UACES Facebook Madison County Extension administrative specialist whose family founded War Eagle Fair is ‘big on community’
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May 6, 2022

Madison County Extension administrative specialist whose family founded War Eagle Fair is ‘big on community’ 

By Rebekah Hall
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Fast Facts:

  •  Jerry Jo Hamm, Madison County administrative specialist, is part of five-generation 4-H family
  • Her relative, Blanche Elliott, founded War Eagle Fair in 1954
  • The craft fair attracts over 100,000 visitors annually

(1,130 words)

With art at

HUNTSVILLE, Ark. — Throughout Arkansas, Cooperative Extension Service employees are deeply involved with their communities. For Jerry Jo Hamm, Madison County administrative specialist, being “big on community” is family history: her relatives founded and run the War Eagle Fair, a craft fair that attracts tens of thousands of people to War Eagle Valley each fall.

FAMILY TRADITION -- JJ Hamm helps with the annual War Eagle Fair that her family started.  (UADA photo)

Blanche Elliott, the grandmother of Hamm’s cousin, founded the War Eagle Fair in 1954 after a successful weaving course hosted by the Northwest Arkansas Handweavers Guild ended in an exhibition of participants’ work. Elliott attended the University of Arkansas and became a home economist, and Hamm said she was inspired to create the War Eagle Fair because she “wanted to do something for the farm wives in the area.”

Early beginnings

The first fair was held in the living rooms of a few local families, and over 2,200 people attended, according to sign-in books from the event. Products for sale included hand-woven rugs, leather crafts and pottery, along with baskets, quilts and jewelry.

By 1957, the fair had grown so rapidly that the Ozark Arts and Crafts Fair Association was founded to oversee the event. The nonprofit organization has since been responsible for coordinating the fair and is guided by a board of directors, of which Hamm is a member. The War Eagle Fair is self-sustaining, as all proceeds made during the fair’s four-day weekend are used to cover the cost of running it.

Hamm said she considers herself a "jack-of-all-trades" and helps in any area of the fair where she's needed. In the past, she’s worked parking lot duty, on secretarial tasks, and at the information booth. She's also served a term as president of the Ozarks Arts and Crafts Fair Association.

Hamm said Elliott’s intention from the start was for the War Eagle Fair to be an opportunity for crafts people and artists to showcase their talents and sell their wares. To this day, all items sold at the fair must be made by the exhibitor, with minor exceptions, such as book authors who may sell their books that were published or printed by others.

Family tradition

This October will celebrate 67 years of the War Eagle Fair, as it was not held in 2020. Over the past nearly seven decades, Hamm said the fair has become a family tradition for vendors and visitors alike.

“You meet a lot of exhibitors that you become friends with,” Hamm said. “We’ve had 30-year exhibitors, they just keep coming back to us. We have certain people that attend every year, and they look you up and come and check in on you and how your family’s doing.”

Hamm said “word of mouth is a wonderful thing” when it comes to attracting visitors to the fair. She said people from Australia, England, and all over the United States have attended in the past. On a “good War Eagle weekend,” Hamm said about 150,000 people flock to the War Eagle River valley for the fair, creating an economic boom for the surrounding area.

“If you want to come back, you better make your reservation for next year when you leave your motel, because there won’t be a lot of rooms left,” Hamm said. “The amount of money that it brings into northwest Arkansas that one weekend is amazing because you’ve got people driving, they’re buying gas, and they’re eating – it’s not just products that they’re buying. They’re spending money at all these places in Springdale, Fayetteville, Rogers and Bentonville. It helps the whole northwest area.”

The beauty of the region, especially as fall foliage bursts with color, is also important to the success of the fair, Hamm said.

“You can’t beat the scenery down there. It’s beautiful,” Hamm said. “Even with the crowd of people at the fair, there’s places you can get away from everyone and just sit, especially down by the river, and just relax and enjoy it. I think that’s another reason a lot of people like coming there is because we’re not in a mall. We’re out in the country.”

This year’s fair will take place Oct. 13-16. In the future, Hamm said she would like to be able to offer scholarships to local universities using some of the proceeds from the War Eagle Fair – a practice first established by Elliott which continued for many years.

“She had a great vision for education,” Hamm said. “Whenever we were able, we had some scholarships that were for our exhibitors’ kids, they could apply. One of my goals is to get back to that.”

A five-generation 4-H family

For Hamm, 4-H is also a family affair. She began working as a 4-H program assistant for Madison County Extension in 2004. After 13 years, she changed positions to work as an administrative specialist.

“When you walk into the Madison County office, you are first given a friendly welcome by Jerry Jo, then plunged into a veritable museum honoring Extension, 4-H and rural life,” said Chuck Culver, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture interim vice president. “Every available space is a homage to what our county programs mean. And if that is not enough, you'll get insights into a world-famous spectacular that is the War Eagle Fair. Meeting people like Jerry Jo is why I love visiting our county offices so much.”

Hamm continues to be involved in 4-H, both in her extension duties and as a volunteer, and she said her favorite part of working for extension is simple: “It’s the kids.”

“Whenever you’re working with them and you see them ‘get it’ — that excitement — it’s the best part,” Hamm said. “It’s all about the kids.”

Hamm said her three grandchildren are active in Madison County 4-H, making them a five-generation 4-H family. Hamm participated as a youth, as did her three sons. Her grandmother was a 4-H leader, and her mother won with her state record book twice. She said she values 4-H programming because it provides youth with important life skills.

“It just teaches so many different aspects of life that, especially nowadays, kids aren’t getting,” Hamm said. “You’ve got robotics, you’ve got cooking, you’ve got sewing, you’ve got animals. My oldest granddaughter is seven, and she started showing goats when she was four, and it’s taught her so much responsibility.”

Hamm said the 4-H community establishes connections that last long after youth age out of the programming.

“To me, 4-H becomes kind of a family unit,” Hamm said. “And I’m very fortunate that I got to spend all that time with my three sons going through 4-H, and now I’m getting to spend it with my grandkids. I can remember when I was in 4-H, and over the years, I’ve run into the people that I went through 4-H with. You make life connections.”

The Arkansas 4-H youth development program is operated by the Cooperative Extension Service, part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit Follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @AR_Extension. To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: Follow on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk.


About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system. 

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.  

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

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Media Contact:

Rebekah Hall
U of A System Division of Agriculture