Sandy Fulton is not your average event planner. Under the affectionate nickname, “The Porkanizer,” Sandy organizes and grows events with passion and expertise from her lifetime of work in the hospitality industry.
Sandy is a Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) Contest Organizer and a member of the KCBS Board of Directors. She helps organize KSBC-sanctioned competitions including Philly’s Inaugural Fire Up Hope BBQ Festival, an event on September 10- 11, 2016 at the Devon Horse Show Grounds to benefit HelpHOPELive. We picked her brain about her career beginnings, the accident that changed her life and how to plan a successful BBQ fundraiser.
Sandy, how did you get your start in the hospitality industry?
More than 25 years ago I was a restaurant owner in Ocean City, Maryland, and after that I worked at the Ocean City Convention Center. I really fell in love with promoting and booking conventions and events at the Center. From there, I spent 15 years in the hotel industry in sales working in promotion and training sales departments for hotels all over the country. I was asked to be the executive director of Tourism for Wicomico County, Maryland.
That job was my destiny. I began to use all of my experience in sales, promotions, food and beverage, and marketing to promote our county. I contacted KCBS and held my first BBQ festival in Salisbury, Maryland. in 2002. Within 3 years, the event grew to be the largest of its kind this side of the Mississippi. After I retired in 2012, I was asked to promote another BBQ festival. That grew into managing seven events per year.
You had to retire early due to medical challenges. Was that a difficult time for you?
Yes, probably the most difficult time in my life. I fell and broke my hip and arm. It was assumed that in four to six weeks I could go back to work. After a few weeks, the pain in my hip and leg became worse: my hip was out of socket and my pelvis was broken, seemingly during the initial operation. Four more operations to correct the areas had failed. As soon as I stood, my hip fell out and I would be standing on my ankle.
I was finally put in an ambulance by my doctor and taken into a six-hour operation. I was told I probably would never walk again. I was so distraught.
I spent six weeks in the hospital and six weeks in rehab. I began physical therapy at home and in a nearby facility. I was in a wheelchair, and I was determined not to stay in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. It was obvious by then that I would not be able to return to work. My job was a very active job and with the pain and limitations, I had no choice but to retire. I cried for days. I loved my job so much. I felt that the job was my destiny, and that I had prepared all my life for that job.
I was given a wonderful retirement party with county and state officials in attendance and many awards and recognitions. That made it hurt even more. I was devastated. I decided to concentrate on walking again. I had to. It took me three years, but I was able to walk with a cane. I am grateful to my family, friends, therapy and, of course, God for believing in me.
Can you tell us a little about the KCBS? Why is its approval important?
KCBS is an organization that promotes the love of BBQ. It is the largest organization of its kind, and it is not only based in the United States. It has become a worldwide organization with contests in Europe, Puerto Rico and other regions.
The organization has very strict rules and the judging is done by people who have taken a KCBS Judges class. They judge based on appearance, taste and tenderness.
Why did you decide to specialize in KCBS-sanctioned events?
I made the decision based on my love of creating an event, and the BBQ people that I met and the loyalty they showed me. It is also such a great way to introduce BBQ to new areas.
KCBS really supports nonprofits. 90% of my events are for nonprofits. The competitors love that element and so do those attending. They get to have fun and help a charity at the same time. When holding a fundraiser, advertising that it is for a charitable cause is very important.
How did your first 2002 KCBS-sanctioned event evolve over time?
Initially, we had three months to put it together and 17 competitors. Each year, we added something new to the event to keep people interested. We eventually had to put a limit on the numbers of competitors, food vendors and craft vendors because we were running out of space! We advertised a great deal and that helped. People started planning for the event months in advance. We added a children’s section and that really helped the event, too.
What is your favorite part of your job? Your least favorite?
My favorite part is working with the competitors. They have stood by me and encouraged me when I had to retire. When I held my first festival, I walked into their meeting and they gave me a standing ovation. That’s when I knew that everything was going to be alright.
My least favorite part of my job is after the competition and awards (ceremony) when they all leave me!
What does the word HOPE mean to you?
The word hope had a different meaning to me before my accident. We all take for granted being able to walk across a room, drive and do day-to-day activities. So I used to use hope in a simple and kind way, “Hope you have a great day,” “Hope it doesn’t rain today,” or “Hope everyone likes the meal I just prepared.”
When you go through a devastating accident and don’t know what you are going to face in the future, the word hope means something different. When you live with a disability, you look at things differently. When I pulled up to a store, I never used to think about whether or not I could make it to the door. Now I have to look where I am walking, monitor the surface and the people near me. Now I think, I hope I can get to the door, I hope I don’t slip, and, sadly enough, I hope people don’t stare at me and look at me differently than they used to.
Hope has a new meaning now. I hope I can be the person I used to be and I hope that I do not let a disability stop me from being who I need to be.
Anything else you’d like to share with us?
I am excited to introduce BBQ to Devon! You will see how dedicated people are and how much people love meeting competitors and trying competition BBQ. When a charity like yours is involved, success means even more.
You can learn more about Sandy by contacting her via email. Don’t forget to buy your tickets for the Fire Up Hope BBQ Festival to taste real KCBS-sanctioned BBQ made possible by “the Porkanizer!”