FARMINGTON -- Tracy Vinson started Grandparents Day at Jerry "Pop" Williams Elementary School 20 years ago mainly for her own parents.
Two decades later, thousands of grandparents have also benefited from the annual event, which has expanded because of student enrollment and attendance to each grade having its own special day. The school has hosted Grandparents Day for 18 years of the 20. It was not held two years because of covid.
Vinson retired this year after working as a school nurse for Farmington for 23 years.
"My parents were grandparents and never got the opportunity to see the school so when I started, I said, 'Let's have a grandparents day'," said "Nurse Tracy," as she is known by the students.
Williams Principal Kara Gardenhire, who also retired this year, agreed to the idea and the first Grandparents Day show was held with a county fair theme that focused on handmade quilts, canned jars of food and an apple pie contest. The mayor at the time attended to hand out blue ribbons to the winner.
Different themes were held every year so the students would be able to participate in different shows during their time at Williams Elementary. Finally, Vinson said, they decided to start repeating the themes every four years, even though the show might have some differences from previous ones.
Vinson's personal favorite theme is the county fair theme "because I love that downhome feeling."
Her favorite part of each show, however, has been a tribute to veterans held at the start of the program. Students and staff can submit photos of relatives who have served in the military or are currently serving and those pictures are shown in a video. Grandparents at the program are asked to stand so they can be recognized.
"We always honor the veterans," Vinson said.
For Vinson's last Grandparents Day program, she pulled from the "greatest hits" over the years and had musical and speaking segments from the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s. Highlights from the decades included the Hee Haw variety show, Elvis, Lucille Ball, President John F. Kennedy, disco dancing, the "hustle," Charlie's Angels, Willie Nelson, the Andy Griffith Show, Carol Burnett, the Golden Girls, Dolly Parton, Top Gun, the Williams County Fair from 2012 and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Di.
Vinson was emotional as she shared at the end of Grandparents Day for second graders.
"I will never forget all these times and I'm grateful to God that I had the privilege to love your children and your grandchildren," she said speaking to a packed house sitting in the school's cafeteria.
For the last show, Vinson estimated that about 1,200 parents and grandparents were at the school over the week to watch the students perform. Grandparents came from Arkansas and nearby states, but also from Nebraska, Texas, North Carolina and New Jersey.
She said Grandparents Day programs would not be possible without her assistants, Michelle Gooch and Katie Clevenger, from the school. The school's music teachers over the years also have helped.
She said she's received many cards, letters and donations from grandparents over the years and that has meant a lot to her that people liked it so much, they wanted to write her a letter about it.
Gardenhire said Grandparents Day is a great tradition at Williams Elementary.
"It's simply amazing," Gardenhire said, adding, "Families have come to appreciate and enjoy it so much."