There are no south-central Minnesotans carved in butter at the Minnesota State Fair, and none will be headlining a concert at the Grandstand. No Mankato restaurants are on hand serving up deep-fried Schwarma curds or Jake's Pizza-on-a-stick.
But hundreds of area residents will be part of the State Fair experience this week and next, not even counting the 4-H kids with their livestock and crafts. Marching bands will be parading across the fairgrounds, local lawmakers will be manning government booths, vendors are selling their wares, and a few will be providing entertainment on a smaller stage than the Grandstand.
Among the 17 colleges and universities with booths in the Education Building is Bethany Lutheran College. The Mankato college sat on a waiting list for three years before a spot opened up, and Bethany is glad to be part of the mix, said Lance Schwartz, one of people pushing to get the college to the fair a decade ago.
Getting a spot is only the first step, said Schwartz, director of institutional communication at Bethany. Next comes catching the eye of fairgoers at a place where there's some serious sensory overload.
Even in the relative quiet of the Education Building, the competition for attention is fierce. St. Thomas University, for instance, recreates in its fair booth the iconic Kasota-stone archways of its campus.
Bethany has doubled the size of its booth and uses a video slideshow, carpeting and halogen lighting to spiff it up.
Then there's the requisite give-away. Schwartz sees other colleges giving away fancy recyclable bags or even battery-powered handheld fans, at least in limited numbers. Bethany is more economical.
"We have the infamous eraser-on-a-stick," he said. "A pencil."
None of that matters too much to the people that Bethany is really hoping to connect with: high schoolers seriously shopping for a college and Bethany grads. The potential future Bethany students get a good first impression of the Christian liberal arts college, and the alumi often sign the guestbook with up-to-date contact information before reminiscing about life at the college going back to the 1950s.