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Phil Campbell’s Rita Barton retires from Parks, Rec

By Nicole Burns for the FCT

After nearly four decades of serving on the Phil Campbell Parks and Recreation Committee, Chairperson Rita Barton has decided to pass the torch and retire from her position.

“I have many, many memories,” she said. Today’s Parks and Rec Committee looks much different than it did when Barton was first asked to join 37 years ago. “We would look over the lifeguard applications to hire them for the pool for the summer. That’s about all we did until the Hoedown started,” said Barton.

“I’ve seen a lot of people come and go in that period of time. I’ve seen people pass on, and I’ve seen all these kids grow up.”

Barton spent the last 14 years as the chairperson of the Parks and Rec Committee. That’s when the idea for a city-wide festival came up, and the Phil Campbell Hoedown was born.

The Hoedown Festival is a massive undertaking for Phil Campbell Parks and Rec each year – perhaps never more so than in 2011, when the event combined with a reunion of Phil Campbells from across the nation and served as a time for the community to get back on its feet following the tornado.
The Hoedown Festival is a massive undertaking for Phil Campbell Parks and Rec each year – perhaps never more so than in 2011, when the event combined with a reunion of Phil Campbells from across the nation and served as a time for the community to get back on its feet following the tornado.

“I love for everybody to come together and just enjoy the day,” said Barton. “It’s stressful, but it’s fun. I’ve sweated a lot. I’ve cried a lot. It is a stressful job, but I always enjoyed it. It’s worth it in the end.” Organizing such a large event like the Hoedown always came with challenges, but Barton said this experience has shaped her. “I’ve grown up a lot. It’s going to be sad getting out of it. I have collected a lot of things. I have so many memories.”

She added, “I am proud of what we’ve accomplished over the years. I think the most stressful time was during the relief festival.”

Plans were already in the works for a fun reunion of Phil Campbells from across the nation during the summer of 2011, but when the tornado ripped through town, focus of the event changed.

“Andrew Reed said Brooklyn Phil thought we needed to go ahead and have the Hoedown to help cheer people up. I knew nothing we could do would bring the deceased back, but to put smiles on people’s faces again – I thought we could do that,” Barton said.

Barton and Brooklyn Phil went to work to bring some sense of normalcy back to the community. “He got ahold of all the Phils. We had 21 Phil Campbells here that summer. I never thought we would have a documentary of what went on. I’m very proud of that. Andrew Reed did such a fantastic job doing that,” said Barton.

“I’m really going to miss Rita and her work on the Parks and Rec Committee,” said Phil Campbell Mayor Steve Bell. “She’s one of those people who is always working. The minute the Hoedown festival was over, she was already looking ahead and working on next year’s event. I appreciate all her work and dedication to the city and the community.”

“I can see a lot of accomplishments in my life,” said Barton, as she reflected over her scrapbook. “I’ve got some really, really good friends that keep coming back to the festivals. I’ve got several friends around the world that I met through the Hoedown Festival.”

While she’s seen the landscape of Phil Campbell change during her tenure, Barton said she’s proud of all that’s been accomplished on her watch. The launch of the Hoedown Festival and construction of the city’s splash pad and a city park are just a few of the most recent additions to the Parks and Recreation’s responsibilities.

Bell said the Hoedown Festival will continue during next year’s bicentennial celebrations. Specific details will be announced in the coming months.

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