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Outgoing Ohio State Fair general manager celebrated with bust, belt buckle

A bust of retiring Ohio State Fair General Manager Virgil Strickler.
Sarah Donaldson
Statehouse News Bureau
A bust of retiring Ohio State Fair General Manager Virgil Strickler.

The longest-serving general manager of the Ohio State Fair will officially retire at the end of February, after announcing his decision to do so last summer.

Gov. Mike DeWine, state fair commissioners and other staff got together at Kasich Hall on the state fairgrounds Tuesday morning to celebrate Virgil Strickler’s looming retirement—including with an honorary belt buckle, some tears, and a metal bust of the man who’s been with the fair for 30 years.

“Virgil Strickler is Mr. Ohio State Fair,” DeWine said.

Twenty of Strickler’s 30 years were as general manager, but before that, he was also an assistant general manager and the agriculture director.

Early on, Strickler started the Youth Reserve Program, which is now named after him. That program funds scholarships for youth exhibitors and others participating in the fair. More than $4.6 million in scholarships have been awarded since 1995, according to the Ohio State Fair.

During the event and after it, DeWine lauded Strickler’s ability to do everything with a smile.

“To run the state fair, you've got to be a juggler,” he said. “Every day you've got thousands of people who are coming in, many, many vendors, and all kinds of things that can go wrong, which somehow Virgil managed to make it all work.”

Strickler said it was hard not to get emotional. “Everybody in this room, I know I need to thank you all. I need to,” he said.

In January, after a nationwide search, DeWine announced Adam Heffron as the nominee to take over with the title of executive director. Heffron has led festivals and state fairs in Wisconsin, Washington and Minnesota, but he started his career in Ohio, according to his LinkedIn.

The 2024 fair is scheduled for July 24 through August 4.

Sarah Donaldson covers government, policy, politics and elections for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. Contact her at