- Associated Press - Saturday, August 15, 2015

BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) - Kelly Collins doesn’t remember her first few years at the State Fair of West Virginia - the 29-year-old attended her first fair just a week after she was born.

Although she has no memory of those early years, she vividly recalls each and every fair since.

“Going to the fair was a family tradition,” Collins said. “My mom was a 4-H leader, my brother was a 4-H leader, both of my brothers showed livestock and once I was old enough, I started showing my own market lambs and market steers.”

Collins is her married name - she and her husband Zack celebrated their first anniversary in June - but her maiden name, Tuckwiller, is synonymous with the fair as members of her family have been involved since it was the Greenbrier Valley Fair before becoming the state fair in 1941.

So perhaps it was only fitting when she assumed the position of CEO in March, rising from the interim position she had held since longtime leader Marlene Jolliffe stepped away in January to take a similar spot at the Virginia fair.

Collins grew up on the family farm about 6 miles outside of Lewisburg, and although her parents Ed and Sandy Tuckwiller had regular jobs away from the farm, for her and her brothers, farm life and preparing for the fair each summer was like a full-time job.

“You spend all summer with these animals preparing them for the fair,” she said. “You work hard raising the animals and once you get to the fair you sell your animal.

“It was always my summer job from when I was 7 to when I was 18,” she continued. “It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s memories and tradition and being with family.”

Collins’ involvement with the fair decreased a bit after she graduated from Greenbrier East High School and headed to West Virginia University where she studied journalism with a public relations emphasis. But still, she found time to come home and enjoy the fair each summer.

She went on to receive her master’s degree in integrated marketing communication in 2011, and while enrolled in graduate school, she served as a graduate assistant in WVU’s sports communications department traveling with the women’s basketball, tennis and volleyball teams.

Collins also assisted with other sports as well and, even in the middle of summer football camp, made sure to find her way home to Greenbrier County for at least one day each August.

“I always snuck home for the fair,” she said. “I had to bring the guys in the office back (Ben-Ellen) doughnuts.”

After graduation, she accepted a job with WELD, a content marketing firm in Oak Hill, whose clients included whitewater rafting companies and The Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in Glen Jean.

A year later, in March 2012, the agricultural competitions manager position opened up at the fair and Collins found herself back home. In that role, she oversaw 5,000 vendors from livestock to gardens, foods, quilts, crafts and vegetables, making sure all were entered and judged.

She was also in charge of the fair’s scholarship, an award she received as a high school senior.

“It was an honor to give the same scholarship I received when I was in school and to keep that tradition alive,” she said.

The agricultural competitions manager position, she said, is one of the most difficult and busiest jobs in the office, but one that kept her close to the barns - a place she loves dearly.

Although she said she enjoyed that position, when Jolliffe announced her plans to leave last October, the fair needed someone to learn the basic ins and outs before she stepped away in January.

“I was named interim operations manager so we could have someone to sign contracts (when she was gone),” she said. “So I got a month or two experience working with her on the major contracts and bookings so there would be someone on grounds learning.”

Collins enjoyed that brief experience, and when the job opened up for applicants in January she put her name in the hat and was named CEO in March.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity,” she said.

Although there was a brief time she said she considered ESPN as a dream job, she said she thinks she’s right where she always thought she’d end up one day.

“I think I told my dad when I was little that one day I would be head of the fair,” she said. “For me, it’s kind of a dream job. It puts together my background and educational background. It allows me to make sure other people make the same memories I did.

“I love the fair.”

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Information from: The Register-Herald, http://www.register-herald.com

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