Photos by Jay Hardy Photography
A gathering of dads sitting on the tailgate of a truck and desiring for their children to grow in leadership skills formulated a plan to bring a county fair into this community. In 1978, their vision led them to organize the Walker County Fair Association (WCFA) along with its motto, “An Investment in Youth through Community Involvement.” Although monetary resources were not readily available, this group “rolled up their sleeves” and set to work to find land, create bylaws, and offer a path to success to the young people in the area. The fair association purchased 60 acres of land on Highway 30 from “Possum” and “Coon” Cole. Originally, the members of the association created the workforce needed to service and maintain the facilities: fence building, painting, etc. “My children didn’t even realize that a lot of families left town for vacation during spring break. We spent our spring break at the fairgrounds,” Carol Smith, WCFA President from 1998-2000, quipped.
Carol’s family roots in Huntsville run very deeply. “My family arrived here in the mid-1800s. They have always been involved in livestock. My brothers and I participated in the old county fair. My daughter was about five and my son ten when the current association came together. They have participated in 4-H, FFA (Future Farmers of America), and FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America) which all tie into the county fair.” Carol’s children showed various animals throughout their fair days. When her daughter, who was a petite young lady, showed a steer with a mind of its own, they came in last place. Her foods project, however, was a different story. “She sold a jar of tomatoes for $2,000. Her friends and family wanted to help her out. She used some of that money to purchase a Silver Spur Membership. That jar of tomatoes sat in the Silver Spur Room until it was in such bad shape that it had to be thrown out.”
The very first fair for this association was held on city property near the city’s recycling facility. “We held the event under tents. It rained and rained that year. We pulled vehicles in and out with tractors,” Carol Smith shared. After a couple of years, a tent covered a concrete slab at the current location of the fair grounds. As years progressed, “they would go to the bank and borrow money. They put up a huge covered facility; in another year or so a smaller building was erected and the rodeo arena soon followed,” Carol mentioned.
Each year, little girls look at the beautiful young ladies who compete for the title “Fair Queen.” These young women dream of the day when they can compete to adorn their heads with a crown while wearing boots and blue jeans. In order to compete in this contest, one must be a 9th-12th grade resident of Walker County or attending a school in Walker County and a member of 4-H, FFA, or FCCLA. The commitment to seeking the crown starts well before the spring event. The young women begin to train in the fall and, as time nears the fair events, students must commit one way or another to seeking the royal position. One week before this community is treated to fair rides, competitions ranging from art to food categories, rodeo fun, and more, judges come from out of town associations to crown the queen. “On the first Saturday of the fair, we have Opening Ceremonies. These ceremonies are concluded with opening the sealed envelope and announcing the queen and her court,” Carol mentioned. Alongside the honor of being the Queen, this special young lady receives scholarship money and gifts from local businesses. The title, however, comes with much responsibility. “On Saturday night, she and her court, the first and second runner up and Ms. Congeniality, ride in the Rodeo Grand Entry. She represents us (Walker County) at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, as well as other venues. She participates in parades, and the week of the fair she is busy, busy, busy! She attends every major livestock show. The court is at every major event: Grandperson’s Day, Little Tikes Rodeo, Academic Rodeo, etc. The Queen and her court help to hand out trophies and ribbons,” Carol shared about the court’s exhausting schedule. The Queen and her court also attend the premium sale, assisting with and appearing with the buyers in many of the photographs.
The rodeo committee has been very strong and active for the 38 years of the association’s existence. The rodeo is a PRCA sanctioned (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) event. The cowboys compete for points and money. “We have a lot of businesses here in town that contribute the dollars that go to the cowboy winnings. Many of the cowboys we see participate here compete in the Rodeo Finals in Las Vegas, as well,” Carol shared.
The fair and rodeo is, by far, the largest event to utilize these grounds; however, it is not the only group which benefits from making use of this location. Wounded Warriors holds their annual fundraiser on the property. The Chamber of Commerce, Relay for Life, and Walker County Go Texan Crawfish Boil all make use of the various buildings and/or covered areas which the WCFA rents out. Individuals rent out various buildings for birthday parties, quinceaneras, galas, after-prom-parties, antique shows, and more. “These events help with the revenue; they help to pay the light bill,” Carol laughingly stated.
The officers, committee chairs, and members of the association desire to hold their expenditures to a minimum. Thus, utilizing the labor forces readily available through a partnership with TDCJ helps keep cost down. “We try to keep a very strong, good relationship going with TDCJ. If all the arrangements are made appropriately, they will typically bring out inmates a month to six weeks prior to the fair opening. There is usually a long list of things that need to be done. They are so good about just ‘rolling up their sleeves’ and getting to it,” Carol commented. John Boyce, an employee of the WCFA since 1998, is certified to take a couple of inmates out throughout the year to help with general maintenance. “We could not make it if we had to pay for everything that gets done. We have so many volunteers that help to make it a great organization,” Carol gratefully mentioned.
Another way to help further the resources of this group is by offering various stages of memberships: Lifetime Individual, Lifetime Business, Silver Spur Individual, Silver Spur Business, and Annual Memberships. There are many benefits to these memberships including entrance to events and voting rights at the annual meeting, which is always held the second Tuesday in June.
From businesses to families to community organizations, the WCFA unites these varying entities under the umbrella of service, leadership, competition, God, and country. The youth learn how to interact with professionals as they encourage businesses to become involved through memberships, donations, advertisements, etc. “A large barbeque cook-off occurs the closing weekend of the fair and rodeo. A lot of the businesses like to come and be part of that. It supports the youth of Walker County,” Carol noted. “Many of the businesses in town, in Riverside, New Waverly, Dodge, and surrounding areas work it into their budgets so they have auction money (for the Premium Sale). They are ready to come and support our students.”
The officers and executive committee chairs and members begin each of their monthly meetings with a call to order, followed by a prayer and Pledges of Allegiance to the United States and Texas flags. Reports, special recognitions, minute reviews, calendar events, and votes on varying motions are all part of the meetings which expose the Queen and her court to Robert’s Rules of Order.
Current President Randy Davis said, “People over the years have shown their support; they’ve bought memberships, projects from the students. We have put a little money in the bank, sold memberships, and put a little more in the bank until we grew. Through sheer ‘guts and blood’ determination, we have arrived where we are today. We paid this place off in 2008. There have been very few paid employees over the years; there has been a lot of volunteer labor. The whole focus of our vision is our kids—and not just the students involved in agriculture. We have art, making canned goods, supervised projects, horticulture, and academic rodeo. We have activities for the older generation: playing 42, quilting, etc. We want the whole community involved, the whole county.” Summing up the mission of the organization, Davis said, “If we can encourage a child from going the wrong way and give mentors, responsibility, hope, goals to them, and reward them for that, then it is all worth it.”
3925 State Hwy 30W
Huntsville, Texas 77340