DEF CEO Leming honored for hard work, dedication, innovation

The winners of the annual Kern Council of Governments awards have been announced, and the awards will be presented in a ceremony in Bakersfield on March 7.

Ridgecrest winners include Mike Leming, CEO of the Desert Empire Fair; City Councilman Steven Morgan; and Jerry Taylor and his team of Nathan Ahle, Terry May and Mike Chierotti for the Ridgecrest Military Banner program.

Leming will receive the Darrel Hildebrand Distinguished Leader-ship Award for his leadership and innovative business sense in coordinating and attaining funding for the Desert Empire Fair.

Leming said he was notified of the upcoming honor two months ago. “It was a surprise. I didn’t expect it,” he said in a telephone interview.

“I really have never been the kind to strive for awards. I believe in working hard when I believe in something. I believe in the DEF. I have a heart for it and feel it’s important.”

When Leming took on the job of CEO, the bulk of the fair’s budget came from the state level, since the DEF is a state fair. However, on Jan. 1, 2012, the state cut all funding to the fair, while retaining title to the land and buildings.

Since then Leming and his team have scrambled to generate funding from local sources to keep the premises open and the fair ongoing for the community to enjoy.

Leming, who has been a resident of Ridgecrest for 39 years, sees an important way he can serve the community — keeping the fair going for the enjoyment of everyone. “We’re trying to be innovative and think outside the box to bring in money, since we lost our funding. We’re trying to create our own funding to continue as part of the community.

“It’s just part of the job. My staff has been working hard. This award is recognition not only for me but for my entire staff and all the hard work they’ve put in.”

One innovation he’s proud of has been getting the local nonprofit groups more involved in the fair than they’ve been in the past. “This gives them another avenue to raise funds for their groups,” he said.

“To be given an award is humbling. I believe in giving it all I have, and that’s what we’ve been doing out here. At the fair in October, we had the local gymkhana organization out here and shared the gate earnings with them at the rodeo. That made $1,600 for them.

“We also had the Boys & Girls Club out, and they received $600 from the calf-dressing event. In that one, six business sponsors each sent an individual who went out and chased down a calf and put women’s underwear on it. They each paid $100 to participate. All that money went directly to the Boys & Girls Club.

“The Navy chiefs come out to help us do the work. The Boy Scouts handle our parking for us — they earned nearly $2,400 for their organization doing that.

“It’s really a community fair, and we want the community to know they benefit from all the different events,” said Leming.

“We have all kinds of plans for the future. We’re already doing booking for entertainment for the 2013 October fair.”

Upcoming events at DEF include the community yard sale on Feb. 16, the Family Fun Fest on April 5 and wine tasting April 13 in conjunction with the Wildflower Festival. For more information about upcoming events, check out www.desertempirefair.com.

Look for articles about Jerry Taylor and his team, and Steven Morgan in upcoming issues of the News Review.

Story First Published: 2013-02-13