Cancer battle forces fair manager to step down
Minnesota’s top county fair will be without a manager beginning next week.
On Friday, Jim Gleason, who has been battling an aggressive form of brain cancer since October, turned in his resignation to the Steele County Free Fair effective Jan. 1. He began as assistant manager in 2011 under former manager Elmer Reseland before taking over the reigns as manager in 2012.
“It’s not something he wants to do, but because of the current state of his health, he can’t perform the duties of the position,” said Natalie Gleason, Jim’s daughter. “It’s tough for him. He was pretty emotional about it when we put together the (resignation) letter.”
Leaving behind the top spot in what is widely known as the best county fair in the state was a difficult decision for Jim, Natalie said. “He basically fought this decision, but came to the realization that it needed to be done,” she added.
Known for his gift to gab, Jim began having trouble communicating while working in October and soon found out after that he had an incurable brain tumor. He had surgery in which doctors removed about 90 percent of the tumor. He is currently undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.
The resignation did not come as a complete surprise to fair officials. “We’re very sad it has come to this, but we realize he needs to do it,” said Dan Deml, fair president. “He needs to focus on his family and health.”
Deml said Jim has done “an outstanding job in moving the fair forward” over the past several years. “We appreciate all he has done. We had hoped he would continue for many more years,” Deml said.
Natalie told the Times that even after the surgery and treatment, her father continues to have trouble reading and short-term memory issues. She said his communication difficulties would have made it nearly impossible for him to continue as manager of the fair.
“He still wants to be involved as much as possible as a consultant,” Natalie said, “But right now he needs to take a back seat to relax and lower his stress level.”
According to Natalie, Jim began radiation treatment in Albert Lea last week. He is also taking a chemotherapy pill. “He hasn’t had many side effects, and his spirits are up,” Natalie said. “He has so much energy that he’ll be normal,” she added.
Even though Jim has been with the fair staff for only seven years, he had been involved with the fair for “most of his adult life,” Natalie said. For years, he worked at KRFO Radio in Owatonna and helped out at the KRFO stage during the fair. She said he has always had a big heart for the fair.
The fair’s personnel committee will be meeting Wednesday to discuss options in moving forward, according to Deml. He said the plan right now is to begin advertising for a new manager in early January with hopes of having someone hired by spring.
“The sooner the better,” Deml said in finding a replacement. “But we’re not in a critical situation of needing someone within days or weeks,” he said.
Deml expects the new manager to have strong skills with marketing and public relations. “We need strong communication skills to promote the fair,” he said. He added the manager must be strong at working with various boards and organizations throughout the county as well as the entire region.
“This is a county fair, and not a city fair,” Deml said. “We need to have good working relationship with area boards.”
The fair, Deml said, is working with the family to set up a benefit for Jim in early March. More details will be released at a later time.