Leigh Johnson is president of the Friends of the Fair Foundation and participates in the annual selection of honorees for the foundation's Lifetime Achievement Award. This year, however, his fellow committee members kept him in the dark on the name of one of those who would be honored: Leigh Johnson.
Johnson, a former state representative and congressional district manager, joined Kirby Renfro, Rich and Linda Isola and Kim Kizer in receiving the honor in the foundation's fourth annual awards dinner, held Saturday at the Expo at the Jackson County fairgrounds.
"He was the genesis of the foundation, which has meant so much to the fairgrounds," said John Dimick, master of ceremonies at the dinner and foundation vice president. "He's been the guy behind the scenes — he and his wife — keeping it viable. He has a lot of passion for the foundation."
Johnson and his wife, Nancy Brewold Johnson, donated the first $1,000 to start the foundation, which since its inception in 1998 grew to have assets exceeding $370,000 in 2015, according to the latest figures posted by the National Center for Charitable Statistics.
Johnson, now retired, was a business owner, two-time state representative, state director for Second District Congressman Bob Smith and vice president of government relations for Harry & David Holdings. He has served on numerous community boards, including the Jackson County Fair Board, Medford Water Commission and ACCESS.
Renfro, executive vice president and general manager for Medford Fabrication, was honored for his many hands-on contributions in improving the facilities at the fairgrounds. His work included designing and building the bleachers in the Olsrud Pavilion and Isola Arena and the livestock auction stand, along with building and repairing barbecues used for fundraisers. He is a longtime supporter of the junior auction and regularly builds and donates items for other Central Point area community organizations. He's also been active in leadership of the Central Point Rotary Club and the Crater Foundation.
The Isolas are best known locally for their $700,000 donation to build the 1,500-seat, 37,000-square-foot Isola Memorial Arena, which is the second-largest covered arena in the West. The Expo website calls it "the premier horse show and event facility in Southern Oregon," and notes that it hosts such events as the Oregon Quarter Horse Show, Oregon Reining Horse Show and Southern Oregon high school equestrian teams. The Isolas, who previously owned a business in Las Vegas, also convinced their friend, performer Wayne Newton, to donate the announcer's booth for the arena.
The Isolas, who are regular supporters of the FFA and 4-H auctions, also helped facilitate the development of the area between the old Compton Arena and the Isola Arena and the Chaisson Gate, which provides a new entrance for fair participants.
Kim Kizer was a longtime agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at Phoenix High School and was active in supporting 4-H and FFA members who were showing animals at the fair. "Kim was always on hand to help any kid/family, regardless of which club or chapter they were with," reads the announcement of his award. "... His desire to give back to students and the community was led by example countless times."
In addition to the work he did with the auctions, he was the barbecue superintendent for more that two decades, providing meals for auction buyers.