This story, written by former Farmington Press Editor Shawnna Robinson last year on the occasion of Country Days' 40th anniversary, gives such a great overview on the beginnings of the event that we're running it again for those who might not have read it before, as well as to refresh the minds of those who have. — Editor
There was something quite familiar about the lunch scene at Pizza Hut on Tuesday afternoon.
Mit Landrum and Jim Snavely stood outside of the restaurant waiting for the doors to open at 11 a.m. The restaurant was built along Karsch Boulevard in 1976 and operated by Dan Combs — who later joined the pair outside the front door.
Landrum had in his possession a photograph from 1979 of the three — at that time in the early stages of planning an event that would make a lasting impact on the city.
Landrum served as the chamber of commerce president at the time. Combs served on the chamber board and Snavely was new businessman in the area.
The first idea for Country Days was to generate funds to purchase land for an industrial park on the west side of U.S. Highway 67.
In order to raise needed funds, Landrum said the chamber board knew it would take more than just a weekend sidewalk sale.
“We had told the city we were going to get that park and pay for it,” Landrum said. “I think when I became chamber president, we had 23 hundred dollars in the bank — something like that. We figured…the 160 acres of land on the west side of the highway…we didn’t know what the land was going to cost.
“Country Days was started not only to give the city a boost but to also raise money for the first industrial park.”
Landrum said former Farmington Press Publisher Craig Watkins served on the committee and told the others about an event he’d heard of in another community-wide event. Landrum recalls it possibly having the same moniker as the Farmington celebration.
Organizers thought an event like this would big enough to bring people to Farmington — people who might normally not visit the community.
Jim Snavely was put in charge of the committee to organize the event, which at the time included activities for Friday night and all day Saturday.
Landrum and Combs both made their way to a certain area of the restaurant when the doors opened on Tuesday — arranging the tables much as they were for those meetings four decades ago.
Snavely said Pizza Hut was the logical choice for meetings at the time, since Combs was busy running the restaurant.
The first weekend celebration looked much like today's — but, on a much smaller scale.
“We had entertainment,” Snavely said. “All kinds of people wanted to sell items. We just wanted to celebrate Farmington.”
Snavely noted the population of Farmington was around 6,000 when he moved here with his family in 1978.
He said business people who came to Farmington were welcomed by those with roots in the community — banding together for one purpose of growing the community above and beyond.
Another tradition that’s held through the years are the sale of Country Days buttons. Combs told the story of his son, Dan, selling buttons as a youngster.
“He was about four or five at the time,” he said. “You put him out there selling those buttons. You couldn’t resist a blonde-headed kid selling a button for a buck.”
Combs added that many of that generation have moved back to their community to help grow the community.
The end result of that first weekend?
“We got the industrial park,” Landrum said, although it came about a little differently than originally planned.
The price for the land of the industrial park ended up to be around $8,000. Landrum said then-Gov. Joseph Teasdale was running for reelection. He told the story of how the governor told city leaders they would give the land to the city — which, at that time, was owned by the state and considered part of the State Hospital grounds.
John Ashcroft, who was state attorney general at the time, said the land could only be obtained through a bonafide sale.
“So, I called [Ashcroft] up and asked, ‘Mr. Ashcroft, what constitutes a bonafide sale?’” Landrum said. “And he said, ’50 bucks an acre’…so, 163 acres at 50 bucks an acre. We had to come up with $8,000 and we still had the same 23-hundred in the bank.”
The city of Farmington would go on to pay for the property. Landrum believed the thought at the time was just to get something done to help grow the community.
“So, we narrowed down the chamber to just a few things instead of trying to do all things for all people,” he said. “The industrial park, fortunately, we were able to get that.”
Also attending lunch on Tuesday were John Crouch and Nancy Krekeler, whose late husband Bill helped spearhead that first event, as well as Laura Raymer, director of events and program marketing with the chamber.
Krekeler noted the dedication and commitment of the original group that worked in the late 70s to fulfill that goal is a large part of what made Farmington the community it is today.
“The dedication and commitment…you all hung with this,” she said. “You did not drop off and did not say ‘well, that didn’t work’ — you all stuck with the dream, the vision, the goal.
“Coming from St. Louis and watching all this, we were just enthralled because you seriously made it work. Because, the tradition and the progress really fit together. Your commitment is why because you kept coming back to the next thing.”
Crouch talked about the role the chamber played in bringing Trimfoot Shoe and the Rice-Stix Factory to Farmington.
“I think the leadership in our community is what really stands out,” he said. “We have community leaders coming [together] at the right time.”
Krekeler said she and her husband were wowed the first time they visited Farmington.
“Even when we came, before we met with [the Tetley’s]…the whole place was friendly,” she said. “That was just a scouting trip. Farmington just felt different.”
Looking back at those first conversations from that table 40 years ago, the group was asked if they could have imagined what a festival planned to help advance industry and business in the community would become.
“I don’t know that we were ever thinking this would last 40 years,” Landrum said. “We had a point that we were trying to get to and that’s really what we focused on at the chamber – we were striving to get to the goal to get the town to a certain point.
“One thing that stands out about this is progress — anywhere — is just a collection of people. It is always a team sport. You’ve got to have all the pieces in place. Thank heavens Farmington has always had people — a whole collection of people — who are willing to bring their talents and sometimes their money to help the town move forward.
“That’s changed the town for the last 200 and something years.”
Snavely said the first Country Days helped bring the community together “and look what it’s done now.”