1975 Dairy Festival Queen Kim Baxter on her float during the 1976 parade.
Kim Baxter today, with her cat, Puddin’.
Photo by Baxter’s uncle, James Jones

The Golden Jubilee: A change of heart helped Kim Baxter become 1975 Dairy Festival Queen - and helped her choose the path her life would take

By TERRY MATHEWS, News-Telegram Arts Editor

Oct. 26, 2008 - Sometimes, changing your mind at the last minute is exactly the right thing to do. Just ask Kim Baxter. Although the 1975 Dairy Festival Queen was originally headed to North Texas State University on a scholarship for her mastery of the B flat clarinet, tenor saxophone and alto saxophone, winning the crown gave her the confidence she needed to "pursue vocal music instead."

"At the last minute, late August, I went to Paris Junior College to audition for a vocal scholarship and for a place with their Madrigal Singers," she explained. "I qualified for a scholarship, but due to the lateness of my audition, there were no vocal scholarships left. My mentor, the late Charles Stephens, head of the vocal music department, talked the band director out of his last scholarship so I could attend PJC and join the Madrigals."

Baxter, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Max Baxter, played in the band for a semester, but says it was a "great trade-off," and she appreciated everyone bending the rules for her.

After college, Baxter made her home in Southern California and worked in show business as a vocalist, actress and dancer for many years before returning home to live.

Baxter has had roles on television, served as a demo singer with Burt Bacharach, worked in summer stock and had a stint with The Young Americans singing group and the American Musical Theatre program in Michigan.

But she wasn't always comfortable in front of a crowd.

"When I was asked to represent the Rotary Club in the pageant, I can honestly say I had no delusions of grandeur," Baxter said. "At the time, I had no visible talent, in my opinion, and I wore glasses. When someone said 'pageant contestant,' I wasn't the first person who popped into anyone's head."

Baxter's family and their friends, who were closely tied to the festival, thought differently. They had heard her sing at church and felt she was qualified.

"Leo St. Clair, the Longinos and the Bonners were involved in the festival and they were also members of my church and Rotary," she said. "So I was invited to represent Rotary. I had no experience whatsoever of winning, but I was thrilled out of my mind just to get to be in the pageant. I loved those men and their sweet naivete."

Making critical decisions wasn't new to Baxter. Everyone except Baxter thought she would play a band instrument since she was so proficient.

"I was a band geek," she confesses. "My best friend, Diana Teddlie, and I both learned new instruments so we could join the coveted Sulphur Springs High School Stage Band.

However, I thought playing an instrument would not be putting my best foot forward. This is where God stepped in."

Although she had never sung a note in her life, Cecil Pearson, the new music director at her church, First United Methodist, was offering voice lessons.

"I made up my warped mind that I was going to sing in the pageant," Baxter said. "As you can imagine, my family and friends were flabbergasted. I was adamant -- to this day, I don't know why or how I thought I could pull this off."

Because she couldn't afford private voice lessons, Baxter and Teddlie talked their parents into letting the girls "share" a lesson at half-price for each.

"That arrangement worked out pretty well," Baxter said. "I even got cast in our church musical as a soloist."

Before making the fateful decision to attend PJC instead of NTSU, Baxter had made another last-minute decision about the song she was singing.

"Cecil started working with me on a song for the pageant," she explained. "It was the light pop song by Olivia Newton-John called 'I Honestly Love You.' It was a nice song, but I didn't really think it was a good fit for me."

With only two weeks left before the competition, Baxter says she "somehow got up the nerve to suggest to Cecil that I sing a song from our church musical, 'I Quietly Turn to You.'"

"Much to my surprise, Cecil thought it was a wonderful idea," Baxter said. "What a relief -- until pageant night. I had never sung before an audience larger than 30 before. My knees were shaking so badly, I was just praying I could get through it."

She did, but says she doesn't remember "any audience response or even getting off stage!"

Baxter's memory is much better when it comes to her family's history with the dairy industry.

"During the Depression and before the Hopkins County dairy industry was firmly established, my great-grandmother, Ada Gilbert, sold milk, butter and eggs," she explains. "My grandfather, Bill Elliott, was on the construction crew that built the Carnation Milk processing plant, along with Hopkins County civic leaders Leeman Teetes, Bill Lefan and Grady Thurman."

While working on the construction of the milk plant, Elliott also sold Grade B milk to the plant.

"He left the plant in the early 1950s to go into the Grade A milk business with a family dairy of Jersey cows, but he continued a sideline business of hauling Grade B milk to Carnation," she said.

When her grandfather died in 1966, Baxter's grandmother, Marguerite Gilbert Eilliott, continued running the Grade A dairy with the help of a milk hand, Hogan Harper, who worked many years for Mary Waits, who owned the first dairy in Hopkins County.

Her uncle, Billy Sam Elliott, later became a partner with his mother in the dairy. He also worked for a time at the Carnation plant.

Baxter's father, Max "Poss" Baxter, worked for Carnation for 11 years, with Ernest Watson, Kenneth Goggans, Mack Phillips, Cleo Tolleson, Andy Bradford, Doc Groves, Chappell Griggs, Sterlon Claunch, Wilson Thomas, Cecil Stinson, Delbert Wright, Jim Prim, Wallace Swindell, Hack Harrison, Woodrow Hyatt and J.W. Adams.

