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Grand Island Independent reports:

With the flags at half-staff in commemoration of 9/11, members of the Wood River marching band play during opening ceremonies on the Avenue of Flags on Tuesday morning outside the main gate at the Husker Harvest Days site west of Grand Island. (Independent/Barrett Stinson) Barrett Stinson

Along the pathway to the main entrance of Husker Harvest Days Tuesday morning, visitors traveled a new concrete walkway that was part of the $7.5 million in infrastructure improvements made to the show this year.

But they were also greeted by the sight of 50 American flags flying at half-staff in remembrance of the Americans who died 17 years ago on Sept. 11, 2001, as a result of terrorist attacks on the United States.

The opening ceremony and dedication of the new and improved Husker Harvest Days grounds were held Tuesday morning as the sun was coming up and visitors were arriving for the opening of the 41st annual Husker Harvest Days show that runs through Thursday.

Before the festivities got underway, there was a moment of silence in remembrance of those who lost their lives 17 years ago.

Farm broadcaster Max Armstrong was the master of ceremonies for the opening celebration. Armstrong said it was exciting listening to the reaction of the public about all the changes that have happened at the Husker Harvest Days grounds since last year's show.

"It is hard not to reflect back to the various times we have walked into the Husker Harvest Days show in the morning and reflect back to the events 17 years ago," Armstrong said. "On that morning, no matter where you were in America, we were shocked, we were appalled, and we went through every reaction you could possibly imagine. It was an event that changed our nation."

While the events of Sept. 11, 2001, were tragic, he said, it had a positive impact on Americans in that they now have a "total appreciation of those folks who are first responders and those who have served in our military.

"We certainly should not forget those folks who have given that sacrifice and for those who continue to do so and their families as well," Armstrong said.

Then the folks at the opening ceremony bowed their heads in remembrance of those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, and the sacrifices made by those since then in service in defending the country.

On hand to play the national anthem was the Wood River High School band.

Last November, another ceremony was held at the Husker Harvest Days site near Grand Island. It was a groundbreaking ceremony as Husker Harvest Days began work on modernizing the show site with new roads, sidewalks, electric infrastructure, drainage, security and much more. Days before the show, the final touches were completed on the improvements.

"Last year we celebrated our 40th anniversary," said Don Tourte, senior vice president of sales and events for Farm Progress. "While this is our 41st year, it is also show No. 1 of our beautiful new facility that we are anxious for all of you to see."

Tourte said Grand Island has been a "great home" for Husker Harvest Days.

"We appreciate all that the community leaders have done to keep us here for 40-plus more," he said.

Tourte said the improvements have made Husker Harvest Days into "the best outdoor farm show facility in America and perhaps in the world."

D.J. Eihusen, president and CEO of Chief Industries, thanked Husker Harvest Days for making the investment that made the improvements possible at the site.

"We are absolutely thrilled as a company to be part of this," Eihusen said. "Chief Industries takes pride in Husker Harvest Days."

Chief Industries managed the facilities improvements that were completed during the last 10 months at the site. He said the company decided to take on the task of the Husker Harvest Days improvements in homage to the founder of Chief Industries, "who along with a small task force 43 years ago set out to have a show such as this right here."

Virgil Eihusen founded Chief Industries in 1954. D.J. Eihusen is his grandson.

Eihusen said his company's foundation is agriculture and it made sense to get involved with one of the world's largest outdoor agricultural shows.

"This is a world class show, he said. "It takes a back seat to absolutely nobody. For those of us in this community, this is a gem and a jewel. We celebrate the past 41 years, and we also look forward to the next 41 years ahead. We are honored and thrilled to be a part of this."

Tony Schultz, who is on the board of the Grand Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Husker Harvest Days is a driver of the area economy.

"Our hotel rooms fill up in Grand Island, they fill up in Hastings, and they fill up in Kearney because of this event," Schultz said. "It affects our retail and our restaurants. It really drives traffic to those businesses. We are excited to have this new and improved Husker Harvest Days, and the 41 years it has been here now, and we hope it goes for another 40 years and beyond."

Grand Island Mayor Jeremy Jensen said the improvements made at Husker Harvest Days were a result of the partnership between Informa, the company that owns the show, and the Grand Island community. Husker Harvest Days put up $5 million for the site improvements, while the city of Grand Island provided $2.5 million from its food and beverage tax.

Jensen said Husker Harvest Days has been a staple of the Grand Island community for more than 40 years.

"It was an honor for us (the city of Grand Island) to be part of this project and to make sure we were doing the things necessary that this event stayed here," he said. "There are going to be hundreds of thousands of people who will be visiting Grand Island in the next three days. We can't minimize the importance of bringing people to our community, making them feel that this is the place they want to come. So, this is really important to us."

Jensen also praised the role Husker Harvest Days plays in helping nonprofit organizations, such as schools and clubs, raise money by allowing them to have concessions on the grounds.

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