|‘Super’ Surprise: Competitor finds sponsors for past winner of World Champion Hopkins County Stew Contest|
|Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor|
Aug. 9, 2006 -- The competition just got tougher for "Super Stew" entrants of the 36th annual "World Champion Hopkins County Stew Contest" thanks to one tender-hearted participant.
When Don Meeks went to register for his stew site at the Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce, he learned that longtime stew cook-off participant and 2004 chicken stew winner Annie Wilkerson, had lost her sponsorship. She was unable to participate in last year's event, nor would she be able to enter this year's competition.
Meeks said he couldn't get that unfortunate bit of news off his mind.
"I kept thinking, 'This ain't right,'" said Meeks, last year's campsite and costume winner. "She's cooked for years out here to win, and she ought to be able to compete in the winner's circle. There are just too many giving people in Hopkins County for this to happen."
Last year would have been Wilkerson's first year to get to compete in the "Super Stew" category, according to Jackie Petter, secretary at the Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce office. She said Meeks was very disheartened to learn of her misfortune.
"That's a very big deal around here," said Petter. "Once you get to 'Super Stew,' you're there forever."
According to Petter, Meeks took it upon himself to find someone willing to take over Wilkerson's sponsorship.
"He said, 'This is Hopkins County. We take care of our people,'" recalled Petter.
Meeks said that he had never met Wilkerson, but remembers well the scream she let out at the 2004 announcement of her first place win in the chicken stew category.
"You could hear her scream from one end of the park to the other," he laughed.
Recalling that joyful noise is what led Meeks to inquire as to what ever happened to Wilkerson.
"I didn't know about all this last year or I would have done something about it then," he said.
When the business that was sponsoring Wilkerson closed its doors, Wilkerson not only lost its financial support of the $125 entry fee, but also the canopy covering, as well as the stew pot stand.
However, it didn't take long for Meeks to find willing people in the community to step up to the plate and provide sponsorship, as well as the other necessary items.
Gary Odom of Cowboy Trucking said he was more than happy to become Wilkerson's new sponsor. And Vic and Debra Ponder of Ponder's Mower and Saw Shop have offered to supply Wilkerson with a canopy to protect her from the elements.
As for the stew stand, Meeks welded that himself out of scrap material in his welding shop.
"I'm all set up," said a surprised Wilkerson at Wednesday mornings announcement. "I sure wasn't expecting all this. Now, I'm ready for the super bowl."
Competing teams from last year have until Friday, Aug. 25, to confirm their stew site from last year. After that time, anyone wishing to change sites or any new cooking teams can stop by the Chamber and select a site — first come, first served.
Registration forms are available at the Chamber office and may be picked up, mailed or faxed to anyone interested in competing in the 2006 event. Call Jackie Petter at 903-885-6515 for information on registration and contest rules.