CLINTON — Corrine Weatherly readily admits she is seldom at a loss for words, but she found herself in that situation on the night of Jan. 18.
That is when she heard her name called as winner of the Hall of Fame Award at the conclusion of the Arkansas Fair Managers Association’s annual three-day meeting at the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs.
Weatherly, 70, is manager of the Van Buren County Fair, a position she has held for more than 30 years. The Arkansas Fair Managers Association Hall of Fame Award is given to one person each year as “a memorial for the outstanding contributions and many years of service to AFMA.”
“I was almost speechless,” Weatherly said with a laugh. “If you give me a microphone, I can talk you up and down for at least 30 minutes, but this really surprised me.
“I am usually ready to go home Saturday afternoon of the convention,” she said. “But this year, [other representatives of the county fair] said, ‘We need to stay for the banquet.’
“I told them, ‘I went once 30 years ago, and it is not a big deal,’” Weatherly said. “So I should have suspected something was up. It took an army to get me to stay.”
Weatherly was born in Nebraska, where, at the age of 7 and a member of 4-H, she first participated in a county fair.
“My grandmother used to baby-sit me, and she sewed,” Weatherly said. “I had a needle in my hand by the time I was 2. My mother sewed, too, and she stayed home to take care of the kids. By the time I was 7, I could sew by myself.”
Weatherly’s first exhibit at the county fair included a pincushion created in the form of a cap.
Her early interest in sewing would lead to a lifelong career as a seamstress for Weatherly, who owns and operates Sew What Sewing Service in Clinton, where she designs and makes costumes, especially dance costumes. She also makes wedding gowns and has a wide variety of formals and pageant dresses that can be rented, or purchased, for special occasions.
“Sewing is my real life,” she said. “It’s what pays the bills. But the fair is my passion.”
During the 1970s, Weatherly was instrumental in relocating the Van Buren County Fairgrounds from property on the Clinton school grounds to the fair’s current location on 32 1/2 acres on Arkansas 16, about 10 minutes from Clinton. “We built it from the ground up,” she said. “The fair has really grown. I remember when we had one hog, one sheep and half a dozen cattle on exhibit. We now have 90 hogs, 60 sheep and 60 goats.”
The county fair is held during the second full week of September each year.
“We have a carnival, lots of exhibits and lots of activities,” Weatherly said. “It’s all about agriculture. That’s what we promote.” The fair also features youth talent and fair queen contests.
Weatherly initiated the Van Buren County Fair’s Farmer for a Day, an activity for children 10 and younger in which they portray farmers. The children have an opportunity to milk a cow, dig potatoes, pick apples and grapes, and gather eggs.
She was also involved in developing the cookie jar competition, which raises money for scholarships, and the Field of Flags, which honors veterans.
In addition to her service to the Van Buren County Fair, Weatherly is involved in the North Central Arkansas District Fair at Melbourne. She is secretary of its fair board of directors, chairman of the district youth talent contest and co-chairman of the district pageants.
Weatherly is a member of the Van Buren County Democratic Party and helps with elections. She is secretary-treasurer for the Van Buren County Democratic Central Committee.
Weatherly and her husband, Dean, have four children and 11 grandchildren.
Daughter Terri Weatherly has been employed by McDonald’s in Clinton for 28 years. She helps her mother with her sewing business and with the county fair.
Daughter Karena DeYoung lives in Valley Springs, where she is a teacher.
Son Daniel Weatherly is an electrical engineer in Conway.
Daughter Denise Weatherly-Green lives in Tyler, Texas, where she teaches at a junior college.
When asked how she balances her professional business with the fair business, Weatherly said, “That’s just me. I love the fair industry, or I wouldn’t do it. I have raised both my kids and husband in it. It’s my life and what I enjoy most.”