Longtime Kern County Fair assistant manager Jeannie Burton, who died March 10, will be honored with a celebratory Mass on Saturday, April 13 — on what would have been her 76th birthday.
The Mass will take place at 10 a.m. at St. Francis Church, 900 H St. in Bakersfield.
Burton, who retired at the conclusion of last fall's annual 12-day event, worked at the fair for 33 years. She was the fair's most senior employee at the time of her retirement, according to Kern County Fair CEO Mike Olcott.
Burton died from complications associated with a 2018 stroke and subsequent strokes, according to Diana Burton Owens, her step-daughter.
"For over 30 years she was the heart of the Kern County Fair," Owens said. "Everybody knew it. She was the heartbeat. She knew where all the bodies were buried."
Mary Regina Teresa Weddle Burton, known as Jeannie, was born April 13, 1943, in Philadelphia to James and Regina Weddle. She moved to Southern California in spring 1967, where she began what would be a diverse career. She worked with the hearing impaired, did some marketing, and even had a silk screening business in the mid-1970s. By 1980, Jeannie had met and married Bill Burton, with whom she moved to Bakersfield in 1983.
Shortly thereafter, Jeannie took a part-time position at the Kern County Fairgrounds working in the payroll department, and within a very short time she was full-time, working on multiple projects and helping to coordinate the many events held on-site year-round. While Jeannie was instrumental in successfully organizing the annual fair, with all of its many concessionaires and vendors, Jeannie was also very involved in the Horse Show Classic and played an instrumental role in bringing Relay for Life, Home and Garden and the Sportsmen Show to the fairgrounds as well.
Burton, known for riding her bike around the fairgrounds (she eventually switched to a golf cart, in part to satisfy her golden retriever, Whisper), worked with the fair's many vendors. As exhibit supervisor, her formal title, she could often be heard over the two-way radio, asking a co-worker, “What’s your 20?”
"The fair industry is a tight-knit group and everybody knows everybody," Olcott said. "The outpouring (over her death) from the fair industry is overwhelming."
Burton helped set up the fair's concert stages, handled contracts and scouted prospective acts for the early fall fair.
"She would go to other events around the country, go to other fairs, and see what was out there," Olcott said. "Turkey races, that kind of thing."
Her final fair, which concluded in early October, was a hit. The 2018 fair brought in 416,000 people over its 12 days — more than 34,000 people a day. Carnival sales were up 6 percent this year and concessions were up 4 percent.
"Jeannie was always willing and able to learn anything and talk to anyone," her family said in a written statement. "All who knew her will miss seeing her broad smile and that chuckle which was hers alone! Jeannie always said, 'Every day is the best you’ve got'; this captures her spirit like nothing else."
Jeannie is survived by brothers Jim and David Weddle; sister Tracey Wandland; nieces Lacey Weddle and Casey Wandland; nephews Matthew Weddle and Derek Wandland; her significant other of many years, Jim Phillips; and their two dogs Chewy and Spike.
"The family cannot thank Jim Phillips enough for all he did to support Jeannie, especially over the last year, as well as Cheryl Mestmaker and other close friends and family," the family said in a statement. "We would also like to thank Optimal Hospice for the care they provided."