to youth exhibitors between the ages of 9 and 19.
The Aksarben Stock Show was established in 1928. People still alive today remember competing in the 1940s, he said.
Harder said he wants to help protect “something that’s 93 years old.”
The corporation also was created to possibly “do some things nationally,” he said.
It’s possible that Nebraskans for Youth Livestock could serve as a business model for other events around the country, Harder said.
He’s “always had positive conversations and relationships with the Aksarben Foundation,” he said
“I poured my heart and soul and all the passion in my being into this wonderful stock show for the past three years,” Harder said.
“I was blessed to be given a tremendous opportunity to lead a stock show back into prominence. It was a stock show that was truly struggling and was on the verge of not being able to continue.”
Harder said he also appreciated being part of the State Fair.
“My heart is so full of great memories of the people that I’ve met along the way,” he said.
“My spirit is so high because of what happened this weekend,” Harder said.
COVID-19 has quieted activity at Fonner Park, as it has everywhere else.
“This weekend, for the first time in six months, the world seemed a little bit normal on Fonner Park property,” he said.
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