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Mercer County Fair and Horse Show’s Hall of Fame Inductions


Editor's Note: The following remarks were read by announcer David Collier during the Mercer County Fair Horse Show Hall Of Fame induction.

This year we have the privilege of inducting two lifelong citizens of
Mercer County into the Hall of Fame. One of them was a very visible personality in the show ring as the voice of the Mercer County Fair Horse Show for more than five decades; the other inductee, while perhaps not so visible to the crowds in the grandstand was a beloved friend and coach to many in this community and was well-known throughout the horse show circuit through his affiliations with the Freeman Brothers Stable as well as his individual skills as a trainer. Our 2005 inductees to the Mercer County Fair Horse Show Hall of Fame are Mr. James B. "Buck" Ison and Mr. Willie "Jack Rabbit" Bottoms.

I am very honored to have personally known both of these two men; I consider them lifelong friends and feel extreme gratitude to both of them for their positive influence on my life as well as that of many others in this community.

Willie Bottoms started working with horses at age fourteen and before he was 20 he had developed the skills required to become a trainer. He joined the Freeman Brothers Stables in 1949 and it was Edwin Freeman who gave him the nickname "Jack Rabbit" because he could run so fast. Willie trained the Freeman horses out of Barn #3 at the Mercer County Fairgrounds and that barn is still referred to as "Jack Rabbit's Barn."

His favorite horse was RPM owned by Mary Glenn Martin. In either 1958 or 1959, he trained RPM to an undefeated show season including the Road Horse stakes at Lawrenceburg, Harrodsburg and
Louisville. In 1978 he trained Miss Dean Key to the Roadster World's Championship. For an amateur owner-driver to win both championships in the same year was an unprecedented event. He also trained Midnight Express to four consecutive Kentucky County Fair Roadster to Bike Championships.

Some of the great road horses trained by Jack Rabbit include champions like Diablo, Royal Flush, Ticker Tape, Vicksburg, Shoe Shine Boy, Night Flight, Little Joe, Frances True, Bostonian, Little Clarence, Miss Dean Key, Switchblade, Shane, The Invader and Captain Gene for the Freeman Brothers. He also trained The Dragster for Danny Bugg.

At their induction in to the Roadster Horse Hall of Fame, the Freeman Brothers were quoted as saying that they attributed the major portion of their show ring success to the dedication and hard work of their trainer, Willie Bottoms. Milward Dedman, grandson of Edwin Freeman, who Jack Rabbit coached into being an outstanding exhibitor of Roadster horses said that while Mr. Bottoms might not have received all the honor he deserved for the work he did to get so many champions ready for the ring because he was not sitting in the bike. It would have been impossible to garner all those championships and awards without his contribution.

Willie Bottoms will always be remembered as not only a great horseman but as a man who always had the time to help someone who was struggling in the horse business and he always has time to answer the questions of children or other visitors to the Freeman Stables barns.

One of my treasured memories was after a life threatening illness related to complications of diabetes to hear Mr. Bottoms with a shaky hands but a strong voice belt out a stirring rendition of "Amazing Grace" during a service at the
Centennial Baptist Church here in Harrodsburg.

It is with great pleasure that we honor this outstanding horseman, gentleman and citizen of Mercer County by inducting him into the circle of honor of the Mercer County Fair Horse Show Hall of Fame.

Our Second inductee for 2005 is no stranger to anyone who has lived in
Mercer County for very long or had grown up attending the horse show at the Mercer County Fair. I told someone in 1995 when I took the announcer's chair at the fair that I could relate to Joe B. Hall of the challenge of following a living legend. From 1943 until his retirement in December of 1994 due to health problems, "Buck" Ison was the voice of the Mercer County fair. But there was much more to life than his show ring persona.

Mr. Ison was a Harrodsburg businessman for 38 years as a co-owner of the Freeman & Ison Men's Store. He taught many young men how to dress and to present themselves in public. He was supervisor of the Harrodsburg Tobacco Board of Trade for several years. He was a 50-year member of both the Harrodsburg Lions Club and of Mercer Masonic Lodge; he was also an active member of the
Oleika Shrine Temple and chairman of the board at the Harrodsburg Christian Church.


Buck loved young people and always made them feel comfortable and tried to make them laugh but also tried to correct them if he thought they were going off track. He was a behind the scenes aid to his beloved wife for many years in coordinating the Miss Mercer County Fair Queen pageants. Every night of the horse show a steady stream of friends and acquaintances would parade by the door of the announcer's stand to greet this gracious and jovial gentleman.

Buck not only announced at the Harrodsburg show for 51 years but he was the announcer in the warm-up ring at the World's Championship Horse Show in Louisville for 18 years and was the announcer at the National Arabian Show in Louisville as well as at many other horse shows throughout the state.

In 1994 he prophetically stated in an interview with the Advocate-Messenger sports editor Larry Vaught, "The Mercer County show has survived the depression, wars, a fire, and other problems. When I am gone there will be plenty of young folks to step in and no one will miss me. This show will never fold up. Some of the greatest horses in the country have shown here and always will. That's why I have always been so proud to be part of this show." Little did we know that in just a few weeks, Buck would be taken from us.

In another interview that was quoted in his obituary Buck said, "The fair and horse show is one of he best things that happens in this community every year. It brings people back home and it promotes more school reunions. It brings people to Harrodsburg from outside the community and new business into the community."                       


One of Mr. Ison's favorite sayings that he often expressed from the announcer's stand as well as wherever he went in promoting the Mercer County Fair was the slogan, "Where old friends meet and where new friends are made." Sometimes it seems like I can still hear those words ringing through the grandstand during a break in the horse show action.

The opening line of Mr. Ison's obituary in the Harrodsburg Herald said "The voice of the Mercer County Fair Horse Show is silent" but I beg to differ with that statement. While not physically present, the spirit of Jim “Buck” Ison breathes on in the continuation of this fair and horse show that he so deeply loved for his entire life and the dreams of and ambitions of the present administration who want to build that "Bigger and Better" vision that Buck always had for this show.

It is with great pleasure that we honor the memory of this outstanding gentleman and citizen of
Mercer County by inducting him into the Mercer County Fair and Hors Show Hall of Fame.

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