Baxter's mother, Sherry Eilliott Baxter, was a member of the Mothers' Culture Club.

"She worked on several Dairy Festival floats, along with Daddy," Baxter said. "Mother also made all of my formals, including an especially complicated one for the Gilmer Yamboree, where I was 'Duchess of the Clipper Ships.'"

Baxter's grandmother Marguerite Elliott was on the Dairy Festival board for several years in its early history.

"Grandmother served as secretary at one time," Baxter said. "She also worked on pageant decorations for many years, including the year the festivities were scheduled to be outside in the rodeo arena, but it rained and the entire production had to be moved indoors at the last minute."

Mrs. Elliott was recognized for her years of service with a special award from the board that year.

Baxter's aunt, Annada Elliott Jones, was a member of the first Dairy Festival Court.

Uncles Billy Sam Elliott and James Jones helped with festival decorations for a number of years, helped build parade floats and served on the board for several years.

"Billy Sam also served as president," Baxter remembers. "One year, I even coaxed him into joining a barbershop quartet, along with my friends Byrd Bonner, Cal Brim and David Lee, to accompany me on a return performance at the pageant."

Her uncle James Jones was a member of the board of directors for the Civic Center.

"James was responsible for sound and light productions for the pageant for several years, and also provided photos and slides of past pageants and parades for various functions," she said. "He also served as my personal photographer, as he continues to this day."

Baxter says that James' favorite responsibility on the festival board was judging the Texas State Champion Homemade Ice Cream Freeze-Off.

When asked what she would say to young women considering entering the pageant, Baxter says, "Each girl, as an individual, must be absolutely sure this is something they want to do and they're up to the responsibilities involved, should they win the title. Being named Dairy Festival Queen means you've been chosen as a prominent representative of not only the dairy industry, but also of Hopkins County, your church, all your family and your friends. Your conduct, outgoing friendliness, ethics and manners are a direct reflection on all of us back home, and there couldn't be a more important duty than that. I was so proud to represent the Hopkins County Dairy Festival. I hope I made a good representative."

Baxter has one long-time fan in News-Telegram Publisher, Scott Keys.

"Kim is one of my favorite Dairy Festival Queens. When she was living in California, she would come home during the holidays. She sang 'Silent Night' at our church's Christmas Eve service, backed up by the choir," Keys remembers. "It was the best rendition I've ever heard."

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Information from 1975 Hopkins County Dairy Festival Program

Nominees:

  • Patti Harbor, representing Business and Professional Women, sponsored by Peoples National Bank
  • Julie Hager, representing Dial Study Club, sponsored by Foxworth-Galbraith
  • Kylene Neal, representing Junior Waverly Club, sponsored by Sulphur Springs State Bank
  • Cindy Price, representing Kiwanis Club, sponsored by Rockwell International
  • Kim Caruthers, representing Mothers Culture Club, sponsored by Pratt Packing Co.
  • Kim Baxter, representing Rotary Club, sponsored by Texas Power and Light
  • Susan Tolleson, representing Standard Club, sponsored by City National Bank
  • Connie Milburn, representing Waverly Club, sponsored by General Telephone Co.
  • TyJuanna Harris, representing Sulphur Bluff School, sponsored by Coca-Cola Bottling Co.
  • Master of Ceremonies -- Rod Henderson
  • Organist -- Mrs. Ronald Stanley
  • Entertainers -- Mrs. Ron Lummas, Jerry Callaway, Terry McNatt
  • Autograph Seekers -- Sharee Garrison, Marshal Bradley, Samantha Hathcox, John Sellers, Mitchell Skidmore, Carey Barnett

Visiting Celebrities:

  • Cindy Phillips -- Miss Grand Saline School
  • Terry Walker -- Queen Autumn Trails
  • Sharon Donaldson -- Miss Winnsboro
  • Gail Grace -- Miss Steel Country
  • Jan Ingram -- Miss Raines County
  • Sherry Shadwick -- Miss Mineola
  • Billie Ruth Elrod -- Miss Rodeo U.S.A.
  • Shara Dobson -- Miss Sulphur Springs
  • Debra Luard -- Miss Flame
  • Cindy Crouch -- Farm Bureau Queen
  • Carolyn Robinson -- Quitman Dogwood Fiesta Queen

Dairy Festival Board Members

  • President: Bruce Fielden
  • Secretary: Mrs. Rod Henderson
  • Treasurer: Mrs. James Chapman
  • Pageant Coordinator: Mrs. F.G. Rogers
  • Decorations: Mrs. Rod Henderson, Mrs. Max Bronson, Mrs. Loren Seely, Mrs. Murray Purcell and Key Club members
  • Tickets: Mrs. Joseph Longino and Mrs. Pete Long
  • Talent Show: Mrs. Bill McCool, Mrs. Lewis Helm, Mrs. Gerald Bowers, Mrs. Larry Gamblin and Mrs. James Moore
  • Duchesses' Arrangements: Mrs. M.Z. Bailey and Mrs. B.F. Ashcroft
  • Parade Marshal: Sterling Beckham
  • Lighting and Sound: Charles Tolleson
  • Publicity: Steve Whitworth and Robert Ardis

(Editor's Note: In June 2009, the Hopkins County Dairy Festival will celebrate its 50th anniversary. In the weeks leading up to the festival, the News-Telegram will visit with former Dairy Festival queens to reminisce about the festival, the pageant and what it meant to wear the crown.)

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