How many CEOs of State Fairs can say that they've never missed attending even one year of their own? Maybe just one leader can lay claim to that perfect a record: Kelly Tuckwiller Collins.
Country Road, Take Me Home
Home for Collins is in the Lewisburg, West Virginia region. According to the Lewisburg website, a former mayor once said, "Only two kinds of people ever leave Lewisburg - those who will return and those who wish they could."
Collins is one of those who has traveled widely, but always returned. After all, there is so much around Lewisburg to lure a homebody back: fertile farmlands, antebellum homes, rural vistas, sparkling waters, rolling hills, historic sites, plus centers for the arts, culture
and education. To top it all off is the annual State Fair of West Virginia.
Collins reminisced, "My relationship with the State Fair of West Virginia started when I was very very young. Born in mid-August, I was at the fair the very next week. I have yet to miss one."
"My mother was a 4-H leader, and my dad is a farmer. The family has always been involved, going back a number of generations. In fact, my great grandfather and great great uncle were two of the founding members of the fair. It runs through my blood; I'm a fair person at heart."
"Coming up, you can say that I've been lucky to experience it all from the inside out. I've served food in the stands. I've shown livestock. I've picked up trash. I've handed out flyers..."
"There are many other families still around whose ancestors helped to start the State Fair of West Virginia. It has truly been a home-grown effort."
Roots of Experience
Collins continued, "Our population isn't as large as some other fairs. We've always been centered around agriculture. Growing up in rural West Virginia, we went to 4-H camp and raised our animals from start to finish. The fair was an integral part of all this."
These agricultural roots bore much fruit (and many vegetables) when Collins became the fair's Agricultural Competitions Manager in 2011. She explained, "In that role, you handle all the entries, livestock and equine shows, logistics, home and garden, quilts, foods, scholarships, etc."
Education is a particularly big focus for the fair. Collins added, "We've been working with the school systems and creating lesson plans that highlight the educational aspects of agriculture."
Collins' own educational background has more than adequately prepared her for leading the State Fair. A double graduate of West Virginia University (with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and a Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications), she has quite the impressive resume.
Collins explained, "Getting into journalism was a result of my grandmother's influence. She, too, was a journalist who graduated from West Virginia University. The Integrated Marketing Communications further combines things like public relations, journalism, social media, and working with non-profits into one well-rounded educational experience."
In addition to all of her many State Fair commitments, Collins has aced a wide variety of other professional assignments. Her LinkedIn site explains that as Media Relations Specialist for WELD, Collins had promoted "the belief that adventure, adrenaline and wild places enrich lives and change people for the better."
Before that, she had worked for two years as the "primary media relations contact" for the West Virginia University Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. As Sports Communications Intern for Draft Weekend 2009, Collins had even assisted the NY Jets "with all Draft Weekend activities, including... helping to welcome new players."
She elaborated, "When I worked for the WVU sports teams, I traveled a lot and acted as a liaison between the media and the teams. This entailed a great deal of real-world experience, combining traditional and up-to-date marketing techniques."
Collins continued, "Working with the NY Jets taught me marketing for people with very different interests and backgrounds from what I was accustomed to. It was my first time working within a totally new (to me) region of the country."
Before previous CEO Marlene Pierson-Jolliffe had moved on from the State Fair of West Virginia, she had done an excellent job of training Collins and the other staff to carry on her many successful initiatives. Collins stated, "Marlene had set the fair up wonderfully. We have a small staff, but everyone is very well versed about what's going on, and can handle whatever comes up."
Collins credits many others, as well. She explained, "We have a really great board here at the State Fair of West Virginia. Many have been there for a long time. If I have any questions, I know I can count on them."
Collins also counts on the cumulative wisdom of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE). A member of the Agriculture Committee and Co-Chair of the Zone II Wine and Dine Committee, Collins greatly values the camaraderie that IAFE offers. She said, "It's nice to know that if I'm ever struggling with something, IAFE is just a phone call away."
All in all, this past year has been an exciting one for Kelly Tuckwiller Collins. One great highlight is the "Collins" part. Kelly married the love of her life, Zachary Collins, in June 2014. Theknot.com explains that their wedding took place right on the family's Lone Oak Farm in Lewisburg, West Virginia.
Kelly said, "It's been a really big year for my husband and I. He loves West Virginia and. is very supportive of my work with the State Fair. He's a State Forester who gets to be in the woods all day and take the dog with him to work!"
Looking ahead, the excitement will continue to build. This year's State Fair of West Virginia will be held August 14 - 23, 2015. Collins explained, "We're building a new pedestrian tunnel, and we've added a tenth day to the fair schedule."
With Collins at the helm, and with tried-and-true teamwork, it sounds like it's a winner!