Community leaders showed vision in creating Tobacco Festival 60 years ago
By Jim Turner

Posted on October 12, 2017 11:15 PM

As a sixth grader and junior 4-H member, I was convinced of one truth: Senior 4-H member Sue Williams, a Lewisburg High School senior, was the prettiest girl I had ever seen. On Nov. 9, 1957, my belief was confirmed. Sue Williams was crowned Logan County Tobacco Festival Queen!


Although Sue’s beauty was eternal, no one knew for sure then that the Tobacco Festival was here to stay. Sixty years later, it is a fixture in the life of most present and former Logan Countians. It certainly has been in mine. Its future is even brighter than the oft-maligned tobacco crop itself.

If nothing happens to change my plans, I will watch my 60th Tobacco Festival Parade Saturday. I’ve never missed one. Not even in 1977 when my friends Harris Dockins and the late Billy Dockins had World Series tickets for me at Yankee Stadium. Not in 1982 when my wife Elaine and first-born son Clay were waiting at Logan County Hospital for me to take them home after his birth.

I’ve never ridden in the parade, but I’ve never missed seeing one.

(In case you mathematicians are scolding me in your analytical minds for not realizing this is the 61st Festival, I offer 1973 as the sticking point. That was the year we celebrated the 175th Anniversary of the Russellville area, Linda Noe Chapman was the only married queen ever that year because of the fund-raising format for the celebration, and I don’t believe there was a parade that year.)

But back to 1957.

The Festival, the revival of a celebration which had been conducted in the early 1940s, lasted only three days that first year, and there were only a dozen events. Now it’s a two-weeks-plus extravaganza filled with variety of activities.

One thing that has remained the same is that the Chamber of Commerce has been the sponsor throughout. Then it was the Russellville Chamber of Commerce. A couple of decades or so ago, it became the Logan County Chamber of Commerce, and now it is most often referred to as the Logan Chamber.

Eugene Riley, who owned a downtown Russellville appliance store, was the Chamber president this year and is generally considered the founder of the Tobacco Festival. His vice presidents Jimmie Parrish and Robert Hardy, Board members were Dick Hite, Marvin Stuart, Earl Davis, Mac Rector, Harry Whipple, Bill Guion, Taylor Fuqua, Preston Murrey, Joe Copple, Laurin Wiilkins, Tom Foulkes and Maurice ‘Pappy’ Strange.

The Chamber’s Community Development Committee was in charge of the Festival. Bob Grape was chairman with Will Evans, Joe Hicks, Ruston Flowers, Ghan Smith Sr., Tom Rhea Jr., Manning Taylor, Marvin Stuart and Melvin Bentley as members.

A number of community organizations were involved. The Tobacco Festival newspaper supplement listed their representative as follows: (Please be aware that most women were listed with the same first name—Mrs., instead of their given names.)

Jaycees: Jack Hancock, Bill Cates and Berry Croslin

Lions: Sam Pillow, Casey McClendon and Winky Sosh

Rotary: Harold Hunter

American Legion: Jack Stengell

DAR: Mrs. D.W. Moseley, Mrs. Jesse Riley, Mrs. Rhea Cornelius, Mrs. Roy Taylor, Mrs. Sam Pillow and Mrs. Bob Grape

Garden Club: Mrs. A,V  Shrum, Mrs. Tom McKenzie, Mrs. Ed Riley and Mrs. Jack Dockins

American Legion Auxiliary: Mrs. Ira Miller

40 & 8 Club: Lester Arotsky

Logan County Fish & Game Club: Thomas White

Civitan: C.M. Herndon

Margaret Stratton was credited for providing many of the historical information.

Among those working on the Queen’s Contest and the Queen’s Ball were Joyce Parrish, Ruth Thrush, Mary Pillow, Ann Stuart, Evelyn Russell, Jean Dykas, Barbara Smith, Dr. and Mrs. Walter Byrne, Judge Thomas Noe, Mr. and Mrs. Taylor Fuqua, Wilba Ruth Freeman and Wilna Upton.

Attorney Granville Clark crowned Queen Sue, who has been Mrs. John Spurlock most of the years since her crowning. Bands headed by Claude Warden and J.T. Upton provided music.

The Tobacco Show was in the hands of long-time County Agent John Wadlington. A story about tobacco included quotes from tobacco insiders Rayburn Smith, Jack Sydnor, J.W. Murrey, Macon Brown, Ernest Bond, Fuqua Kemp, K.M. Sheffied and Z.R. Stratton.

