MAHASKA COUNTY — It has been a banner year for Wood Iron Grille co-owner Matt Gunn.
Gunn was chosen by the Southern Iowa Merchants Association to be a celebrity handler at the Governor's Charity Steer Show during the Iowa State Fair.
"Literally best year of my life," he said. "It snowed last year on my birthday, I got a restaurant, I won best burger, and now going to the state fair to show an animal and I'm cooking a burger? And it's for a good cause."
Clayton Hester, with the Southern Iowa Merchants Association, said this will be the 37th annual Governor's Charity Steer Show. Then-governor Terry Brandstad started the event in 1983.
"He wanted all the proceeds to go to the Ronald McDonald Houses, Hester said. "There are three locations: Des Moines, Iowa City and Sioux City."
Ronald McDonald Houses provide temporary housing for families with children who are receiving treatment for serious illnesses or injuries.
The Governor's Charity Steer Show has raised over $3.2 million in support of the three Ronald McDonald Houses in Iowa.
Hester said 25 organizations are donating a steer for the show. Gov. Kim Reynolds will lead into the ring, followed by Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg and Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. Gunn will follow Naig.
"We are lucky enough to be lot number four. So that means that we've been there probably since 1983 or a little bit after that," Hester said.
Hester said reasons Gunn was selected to be a celebrity judge because not only is he local, but also co-owns the Wood Iron Grille, which, despite having been open less than a year, has been named as having the best burger in the state of Iowa.
It feels amazing, Gunn said, to be chosen for the Governor's Steer Show.
"It's a long life dream. I'm originally from Florida," he said. "My dad would send me back to Florida every time for school, a week before the state fair. So I got to go to the Southern Iowa Fair, which is great, but the state fair was always talked about and I was like, 'oh I want to go.'
Gunn moved to Iowa in 2000, which was also the first year he got to go to the state fair.
"And then after that, I wanted to cook or show something at the state fair, because I have friends that do it," he said. "I heard that was like a chance of winning the lottery, trying to cook there. So how do you cook at the state fair if these people are like grandfathered in and all these people with campsites, you can't even get a campsite for 10 years."
It's been a dream come true, Gunn said.
"Because it's an Iowa thing. You always want to be at the State Fair. At least cooking or showing your cattle at the state fair. I get to do both. I get to show cattle for somebody and I get to cook my burger the Friday before," he said. "It's like the best year. And I won best burger, my first restaurant. Seriously, dreams come true. I never showed a steer before, so I'm not really too worried about it. I feel like we're going to be best friends."
Gunn was elated over the honor.
"Besides winning best burger and doing this and now being a celebrity steer shower, that's pretty awesome. That's something that's amazing, especially with the state fair," he said. "And just seeing all the 4-H and everybody, being with their cows. The dedication that you have to be in for two weeks in the heat, in the nastiness, to show your animals that you know you're going to eventually get paid for, that you worked so hard for."
That's what Gunn loves most about the state fair, he said: the dedication from start to finish.
"You have all your county fairs to get ready for that and you just keep on going and then hopefully you'll sell the best one at the state fair," he said. "Everyone wants that golden steer or pig or sheep."
Hester said Gunn will get to see the exhibitor work with the steer and learn about how much work and dedication goes into raising the steer.
"Because most of these steers, they get started working in December. Here at the county fair, the steers weigh in December. Then they get re-weighed here at the county fair to see what the rate of gain, because the steer's got to make the rate of gain to get a good ribbon at the county fair," he said. "Some other qualifications that we look at when choosing the governor's steer is we like to see them weigh between 1,150–1,350."
Heston shared some qualifications the Southern Iowa Merchants are looking for when it comes to selecting a steer to represent the group.
"[The steer should have] a lot of eye appeal with it, kind of a level top, square, big hip, complete, walks good," he said. "I want to look for that [steer that] has Matt say 'I want to buy that for Iowa's best burger.'"
Southern Iowa Merchants are raising funds to purchase a steer at the 4-H and FFA livestock auction to be held at 8 p.m.on Saturday, July 20 in the sale ring at the Southern Iowa Fair. The money raised will be used to pay the 4-H or FFA member for the steer.
The family will continue to care for the steer, which will be taken to the Governor's Charity Steer Show and auction. The money from that auction is donated to the Ronald McDonald House Charities Iowa chapters.
To sponsor a steer, write a check payable to Southern Iowa Merchants and mail to Clayton Hester, 1869 Merino Ave., New Sharon. Call 641-295-5013 for more information.