Tracy Fenton has had a lot of identities in his 48 years -- business owner, paramedic, truck driver, dad, husband, big time community supporter and barbecue genius.
On Jan. 25 he'll have a new title: Du Quoin Citizen of the Year.
"It means a lot," he says of the biggest Du Quoin Chamber of Commerce award presented each year. But in the next second he protests he is not deserving.
"There are a lot of people in the community who do more than I do," Fenton says.
Du Quoin disagrees that he is not worthy. He was a member of the first board of the Perry County CEO, which mentors Du Quoin and Pinckneyville high school students who have a zeal for business and entrepreneurship. And his barbecue is the stuff of legend at fundraisers around Du Quoin and beyond.
His business, Fenton's Custom & Collision, donates the meat and other supplies for the barbecue; Fenton donates his labor. Inside the Perry County Health Department-inspected kitchen at his business at Routes 51 and 14, he produces steaming hot trays of succulent barbecue and then delivers them to wherever the fundraiser is.
"I do it for the kids," he says, talking about the uniforms, equipment and whatever else local sports teams require in these days of tight budgets and fewer resources.
He works with the booster clubs in Du Quoin and Pinckneyville and fundraises for football, track, basketball and softball, among others.
He and volunteers cooked for 800 people at last year's Camp Nubabilty kickoff; he bought the scoreboards inside the Southern Illinois Center at the fairgrounds to be used for the Special Olympics benefit softball/baseball tournaments each January; he donates all the beer for the Du Quoin Youth Club Charity Ball; and was instrumental in helping raise the money to repair the pool.
Fenton, a longtime member of the chamber, was nominated for the award by members of the chamber; he was chosen as winner by the chamber board.
"He is a pillar of our community as well as a small-business owner and chamber member," reads one nomination. "He is very generous with his time AND his money. If I were to document every single event/organization Tracy has helped, it would take pages."
Du Quoin Mayor Guy Alongi says Du Quoin is a better community because Tracy Fenton gives generously of himself and his time.
"Congratulations, Tracy, this is a very well-deserved honor to recognize your dedication to our community," he posted on Facebook, adding that he and Tracy have worked together on community betterment projects.
"There is no one in Du Quoin who is a more thoughtful, community-minded, sharing and caring individual to others than Tracy Fenton."
Fenton, a native of Wayne City, east of Mt. Vernon, always liked cars. At Wayne City High school he joined a co-op program that had him working in a body shop during the winter and farming for that same business owner in the summer.
He also liked medicine, and got his emergency medical technician license in 1990. When he got to SIU medicine won out, and he signed up for the med prep program.
Later, when he didn't get into medical school, Fenton decided that becoming a paramedic would be a good second choice. He worked for the Jackson County Ambulance Service for 21 years, with a three-year hiatus to drive NASCAR trucks all around the lower forty-eight states, taking fabulous cars from one track to another. The money was good, good enough to put his wife, Crisey, through nursing school.
But the trips were long and hard on the family, which now included a little daughter. Tracy told Crisey that if their daughter even asked him to stay home, he'd abandon trucking.
One day when she was 3 she said the magic words, "Daddy, don't go." Fenton gave it up, basically then and there, with no idea where life would take him next.
Life -- or God -- took him back to the paramedic service, where a full-time job miraculously opened up. He remained there until 2012, when his collision business was established enough he could afford to give it everything he had. He and a partner started Southern Illinois Custom & Collision in 2008; a few years later the partner left and the business became Fenton's Custom & Collision. he opened the current shop three years ago.
Tracy and his family have lived in Du Quoin since 2001 and he loves the community. He and Crisey raised their daughter here, who is now grown up and applying to veterinary schools.
"Du Quoin is special to me," he says.
By the way, that barbecue? The secret may well be in the special meat rub that Fenton formulated. You can buy the rub directly from him, but the recipe is a closely-guarded secret.
• The Jan. 25 chamber dinner and awards will be at the Du Quoin American Legion. Tickets are $25 per person, and are available at St. Nicholas Brewing Co., 12 S. Oak St., Eclipse Insurance Agency, 6 N. Division St. or the Chamber office, 20 N. Chestnut St.