French Named Grand Marshal
Butch French has heard from, and been visited by, lifelong friend Anthony Rowton numerous times over the decades. Rarely has he been surprised by anything his friend has had to say in the form of news.
However, never has French been as outright astonished as he was when told by Rowton recently he had been selected as grand marshal of the 2016 Rector Labor Day Picnic Parade.
"I didn't even think about it until they came up and asked me about it one day," said French, a longtime vendor at one of the stands at the annual picnic. "I didn't even think about it."
French has worked at the stand for more than half a century and will take his place behind the counter again this year. "I would say everybody at Rector knows him," Rowton said. "He's the kind of individual that would help anyone out." French pointed to his wife, Judy, and recalled accepting the role as grand marshal of the picnic parade.
"I got to thinking about it and I thought, 'yeah, she ought to be [honored],'" he said. "So I gave them all the information and everything."
French became involved with the concession stand at the picnic at an early age, working along with family members for Ralph Hardin. Judy French said the changing of the guard came after Hardin himself directed the stand for approximately 27 years. "He said, 'you know, Butch, I just think I'll give this to you,'" she said. "That's how Butch acquired it."
Between his concession stand and the picnic rodeo, French had little time to spare each year while scheduling a vacation from work to manage his duties at the park.
He is perhaps equally as known for riding his horses at the fair as he is for handing snacks and meals over a counter.
"He's a big cowboy," said Rowton, adding that he joked with his friend he should ride a horse to lead the parade rather than the traditional vehicle.
French's most prized moment at the fair to date was "when he put his granddaughter on the horse when she was about six months old," said Judy. "He taught her everything she knows about a horse. And now she's 21 and she won first place in the barrels two years ago in Little Rock. She goes to every rodeo and she's a barrel racer; she's a horse person."
The French family's most memorable fair was 17 years ago, when their son was awaiting a kidney transplant and Judy was the donor. The medical emergency did not keep the family from the fairgrounds.
"We worked all day on Labor Day," said Judy. "The next day we had to be in Little Rock at 12 o'clock for surgery on Wednesday." The surgery was a success and their son remains healthy to this day.
Butch acknowledges those workers at the picnic who devote the time necessary for enjoyment by the entire community.
"There are still some that will come in there and they work all day long," he said. "It doesn't matter how long it takes."
Butch may not be one to work from open to close these days, but he will be at the ready when the fair starts Sept. 14. He is no longer boss at the concession stand, yet his name remains synonymous with it.
"It's kind of always been Butch's stand," said Rowton., "And it kind of still is."