It is not known if C.C. “Bud” Gerken realized at the time the legacy his vision and life would have at the Missouri State Fair. Through his efforts, countless individuals have found a place to enjoy a sweet treat and smiles in the facility that bears his name.

The Gerken Dairy Center was built in 1999 and dedicated and named after Gerken, a longtime dairy superintendent at the Missouri State Fair. This year as the center celebrates its 20th anniversary some of Gerken’s friends and colleagues reflect on his lasting impact at the state fair.

Gerken, his wife, Margie, and their family operated a dairy farm outside Sedalia from the early 1950s until they sold the herd in 1985. Recognized both in Missouri and nationally for their herd, it was Gerken’s wish to have a state of the art facility for dairy farmers at the fair.

“Bud wanted a place where fairgoers could come and see cows being milked and learn about dairy farming and then enjoy a great dairy treat on the other side,” Manager of Farmer Relations for Midwest Dairy Stacy Dohle explained. “It was also important to Bud for the dairy cattle exhibitors to have an updated milking parlor where they could milk their cows while at the fair.”  

The building was paid for by funds from the Missouri State Fair, the Missouri General Assembly and many dairy and ag industry companies and organizations, according to Dohle.

Missouri State Fair Livestock Superintendent David Dick knew Gerken well.   

“I have many fond memories of Bud,” Dick said. “He embraced me from the very beginning of my time at the MSF. This was the fall of 1988, spring of 1989, I was the new Assistant Beef Cattle Superintendent, he was, of course, the Dairy Cattle Superintendent.

“Dairy cattle numbers were much larger than beef cattle numbers and they were the first into the fair as far as scheduling goes,” Dick continued. “He was also known to me as I grew up in the Springfork area and he was in the Mora area. “

Dick described Gerken as having “one of those larger than life personalities that just dominated whatever he was involved in — always in a positive way and always had a big heart.” 

Dick said Gerken took him under his wing and Dick was an eager student, adding he learned a great deal from Gerken in terms of what to do and what not to do.

Described as an absolute people person, Gerken knew everyone personally down to the last detail. 

It was his caring nature that led him to want to help others succeed. Those who knew him recall his sense of humor and outlook on life.

“He had a good sense of humor and his outlook on life was always positive and upbeat,” MSF Poultry Superintendent Tony Perryman recalled. “He would love to kid and joke with you and it didn’t bother him any if you kidded him back.”

Perryman recalled a meeting at the fair when organizers were seeking judges for the queen and cooking contests.

“Bud told them, ‘I like to eat and I love pretty women, why don’t you all consider me,’” Perryman recalled with a smile. “Sad part was I don’t think they hired him for either one — they probably didn’t want someone who was so honest like that.”

Both Dick and Perryman recall how much Gerken loved the fair and his enjoyment of every aspect.

“Bob Denker was the first Livestock Superintendent, Bob was also from the Cole Camp area as well also an excellent individual, and he and Bud knew each other from way back,” Dick said. “Bob was always politically correct as we say now and Bud absolutely was not.

“He was a brash, not shy person who could embarrass the daylights out of you, all in fun, as he would never do it unless he liked you,” he added. “He ruled the Dairy Department with an iron fist, always with a positive outcome.”

Dick described Gerken as the ultimate superintendent who always strove to make the livestock shows, and in doing so the Fair, the best possible experience for the exhibitors, their families and those who attended the fair.  

“It was certainly a sad day when he was untimely struck down by leukemia,” Dick noted. “It was hard to imagine a Missouri State Fair without Bud, that effervescent man full of life and when in his closing days Tony and I went to visit him, he was at that point in quarantine he was so grateful, even though he could no longer speak, we knew what our visit meant to him. I learned and benefited so very much from his experience and sharing and thoughtful teaching and presence.”

As a tribute to the 20th anniversary, fairgoers are asked to stop by and leave a message for the Gerken family or their favorite memory of the Gerken Dairy Center or the Fair. They will be presented to members of the family on the final Saturday of the fair during a ceremony to honor Gerken and the Gerken Dairy Center anniversary.

Education Reporter

Hope Lecchi is the education reporter for the Democrat, covering all things education in Sedalia and Pettis County, as well as providing general assignment and feature coverage. She can be reached at 660-530-0144.

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