Judy Sloan just the third woman to lead Thresher Association
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Judy Sloan is the third woman to serve as president of the Huron Pioneer Thresher and Hobby Association. She and her husband Jim are also the second couple to both serve as president of the organization, following in the footsteps of Wayne and Bea Houston.
Sloan is the current president of the association and will remain in the position through next year, which will serve as the 60th anniversary reunion after this year’s event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After first visiting the reunion in 1973, Sloan said she was hooked immediately.
Working her first nursing job in Wingham and engaged to Jim, the pair made their way to Blyth for the reunion and while Jim was interested in the tractors, threshing machines and steam engines, it was the crafting display that entranced Sloan.
Jim had been attending the reunion since it was first held when he was a teenager.
She says she’s always been crafty, learning to sew at a very young age through both family members and as a 4-H Club member.
“I didn’t expect to see anything for ladies,” Sloan said. “I thought it would be all about the tractors and steam engines.”
In addition to the crafting display, Sloan says she really remembers the music from that first reunion she attended. After that, she and Jim would continue to attend every year they could until they eventually found themselves involved in the goings-on of the association.
The couple would attend the reunion every year into the 1980s and one of the highlights was the cross-sawing competition, part of the special events portion of the reunion, which they always made a point to attend.
Soon enough they were helping with the special events, they attended a meeting and before they knew it they were members of the associations and taking on bigger jobs every year.
Jim would go on to serve as the association’s president in 1990 and 1991.
For years, the pair would work on memberships for the association, which was a hard, stressful job, Sloan said.
She and her husband would be working at the membership booth all weekend long during the reunion, so not only were they run off their feet, but every year the reunion would pass and they were only able to take in small parts of it here and there.
They worked on that station for at least 20 years before passing it along to another member of the association.
Sloan’s path to becoming just the second female president in the history of the organization began about four or five years ago, she said, when long-time member and three-time president Ray Hallahan began working to convince her to step up to the organization’s top position.
She had been a director for a number of years and wasn’t sure she wanted to take the great leap into the president’s position, so she sat on it for a few years. However, when the organization was looking for its next president, she said she looked around the room and it was full of people who had good reasons as to why they couldn’t take on the responsibility or who had already served as president. It was then that she began giving the top spot some serious consideration.
She felt it was time to step up, so she did, but she couldn’t have known she was signing up to see the organization through the worst pandemic the world has seen in generations.
Before the decision to cancel the 2020 reunion was finalized, Sloan was preparing to get to work. She said she was lucky to have such a great level of support from directors, members and volunteers, which all really served to make her job feel easy, she said.
Not only was it nice to have Hallahan, who proved to be an excellent resource and the man who was the president for the association’s 30th reunion, but being married to another past president has been convenient for kicking around ideas.
However, it didn’t take long for directors to engage in some serious discussions about the future of the 2020 reunion.
Sloan said it began with cancelling one meeting of the directors, and then another. Soon enough there was some talk about whether the reunion would move forward this year or not.
Some members were in favour of cancelling the event early on in the pandemic, Sloan said, while others were more inclined to wait. She says they used Lucknow’s Music in the Fields concert as an unofficial barometer, waiting to see what organizers of the concert would do.
However, the decision was eventually made to cancel the reunion and Sloan says it was the right thing to do. In fact, the vote to cancel this year’s event would eventually be unanimous.
Now, looking ahead to 2021 and the 60th anniversary reunion, Sloan and directors hope to return with a bigger and better event that will mark the anniversary properly.
Sloan said that in the past, there would be elevated programs or presentations. There was an anniversary year, she said, when the association partnered with the Barn Dance Historical Society to produce a special show at the reunion.
While no official plans have been made, Sloan hopes to incorporate something special into next year’s program. And while she’s excited to be the president for such an important year in the association’s history, Sloan admits it’s a little scary as well with the pressure that comes with it.
Looking ahead for the association, Sloan thinks the Threshers are in good shape.
Since Peter Hendriks was elected the youngest-ever president in the organization’s history in 2016 and 2017, Sloan says there has been an influx of younger directors and volunteers that certainly contributes to a hopeful future for the organization and the annual event.