The backbone of the Trigg County Country Ham Festival: a visit with Thelma Fowler
October 1, 2018 | Jamie Sears Rawlings
Just a day after the upcoming 2018 Trigg County Country Ham Festival wraps this year, Mrs. Thelma Fowler will celebrate her 80th birthday. As one of the founding partners of the Ham Festival, the 2018 event marks more than half of her life spent dedicated to growing the Ham Festival into an award-winning festival and a hometown tradition for her community.
Fowler recalls the modest beginnings of the Ham Festival, which was an idea birthed by her and a friend 42 years ago.
“At the Renaissance Building, down there where that parking lot is, was the Ham Festival,” she remembers.
“We had a few little eating booths there and had little things to sell and we thought we were uptown then.”
In a few years, Fowler and her team moved the festival grounds to the old courthouse and town square, a big move at the time, she says.
“When we started around the old courthouse, the side streets are where had a few booths and then we had a tent in the middle of the courthouse yard where we sold cold drinks and candy bars and just a few little things.”
“We thought that was big then.”
“We finally got some things that would drive through town on a Friday afternoon, like a tractor of a hayride and that was a big deal.”
She credits Cadiz’s former leader Mayor Bailey for recognizing the Festival’s potential and bringing it under the city’s umbrella for spurring the greatest opportunity for growth.
“I am really proud because when we first started, we didn’t have anything to work with, we didn’t have any money,” Fowler recalls.
“Mayor Bailey called us and said, ‘We need to go under the city and we need to make this thing a big thing.’”
So, she did.
“From there on we just kept getting bigger and bigger,” she says.
Bigger and bigger indeed—nowadays the Ham Festival traditionally attracts 50,000 visitors for the weekend to a variety of events, including more than 200 food and craft vendors and a focus on the region’s farm-cured country hams.
Throughout the weekend, Fowler will be there, not missing a moment to oversee her legacy and most of all, enjoying the chance to visit with friends, some from near and some from far.
“On Thursday morning we start early,” she says.
“On Friday I’ll be there by daylight and I don’t come home until 10:00 Friday night and Saturday night is the same way.”
“I love to go to everybody’s booth that I can, we have sometimes about 200 booths and I can’t go to all of them, but I love to go to them and see if I remember the people and see how long they’ve been coming and talk to them,” she says.
“I try to eat at all of them, but I can’t.”
The Ham Festival is indeed in Fowler’s blood, but just as it has become a tradition in her hometown, it’s woven into the fabric of her family as well.
“I love every part about Ham Festival,” she says.
“My kids are the same way. I raised them that way.”
At the dawn of each Ham Festival, Fowler says she begins thinking of those who have helped make it possible each year.
“Before Mayor Bailey died, every time I went in he’d say, ‘We need to keep this going.’”
“I think about him a lot, pushing us to keep it going,” she says.
“Here we are, we’re still going.”
Join Thelma for the 2018 Trigg County Ham FestivalVisitors who join Mrs. Thelma Fowler at the 2018 Trigg County Ham Festival are sure to be treated to a “ham-tastic” good time from start to finish.
Acting as the official “kick-off” to the Ham Festival is the annual Trigg County Country Ham Festival Ham Breakfast on October 11 at 7:00 a.m. at the Lexie Bush Convention Center.
An exciting new addition to the Trigg County Quilt Guild’s Quilt Show on October 11 is a children’s sewing and quilt display for participants 15 and under. Quilt festivities are presented by the Trigg County Quilters Guild at the Janice Mason Art Museum from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sponsored by the UK Extension Office, Ham Festival Committee and the City of Cadiz, the quilts are judged in a variety of categories and are open to any quilter.
On Friday, October 12 and Saturday, October 13, the Ham Festival kicks into high gear with more than 200 food and fun vendors in the streets of Cadiz and a carnival that lasts throughout the weekend.
During the festival, kids can be looking for fun piggy events like the All-American Racing Pigs and petting zoo and pony rides.
When the sun goes down on Friday and Saturday’s fun, families can enjoy live music sponsored by the Cadiz-Trigg County Tourism Commission on the WKDZ Renaissance Stage. Country legend Shenandoah will headline the stage on Saturday evening, just ahead of the festival’s official conclusion, the fireworks show that begins at 8:30 p.m.
For a complete list of Ham Festival events, please visit www.gocadiz.com.