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Child’s Play

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Suttons passion for children leads to award

By Brandon Mattingly

This story is part of an on-going series recognizing the Springfield-Washington County Chamber of Commerce award winners.

Bobby and Belle Sutton have been a fixture at the Kentucky Crossroads Harvest Festival over the years, and their passion for seeing smiles on children’s faces is what has kept them around.

Belle, a retired teacher of 36 years, got the couple involved with the festival when she was called upon to help brainstorm ideas for children’s games for the event roughly 10 years ago. Her soft spot was exposed and the couple was hooked.

“I always knew I wanted to work with children, always,” Belle said.
“When you see them having so much fun and you see the parents and grandparents jumping up and down, you just feel good about it,” she added.

The children’s games at the festival have evolved over the years, but the Suttons have remained involved along the way. In fact, they said 2013’s games were the most successful yet as far as involvement thanks to the festival becoming a one-day event and the children’s games moving from the morning to the afternoon. They were even able to implement a frog-jumping contest last year, which drew several participants.

As much as the Suttons have seen the games grow, however, they had intentions of stepping away from their role two years ago, even taking part in the final tractor race that year as their big finale.

That is, until their son, Isaac, joined the Springfield-Washington county Chamber of Commerce and kept the connection between the Suttons and the Harvest Festival alive.

“He came in here one night and said, ‘Guess what my job is…children’s games,’” Belle said with a laugh.

Isaac—one of the Suttons’ three sons, along with John Kirk and Cole—took a page from his parents’ book when he decided to carry on their passion for bringing joy to children at the festival.

“He loves his town and I can see that same love and pride in the community that we have in Isaac,” Belle said.

“It’s good to see young people stepping up and filling in,” Bobby added. “They’ve got a lot more ideas than some of us older people do.”

An infusion of youth to the chamber board has already led to numerous changes, including the return of the Sorghum Festival in 2014. That’s a welcome change to the Suttons, as they said it shows Washington County is returning to its roots.

“We’re so happy it’s changing back to the Sorghum Festival,” Belle said. “That’s where our fondest memories go back to.”

“Oh, the sorghum cookers, the smell, the big sorghum cookie they made,” Bobby added as he reminisced.

As many changes as the festival is currently undergoing, the Suttons were recognized at this year’s chamber awards gala for the stability they’ve brought to the event. Being named the “2013 Sidewalk Hall of Fame” award winners caught Belle completely by surprise.

“If it hadn’t been for Bobby, all I would have been able to do is blubber about loving the kids,” Belle said. “He started thanking people and I thought, ‘Thank you, Jesus,’ because I was just so overcome because I just love the kids and volunteering so much.”

Bobby was able to keep the award secret for a month prior to the banquet, though Isaac had led him to believe it was only Belle who was being recognized.

“I didn’t know I was included in this mix until that night when the boys all turned around and looked at me and grinned,” Bobby said.

Their Sidewalk Hall of Fame award was presented by Isaac, which the Suttons said was particularly special because they know he’s not the biggest fan of speaking in front of large crowds.

“Isaac probably has the biggest heart in the world and it was very special,” Belle said of having her son present the award.

“It was pretty special. He’s sort of a quiet guy,” Bobby added. “It took a lot for him to get up there in front of all of those people and give that award out, and he did a great job on it.”

Belle was particularly struck by the turnout at the event, pointing out that so many people in the community showed up despite bad weather. She said they were just happy to see their friends being recognized and that their Sidewalk Hall of Fame induction “means the world.”

“We were just happy to honor everybody else who got up,” she said. “We were so happy for Wesley (Smith) and Rick (Greenwell), and you know everybody and your heart is busting for pride for them. It was a great night; I’ll never forget it.”

Being honored by the community that they hold so dear was special for the Suttons, but claiming a spot on the sidewalk next to the 1816 Courthouse building nearly means as much. It holds a personal touch, as Bobby joins Charlie “The Music Man” Walls on the sidewalk, a long-time friend that he was in a band with in the late 1960s. They held street dances from the back of an old wagon bed on the very street corner where the bricks are now displayed.

“We’d get somebody in the audience to request a song we just played because we didn’t know any. We just played the same thing over and over,” Bobby said. “It’s funny looking back 50 years later and you’ve got your brick down there where you actually played when you were younger.”

Though their dedication to the children’s games at the festival earned them a brick on the famed sidewalk, the Suttons were quick to point out that they haven’t been alone in devoting time to the event. Greenline, Southern States and Charlie Hahn and local farmers have contributed tractors for the tractor races, hay bales and corn for the toe-shucking contest, respectively, and several local individuals have set time aside year after year to help organize the games.

But even with new faces, like Isaac, taking on added responsibility as the festival returns to its sorghum roots, Belle said she and Bobby are ready and willing to help out if needed.

“If they ask us, we’ll step up,” she said.