While many know the North Carolina State Fair is known for its food, rides and music, agriculture has always been the driving force behind all the things that fairgoers enjoy.
On Sunday, the fair honored several men who have made substantial contributions to agriculture in North Carolina, as Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler inducted the six newest members of the State Fair Livestock Hall of Fame.
Frank Hollowell of Hurdle Mills, Sammy Jenkins of Apex, David Lee of Zebulon, Freddie O’Neal of South Mills, the late Carm Parkhurst of Castalia and Larry Wooten of Raleigh were all inducted in a ceremony in the Jim Graham building’s Livestock Hall of Fame Room.
“This is one of my favorite events each year, because it gives me the opportunity to recognize the men and women who have helped to make our livestock shows some of the best in the nation,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.
This year’s group of honorees is particularly large, Troxler said. The 2017 inductee group had three members, compared to this year’s six.
“We have a lot of inductees this year, and that speaks to how strong our agricultural community is,” Troxler said. “They join 163 members who have already been inducted into the Livestock Hall of Fame.”
Candidates can be producers that have exhibited and promoted livestock shows, a person who has served as a fair employee or volunteer, a representative of business, an extension worker or someone from an agricultural organization.
Before the induction itself began, Dr. Todd See with North Carolina State University introduced Sarah Smart, Madison Stovall and Regen Mitchem, the three students who had received the J.I. & Nancy Smith Beef and Dairy Fitting and Showmanship Endowment Scholarship. Mitchem also accepted the Livestock Hall of Fame Scholarship.
Soon it was time to recognize the honorees.
First came Hollowell, recognized in the swine category. A longtime fair supporter, Hollowell won his honor for the decades he has spent working on the fair’s hog shows. Alongside friend and fellow 2019 inductee David Lee, Hollowell has been involved in nearly every aspect of making the hog shows run smoothly from beginning to end, Troxler said.
“He has put in hundreds of hours over the years at junior livestock shows around North Carolina to make sure they run smoothly and been a vital part of helping inspire the next generation of young people in agriculture,” Troxler said. “Thank you, Frank, for helping do just that.”
Troxler called on Lee next, also in the swine category, fittingly for a man who has worked as closely with Hollowell as he has.
Lee has worked the same hog shows as Hollowell for decades, doing everything from assigning pens, setting up the unloading area, scales and ultrasound equipment to leading the ring crew in penning and moving hogs. Troxler acknowledged that Lee has become something of an institution among hog showers.
“It’s probably safe to say that nobody working on the hog shows today remembers a day when David was not helping the shows run to perfection,” he said.
Sammy Jenkins, in the horses category, was next on the list. Jenkins’ career shared similarities with many of the other honorees, in that he spent decades working to help build up kids into the next generation of livestock showers and farmers.
Jenkins has been a volunteer, exhibitor and vendor at the fair over the last 40 years, going as far as to lead the Year of the Horse event in 2014. As an exhibitor, Sammy has been involved with the Appaloosa horse club and American Quarter Horse Association and has himself shown horses at the State Fair for over 40 years
“Sammy has dedicated himself to building up the next generation of horse showers. He has lent young people his time, his expertise and his horses to help them start their own careers,” Troxler said. “People like Sammy form the foundation that makes strong North Carolina agriculture possible.”
The fourth honoree, Freddie O’Neal, was inducted into the supporters category. While working for the Jones County and later Camden County extensions, O’Neal was a constant presence at all kinds of livestock shows, from cattle and sheep to swine and goats. Even after retiring in 2003, he dedicated his time and energy to helping kids with their livestock projects, and would often cheer them on from ringside.
O’Neal took time after accepting his award to thank his parents, both of whom were sitting in the audience. He also recognized some of the people he had spent time with as children, now all grown, who had now come to support him.
“I know we talk a lot about the youth, but this right here is the generation right underneath us who is going to keep us going,” he said. “And to feel like you had at least a little part in that is a good feeling.”
The fifth inductee, Carm Parkhurst, passed away earlier this year. A beloved professor of poultry science at North Carolina State University, Parkhurst also worked as a 4-H leader in Wake County for 10 years. He spent more than 30 years working at the state fair, overseeing everything to do with the poultry competitions. As recently as last year, Parkhurst was still working as the general division director of the State Fair Poultry Competition.
Carl Beard, a 65-year veteran of the state fair and a close friend and coworker of Parkhursts, accepted the award in his honor.
The final honoree has been one of North Carolina agriculture’s most prevalent allies for decades. Larry Wooten, N.C. Farm Bureau president, took that position in 1999 after joining as assistant to the president in 1994. He has traveled across the country and across the world promoting N.C. agriculture, and has led the Farm Bureau to become a leading supporter and buyer at the annual state fair Livestock Show and Sale.
Troxler said he has known Wooten since they were both students at N.C. State University in the 1970’s. He praised Wooten’s leadership and commitment to rural North Carolinians.
“Larry has consistently worked to strengthen our rural communities and give back to North Carolina,” Troxler said. “His vision and commitment to agriculture are reasons why he has become the highly-respected leader that he is.”
All six honorees received a plaque and pin in recognition of their achievements. Their photographs will be added to the wall in the Livestock Hall of Fame room, alongside the other 163 inductees that came before them.