Most of those who were involved in making that first Festival a reality are no longer living. In fact, I only see two names of those still among us—Joyce Parrish and Mrs. Roy Taylor—as far as I know.

Some of their direct descendants are involved in continuing to make the community a good place to live, work and raise a family. Among them are Donnie Riley, Jim Riley, Jesse Riley Jr., Mike Riley, Bill Fuqua, Jean Sosh Reynolds, John Brett Reynolds, David Guion, Jack Whipple, Phyllis Pillow Williams, Rob Williams, Paula Pillow Linton, Samra Linton Smith, Kathy Hendricks, Joe Hendricks, John Hendricks, Joe Gran Clark, John Paul Stuart, Elizabeth Gettings, Tom Noe, Jane Noe Duncan, Sherry Freeman, Martha Jane King, Cathy Wilkins Ackerman, Hattie Hunter Carter, Ann Gordon Brown Kemp, Dan Kemp, Steve Wilkins, Jimmy Warden and John Upton.

Most of the businesses which advertised in the Festival tabloid have also departed. The only ones I found that still have the same name and the same family ownership are Jesse L. Riley Real Estate (Jim Riley came aboard with his dad three years later), Price Funeral Home (Bryson and Buddy Price), Trimble’s Garage (Jim Trimble), Pillow Brothers plumbing (Phillip Pillow), Southern State Cooperative, Russellville Electric Plant Board, and Pennyrile Rural Electric Cooperative.

Those with the same name but different ownership include Lewisburg Banking Company, Farmers Hardware, News-Democrat, 9th Street Shell, Gower Drug Store and Lewisburg IGA.

Continuing in business after 60 years but with different names: Settle-Evans Jewelers and Eagle Drug Store became part of Riley-White, Page Brothers Motors is now the Mansfield dealership, Russellville Concrete is IMI, Citizens National Bank is First Southern National Bank, Southern Deposit Bank became BB&T, Logan County Livestock is now Russellville Livestock, McCutchen’s Flowers has long been Oak ‘n Ivy, and D. Owen Burchett Aetna is now part of Max Arnold & Sons.

Kroger was gone for many decades but now is back as Ruler Foods.

Houchens Markets ballooned into Houchens Industries, which owns many companies, including the IGA stores, the Shell stores, and Scotties Contracting.

We’ve seen in recent months the transformation of the Ko-Kleeners building into headquarters for mega property owner Jared Kenner and Superior LED.

Tobacco was “Cash King” in Logan County for decades, but the Tobacco Show and Window Displays were the only tobacco-related events that first year. The second year the legendary bellboy Little Johnny Phillip Morris started making annual appearances. Later on we had the Pipe Smoking and Tobacco Spitting contests (about the same time as the Outhouse Race), but they went out of favor when tobacco became seen as a public health menace. One Chamber president tried to get the name Tobacco removed from the Festival about the turn of the century, but a compromise was reached and the term “& Heritage” was added to the title. Now there are many more history-related events in the Calendar of Events than the lone and almost forgotten Tobacco Show.

In the meantime we added a second no-no to Festival offerings. In addition to tobacco, we glorify bank robbing with the annual reenactment of the James Gang’s heist at the old Bank of Southern Kentucky.

Sixty years later, I have taught and/or coached seven of the queens (Pam Howeltt Leach, Mary Crit Threlkeld Johnson, Vickie Lowe Deshazer, Cathy Wilkins Ackerman, Pam Shelton, Rhonda Simmons, Tammy Haley and the current reigning monarch, Emma McReynolds) and have gone to church with eight others (Jana Hite Rice, Renee Farmer, Jane Guion Branigan, Vikki Pulley Stemler, Kelly Smith Steenbergen, Dr. Dawnisa Baker, Tia Benton Pollard, Libby Northern and Molly Clark Steenbergen). Our children went to school with nine of the others.

All 60 queens were/are beautiful. (There was no Queen’s Pageant in 2011 because of lack of participation, so Molly Clark reigned two years.)

Still Sue Williams Spurlock is still on a pedestal in my mind. So is the Logan County Tobacco (& Heritage) Festival.

I’m going to watch this year’s parade on the historic courthouse lawn where Lindsay and Elaine will have a craft booth. See you there!



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