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Nebraska State Fair sues nonprofit, alleging misuse of Aksarben Stock Show name
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Nebraska State Fair sues nonprofit, alleging misuse of Aksarben Stock Show name

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For decades, the Aksarben Stock Show was an Omaha fixture, operated by the titans of the city through the Knights of Aksarben.

But now there’s a showdown in central Nebraska over who owns the rights to the stock show name and logo.

The Nebraska State Fair, which took over management of the stock show after its move to Grand Island four years ago, has sued two central Nebraska men, including an associate of Gov. Pete Ricketts, over ownership of the name Aksarben Stock Show, which is billed as the nation’s largest 4-H livestock show.

The federal lawsuit claims that Trent Loos, the governor’s associate; his wife, Kelli; and Greg Harder, a former State Fair employee, have wrongly claimed the name and the stock show’s unique logo for their own use via a nonprofit corporation they formed a year ago called Nebraskans 4 Youth Livestock Inc.

Harder, of Phillips, used to manage the stock show for the State Fair. But he was fired in September 2020, just a couple of days after that year’s show ended. His role in forming the Nebraskans 4 Youth Livestock entity to stage livestock shows was cited as a sign of disloyalty and an effort to “seize control” of the fair’s assets.

Harder is the president of the new nonprofit, while Trent Loos, of Litchfield, is the vice president, and his wife is the secretary.

They obtained the legal rights to the Aksarben Stock Show logo via a filing with the Nebraska Secretary of State’s Office.

Such filings are routinely approved if no one else has filed a corporate name or logo (referred to as a “service mark” in the lawsuit) that is identical or closely related, which appeared to be the case with the Aksarben Stock Show name and logo.

The State Fair wants the name and logo back and, in the lawsuit, says Harder and the Looses have refused to relinquish them. The fair claims that deceives the public, violates the state’s deceptive trade practices act and harms the event, which is slated to be held at the fair’s barns in Grand Island on Sept. 24-26.

The stock show was moved to Grand Island and the State Fair’s modern livestock pavilions in 2017 after staging it at CHI Health Center Omaha — where elevators had to be used to transport cattle — became too difficult.

StockShow3 (copy)

Christian Netzke of Lamberton, Minn., with his champion Charolais at the 2017 Aksarben Stock Show in Grand Island.

The event, first held in 1928, draws hundreds of young ivestock exhibitors from across the Midwest. When it was held in Omaha, local steakhouses bid for the right to the champion cattle or hogs, then displayed photographs of them at their restaurants. But after the Aksarben racetrack closed and the barns used to house livestock there were torn down, the show’s future became less certain.

Mark Fahleson, the attorney representing the State Fair, declined to comment.

The lawsuit he filed said that the Knights of Aksarben had transferred all rights to the stock show name and logo in April and that the Looses and Harder have failed to respond to requests to voluntarily turn over the rights to the name and logo.

Trent Loos has shared a stage with Gov. Ricketts more than once. He joined the governor at a McCook rally opposing President Joe Biden’s 30-by-30 conservation program and at a governor’s news conference in 2019 to pitch property tax relief. Ricketts appeared on a podcast produced by Loos in July. Loos was recently appointed by the governor to the commission that oversees the state Capitol. Loos said he had served as announcer of the Aksarben Stock Show after it moved to Grand Island. But he lost his job when Harder was fired.

He said his group had filed for the rights to the Aksarben Stock Show name because the State Fair Board had discussed dropping the event.

“Our only intent was to preserve the history and heritage of the Aksarben show for families like ours and keep it alive,” Loos said. He added that Nebraskans 4 Youth Livestock doesn’t have any current plans to use the name and logo.

So why not return it and avoid an expensive lawsuit pitting lawyers from two high-priced firms, Rembolt Ludtke of Lincoln and Kutak Rock of Omaha?

Loos said he doesn’t trust the State Fair to keep the event going and wants to retain the rights just in case.

This story has been updated to clarify Trent Loos’ connections to Gov. Ricketts.

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