A t-shirt-shooting robot, a balloon-artist clown, food samples, more free stuff than you could load into your winter coat pockets and a live pony. Kids of all ages could find something that drew their interest at the 21st annual Dodge County Expo Saturday at Triton High School in Dodge Center.

Two decades ago it started as a Dodge Center Chamber of Commerce event with about a dozen exhibitors. The event now features nearly 100 booths from businesses, non-profits and others that are either located in Dodge County or are a member of the Dodge County Chamber of Commerce.

Organizers have to deny businesses and groups each year from outside the county that want to get into the expo. Nearly 3,000 visitors come through the doors each year for a variety of entertainment and a one-stop-shop of what's happening in the communities of Dodge Center, Mantorville, West Concord, Claremont and Kasson. One board member said there is a fair amount of turnover each year with new exhibitors rotating in as some may take a year off.

During our on-air remote broadcasts Saturday, we found out Claremont offers free land for families that want to build a home. Claremont's Hogfest is the first weekend in August and will feature multiple bands, a free meal and volleyball and kickball tournaments. Apparently they are moving away from softball tournaments to reduce the number of broken windows from flying softballs!

Residents in Kasson are extremely proud of their education system and the recent upgrades to the schools, their fine arts venues and athletic fields.

Mantorville enjoys their ghost-hunting history in addition to the Hubble House and it's strong reputation. The Mantorville Theatre Company opens "The Church Basement Ladies" April 5 and expo-goers got a sneak preview of the performance Saturday.

Kids could do a scavenger hunt at the expo by noting the stuffed animals at various booths in the gyms and multipurpose room. A live pony was stationed outside the school and didn't seem to mind the wind too much.

Dodge County 4-H had several exhibits set up offering a hover board demonstration and a peanut butter computer concept. Entertainment included cultural dancers plus the Kasson Just for Kix and the Byron Dance Team. Rookie the Clown created balloon hats and the Kasson-Mantorville robotics team, known as the Otternauts, had a robot on display.

Each community created at least one gift basket with items unique to their town to give away as a door prize.

Whether people were looking for a sample from the Chocolate Shoppe in Mantorville, a free sandwich from Omar's Kitchen, a free pen from any number of exhibitors or a quote on insurance, banking or senior living, it was all found Saturday at the Dodge County Expo.

Roy Koenig/Townsquare Media