Kathleen O’Leary, chief executive officer and executive director of Wisconsin State Fair Park, announced her retirement after 24 years in various management roles at the 200-acre venue.
State Fair Park board chair John Yingling will appoint an interim CEO/executive director prior to O’Leary’s departure at the end of October. He will also appoint a special committee of current State Fair Park board members to conduct a search for O’Leary’s successor.
O’Leary’s career of nearly 35 years includes public and private sector experience in marketing, sponsorship, communications and operations. She began her tenure at State Fair Park in sponsorship and moved into overseeing marketing, sponsorship and communications. She briefly served as chief operations officer before being appointed interim CEO prior to the 2016 Wisconsin State Fair. In October of 2016, O’Leary was officially appointed the first female in the history of State Fair Park to serve as CEO and executive director.
“Words can’t describe how much I will miss leading the team at Wisconsin State Fair Park and bringing the joy of the Wisconsin State Fair to the people of our great state,” said O’Leary. “We have made great strides over the past several years, not just in terms of State Fair attendance, but also in overall guest experience at State Fair Park year-round. I am proud to have been instrumental in ensuring that several large infrastructure projects, including the new Central Mall area, were completed, and know that despite the challenges of the past 18 months, the future is bright at State Fair Park.”
Prior to the cancelation of the 2020 State Fair due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 11-day event had more than one million attendees for seven consecutive years.
O’Leary currently oversees a staff of more than 100 year-round employees, along with approximately 1,500 part-time and seasonal employees leading up to and during the State Fair.
“On behalf of the entire State Fair Park Board, I want to thank Kathleen for her leadership and dedication, not only since she was appointed in 2016, but since she began at State Fair Park more than two decades ago,” said Yingling. “Kathleen is a master of marketing the Wisconsin State Fair. She was always finding creative and innovative ways to give our fairgoers new and exciting experiences, even during the pandemic when she and the staff shifted their focus and created a Fair Food Drive-Thru that became the envy of the fair industry. She will be greatly missed by the staff and board at State Fair Park.”