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Fair mascots in it for the people

Steely, Stella, Steele County Fair, fair, mascots, Owatonna
Steely and Stella, the popular mascots of the Steele County Free Fair, are making the rounds promoting the upcoming fair. They recently dazzled crowds in the Fourth of July parade in Blooming Prairie. Staff photo by Rick Bussler
Joni Hubred, News Editor
“The kids get so excited… they give you hugs and high fives. It just warms your heart.”
-Steely (Don McCann), Fair Mascot

About 10 years ago, Don McCann worked with a group of people who volunteered to play mascots Steely and Stella during the Steele County Free Fair, held this year Aug. 16-21.

Over time, they dropped out–but. McCann stuck with it. He now appears as Steely in parades and local events.

“I just enjoy the people you meet,” he said. “The reactions are priceless. That’s what keeps me going.”

Steely and Stella volunteers are often married couples. McCann said he worked with his wife for a year. After she dropped out, he had other partners for several years.

“Right now, I’m kind of on my own,” he said. “You get the people who ask, ‘Where’s Stella?’.”

The answer, he said, is simple: “She’s still in the barn.”

Steely draws lots of attention from kids, but adults can be just as excited to give him a hug and get a picture. For many, the mascots bring back fond childhood memories of having a good time at the Steele County Free Fair.

Volunteers who play Steely and Stella typically take shifts during the event, with three or four couples working each day. They’ll walk around certain areas of the fairgrounds, like the midway and grandstand, and take part in some of the activities.

While McCann enjoys the experience, the costume has a few drawbacks. For one thing, it’s not the coolest place to be in the middle of August, when temperatures climb into the 80s and 90s.

“You have a fan and ice packs, but it gets pretty warm,” he said.

The large head also creates visibility issues. McCann said he sometimes can’t see the smaller children who crowd around and may dive in for a hug.

“It’s usually about belt high that you get hit,” he said, laughing.

McCann has also learned that even getting a picture with a Steely fan isn’t as easy as it looks. The animal head’s eyes are well above his own, so when he looked at people’s faces, Steely was staring up into space.

“You have to look at their feet, so the head is looking at the camera,” he said. “I get a lot of views of people’s feet.”

Richard Dalen, the original Steely, created a few rules for Steely and Stella. They usually have someone walking with them and are not supposed to talk, McCann said. But the biggest part of the job is just meeting people at Steele County Free Fair ambassadors.

“It’s rewarding for me,” McCann said. “The kids get so excited; they give you hugs and high fives. It just warms your heart.”

Anyone interested in volunteering to portray Steely or Stella should contact Rhonda Bennett in the fair office.

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