(Editor’s Note: The following interview took place between Sadie Fowler of Walking Horse Report and Celebration board member Charles McDonald.)

Fowler: Tell our readers about your background.

McDonald: I’m a native Shelbyvillian, married to the former Karen Sue Blanton, and we have two daughters and four grandchildren. Following graduation from Shelbyville Central High School and Middle Tennessee State University with a degree in Animal Husbandry and a minor in Journalism, I began my career with the Shelbyville Times-Gazette as a staff writer. I later joined Duck River Electric Membership Corporation and spent the next 37 years there, retiring as Director of Member Services in 2011. Since that time I purchased a small farm and spend my time raising cattle and serving on many service organization boards.

Fowler: How long have you been on the Celebration Board and how did that role come to be?

McDonald: I was elected to the Celebration Board in 1998 following the retirement of Dr. John Derryberry. I’m not honestly sure how that happened, but I can only guess that Dr. Derryberry and the Board  recognized my interest in The Celebration and willingness to devote the time necessary to help make the event a success for our community. At that time I had been involved with the show in some capacity for more than 30 years. My first “job” was assisting storied photographer Les Nelson by carrying his equipment. In later years I began working in center ring as a ring escort, managed the press box and later became executive assistant to the Chief Executive Officer during Celebration sponsored events. 

Fowler: When was the first Celebration you attended and is there any specific moment that stands out from that first visit?

My mom was an avid supporter of The Celebration and one of the earlier box seat holders. My first visit would have been in the early 1950s. Although it wasn’t my first visit, my most memorable experience would have been showing a five-gaited pony for Ed and Betty Ezell of Chapel Hill in the “big oval.” The class was identified as the Fancy Pony Turnout and featured a young lady (one of the Ezell’s daughters — Kris or Dee) accompanied by a tuxedo attired driver (me) in a four wheel buggy. The buggy was completely covered by a large “fancy” dress, lending to the name of the class.

Fowler: What is the most challenging aspect of being on the board?

McDonald: “Opportunities” continually face the Celebration Board of Directors. In recent years dealing with an aging facility and declining revenues have made it more difficult to meet our exhibitors’, owners’ vendors’ and spectators’ expectations. Couple these with issues being dealt with within the industry and there are many challenges. But the Celebration Board is made up of a group of extremely dedicated individuals that face these challenges head-on and have managed, I think, to survive some extremely tough times with a bright future ahead.

Fowler: What is something your local “non-horse” people don’t understand about the show or horse?

McDonald: I am often surprised that many “non-horse” folks in our community have never been to The Celebration. You often hear complaints about the increase in traffic or the “flies” that seem to make an appearance at the conclusion of the show. But these folks need to take the opportunity to “experience the event.” Come see what this “community treasure” is all about. Find out about the event and industry that contributes millions of dollars to the real estate tax rolls, charitable organizations, payrolls, restaurants, motels, gas stations, tourism and so much more each year. 

It is a spectacular 10-day event that offers something for everyone. With revised class schedules for 2017, there’s promise that each night’s event will be ending at a respectable hour. And ticket prices haven’t changed in more than 10 years. So there is a ticket priced for everyone’s budget.

Fowler: What’s your favorite junk food on the show grounds?

McDonald: Topping that list would be the Optimist Club donuts — an easy choice! But there are so many choices from all the civic club booths all around the ground. There is a lot of variety and “something for everyone.” And remember, each purchase from the civic club booths returns a portion to some charitable cause in the community.

Fowler: Does your day-to-day routine change during the horse show, and if so, how?

McDonald: My role shifts from just being a Board member to also serving as Operations Manager, working directly with CEO Mike Inman in making sure everything in center ring runs smoothly and seamlessly. It’s a very important role and one that must be taken seriously. There is a lot of coordination required to make sure each class comes off as expected, not to mention the presentations, awards, announcements, videos … and the list goes on. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by a group of dedicated staff folks that know their job well and perform flawlessly. At least that’s what we hope the casual observer perceives. Sometimes it’s pretty hectic when you have a lot of balls in the air and hoping they all come down at the appropriate time.

Fowler: What is one motto or phrase you live by and why?

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is a very powerful statement. I’m a firm believer that everyone has a right to their opinion, even though I may not agree with them. If you treat others with respect, you may not always agree, but you can agree to disagree. And in the end, if you treat others with the same respect that you would hope they will treat you, some resolution to differences isn’t far behind.

Fowler: What are your overall thoughts going into this year’s Celebration?

McDonald: So much progress has been made within the Walking Horse industry in the last 12-14 months to resolve or at least arbitrate many of the issues that have been taking us down for the past 10 years. I’m very optimistic that we can continue to build on this progress and have one of the best Celebrations in recent years. Obviously the one-night and multi-night shows, the building blocks for The Celebration, have experienced great success this show season and I have no reason to believe it won’t continue right through the Saturday night before Labor Day.

Entries for this year’s show are up to over 2,000, the most we’ve seen in recent time. Sponsors continue to support the industry and The Celebration. Colts and show horses are selling. Our classes are expected to be over each morning by noon and most evenings by no later than 10:30. Discussions continue within the industry and associated organizations. All of these are very positive signs. But we need your help to make sure we continue to move in such a positive direction. Every owner, trainer, spectator, community member and walking horse enthusiast plays a role in making sure we don’t drop the ball. Do your part and we are going to do our dead level best to make this year’s Celebration one to remember.