With a spot just inside the front doors and to the left inside the Minnesota State Fair Education Building, volunteers underneath a model of the iconic St. Thomas arches booth welcome thousands of visitors each year. Lines leading up to the four-times-a-day purple bag giveaways often snake outside the building, but even in down times there is seemingly always someone with a St. Thomas connection stopping by to chat.

The Newsroom swung by to talk with visitors and volunteers, including president Julie Sullivan and Tommie, to get a sense of a day at the fair with St. Thomas.

John Bannigan hands out a purple bag.

“I love to come to the fair. (Volunteering) is my reason to come. It’s fun to see alums, but also just to people watch. It’s awesome to see how much they light up to get a bag; it’s cool to be one of the go-to things, almost like a destination here.” – John Bannigan, director of annual giving.

“We had to get the St. Thomas bag with all the family connections.” – Sofie Hokanson, high school senior who has three cousins attending St. Thomas and an aunt who works there.

“It’s energizing and exciting. … I love getting my picture taken with Tommie and the little kids who come by. They’re usually kids of alumni, but it’s great to get them excited about St. Thomas at an early age.” – President Julie Sullivan.

Julie Sullivan poses for a photo with Tommie and some young fair-goers.

“We’re hoping we can get him back down here a little closer to home.” – Margaret Hanson, whose husband, Roy, caused a commotion at the booth by walking up to get a purple bag in a St. John’s T-shirt, where their son, Andrew, is starting as a freshman this fall. (Margaret said Andrew is hoping to transfer to Saint John Vianney Seminary after his sophomore year in Collegeville.)

“I’m here because I really believe in the mission. I want to represent St. Thomas and make sure people walk away from our booth appreciating this place. I love the fair, too. I’m a North Dakota transplant and the fair is amazing.” – Jane Jackelan, alumni relations administrative assistant.

St. Thomas volunteers will hand out some 18,000 purple bags over the course of the fair.

“We toured already … I got my master’s degree at St. Thomas. It’s a beautiful campus.” – Teresa Ressen, who visited the booth with her daughter, Abby, a high school senior.

“This is my first time (volunteering), and it’s already nice to hear from people who have a positive opinion and nice things to say about St. Thomas.” Alicia Ross, alumni relations.

“We have many strong connections to St. Thomas. Our dad, who just passed away, his personal trainer, Matt Demma, just went back for his degree at 52 years old. He basically single-handedly kept our dad alive for the last seven years.” – Jane Braun, Catherine Braun and Woddy Tunnicliffe. (Demma’s father, John, graduated from St. Thomas in 1963, and his son graduated in 2012.)

Tommie is a crowd favorite at the St. Thomas Minnesota State Fair booth.

“I am always amazed at how many people have a St. Thomas connection. Not just alums, but parents, students, aunts, uncles; they all want to come up and take a picture and connect with this place.” Doug Hennes, vice president for government relations and special projects.

“I got a bag! … I start school this year (at St. Thomas.) It’s a lot of emotions, excitement, nervousness. Just a lot of feelings.” – Riley Kahlmeyer, who visited the booth in a purple St. Thomas sweatshirt with her family.

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