Matt Novotony has been honored with the Kraisinger/Clarkson-Frisbie Award for years of dedicated service to the Pratt County Fair.

Volunteers are the backbone of the Pratt County Fair. When the late Steve Kraisinger, former Pratt County Extension Agent and heart and soul of the Pratt County Fair, was diagnosed with cancer, he called on Matt Novotny, one of those volunteers, to take over some responsibilities at the fair, said Ron Piester during the Kraisinger/Clarkson-Frisbie Award presentation to Novotny at the Pratt County Fair.

When someone in charge of things is suddenly gone, two things happen: The thing gets worse and it goes away. But if someone volunteers to step up, things continue to go strong and that's what happened when Novotny took over, Piester said.

"The Pratt County Fair never skipped a beat," Piester said.

That was decades ago and Novotny is still part of the fair having served on the Fair Board and was part of the committee that researched fair buildings in other counties to replace the buildings destroyed in the 2002 tornado.

Novotny said he had been the beef barn superintendent longer than dirt.

Many years before he was a volunteer, Novotny joined 4-H as a child and that set a lifelong love for the organization that continues today.

Novotny got involved with 4-H in 1954 when he was 7-years-old. His projects were beef, sheep, woodworking, electrical and gardening. But his favorite projects were the livestock.

After his days as a 4-H'er, he went to college then got married to Beth and they started a family.

His love for 4-H was still strong so he volunteered to help the fair any way he could. In the late 1970s, Thad Henry asked Novotny to be on the fair board. A year later, he was board president in either 1979 or 1980, Novotny said.

There was so much to learn. So he spent a lot of time sitting in the late Jean Clarkson-Frisbie's office pouring over records to learn how things worked. He got a lot of help from many people including Bill Kenworthy, Gene Lawrence, Harold Kumberg and Clarkson-Frisbie.

His ambition was to reach the same level of quality Kraisinger demanded. One event in particular help test that resolve.

When a tornado tore though the fairgrounds in 2002 it destroyed the kitchen/dining room and the exhibition building. The horse arena was torn down and the doors for the round top building were ripped off and mangled. The fair grounds was in a shambles with debris everywhere. Several livestock buildings were damaged and it was just a little over two months before the fair.

Volunteers cleaned up the mess, a large tent was brought in and the fair went on. Novotny was one of the people assigned to come up with a design to replace the destroyed exhibition and kitchen buildings. The building committee traveled over 1,200 miles visiting other county fair buildings before the committee settled on the design for the building that now sits on the fair grounds.

Serving on the building committee was one of the most important tasks Novotny has accomplished for the fair. The building has been used for numerous events over the years.

"It's been a big asset to Pratt," Novotny said.

Because of the impact 4-H on him when he was a child and the fact he liked doing the projects so much, it is easy for him to continue to serve the fair however he can.

"I really enjoy it," Novotny said. "I want to give back to the community. I went through 4-H and now my grandkids are going through it."

Being in 4-H has tremendous value for the kids. The projects help them think logically, they learn what it takes to carry out a project to the end, it gives them life skills and a sense of accomplishment, Novotny said.

His latest project for the fair was redesigning and helping install new support legs for the livestock barns. The old wooden ones were deteriorating so Novotny came up with a design to replace the wood with metal support posts and they were ready to go for this year's fair.

"They should serve the barns for many years to come," Novotny said.

For Novotny, getting to work with all the people at the fair is the most enjoyable part of why he does what he does as one of many volunteers that help make the fair a success.

The Kraisinger/Clarkson-Frisbie Award is named after late Pratt County Extension Agents Steve Kraisinger and Jean Clarkson-Frisbie and presented to people who have donated years of service that help make the fair the success it is today.