Updated: 7:15 a.m.
The Minnesota State Fair's longest-serving general manager is stepping down this spring. Jerry Hammer will retire after more than 50 years of working at the fair.
Hammer grew up in St. Paul near the fair and started working in the fair greenhouse in 1970 as a teenager. He joined the full-time staff in 1977 and worked his way up through the fair's management ranks. He also served as chairman of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions.
Hammer had thought about retirement before, but he wanted to make sure the fair got back on its feet after shutting down because of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
“I'm 68 and I have been really fortunate health-wise, and I really owe it to my family to retire before the wheels fall off. That could be 20 years from now, or it might be next week. I don't know,” he said.
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He's overseen $180 million in improvements and upgrades, including the West End Market that helped push attendance over 2 million people in 2019.
A statement from the fair said that he had decided to retire this spring but didn't give a set date. That will be before the fair opens in August.
The fair's board is conducting a search for Hammer's successor, and Hammer said he will stay on to help make the transition to a new general manager.
Hammer said he intends to maintain some connection with the fair and is thinking of writing a book-length history of the Great Minnesota Get-Together.