County officials began courting potential sponsors for naming rights at Wayne County Fairgrounds in 2019, but the pandemic put that pursuit on hold.

However, conversations recently resumed, and at the April 20 workshop of county commissioners and council members, they learned a commitment of $1 million has been pledged toward ongoing improvements of the facilities and grounds.

Lawyers for both sides are still finalizing details, and no agreement has been approved, but plenty of handshakes and smiles were visible at the meeting as Commissioner Ken Paust introduced First Bank Richmond’s Don Benziger, executive vice president/CFO and Paul Witte, executive vice president/chief lending officer, to receive the group’s thanks.

The county would continue to own and operate the facilities, but by committing to give $100,000 per year for 10 years, First Bank Richmond seeks to assume the naming rights of both Kuhlman Center and Tom Raper Center.

Bank officials said the proposed new names of the facilities are First Bank Kuhlman Center and First Bank Expo Hall. The Kuhlman name would continue on the 1982 building to honor Wayne County resident Robert Kuhlman who served in Vietnam and remains missing in action.

Commissioners said the commercial naming rights to Tom Raper Center had already expired a few years ago. The Raper Pavilion was added in 1996, and then after it was enclosed in 1999, it was renamed.

Local officials have been in touch with the widow of the nationally known RV dealership owner to discuss the upcoming change, and she told them she was satisfied the county had met the conditions of the donation.

The fairgrounds welcome everything from youth 4-H events to gala fundraisers, dinners and dances for local organizations, and large-scale national events such as the Model T Ford Centennial T Party and the United Kennel Club’s Autumn Oaks gathering for coonhound enthusiasts.

Commissioners are to further discuss the bank’s proposal at an executive session on April 27, Butters said.

More of this story appears in the April 27 print edition of Western Wayne News.

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