NPR radio host connects with small-town Iowans at state fair

Monday, August 15th 2005, 9:42 am
By: News On 6

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ One might wonder if Garrison Keillor wasn't at the Iowa State Fair to collect some ideas for his national radio show.

The host of Prairie Home Companion munched on a porkchop on a stick, chatted with fairgoers and judged some 4-H projects.

``All fiction comes from a little bit of reality, otherwise it would have no relevance,'' Keillor said during his visit to the fair on Sunday. ``The fun is in innovation, take something real like this fair, and make it something larger than life.''

Keillor spoke with many fans about small towns and their many characters, and found a thread of commonality with everyone he met.

Keillor said the porkchop on a stick gave him a chance to eat with his fingers, something his mother never would have allowed. As for the fair, he said it was the best he's ever attended.

``This fair is such a classic fair, where others tend to be more like amusement parks,'' he said.

Keillor's knack for mixing fiction and reality with humor and subtlety has made him one of the most recognized personalities on public radio, and it's given him a wide-age range of fans.

Glenn Pollock, a 64-year-old Army veteran from Omaha, Neb., has been attending the Iowa State Fair every year since 1947. He's a huge fan of Keillor's and came to the fair with his teenage grandson, who is also a fan.

``You might think his characters are not real,'' Pollock said. ``But when you live in a small town in Iowa, Nebraska, or Minnesota you know they are real _ they just have different names that's all.''

Another longtime fan was Kathleen Heise, whose daughter Anneka, also a fan, was recently awarded first prize for her Historical Family Heritage 4-H project _ one of the entries judged by Keillor.

``It was great to talk to him,'' said Kethleen Heise, of Denver, Iowa. ``Anneka really enjoyed it.''

Heise's project included a scrapbook of photographs of the matriarchs of her family, as well as various 4-H projects the women in her family had completed.

Not present was Heise's great grandmother, Merna Miller, who lives in a nursing home. But in an empty chair, where she would have sat, was an impressively preserved straw hat, a project she made when she was a teenager in 4-H.

This was the first year a celebrity judge critiqued the projects.

Keillor spoke with the Heises about the importance of recording one's ancestry.

``There's so many people who move around our country and lose track of their own ancestry,'' Keillor told Anneka Heise. ``It's nice to know where you come from.''