2023 Cotton Denim Ball Inducts Jeannie Hileman and the Late Wayne Winsett into the Cotton Hall of Fame

The 4th annual Denim Ball was held April 14-15 at The Skirvin in Oklahoma City, Okla. Oklahoma and Texas cotton producers, as well as other industry personnel came together for a fun-filled weekend of celebrating the cotton industry and raising money for the Committee for the Advancement of Cotton. CAC is the political action committee for the National Cotton Council.

The Denim Ball, established in 2019, has grown exponentially. More than 250 people attended the event including producers, sponsors, legislators and the two new inductees into the Oklahoma Cotton Hall of Fame.

The weekend started on Friday night with Casino Night. A great time was had by all and was still being talked about the next morning during the golf tournament and well into the evening of the main event.

Saturday night began with Master of Ceremonies Brad Harrison, welcoming guests, and the invocation given by Oklahoma cotton producer Jimmy Smith, Elk City. While dinner was served, Dennis Vernon, member of the Denim Ball committee, began introducing the 2023 Oklahoma Cotton Hall of Fame inductees.

The first honoree was Jeannie Hileman, manager of Western Planters, LLC, Hobart. Hileman’s history in the world of cotton began at birth. From being in the field as her father harvested cotton to then keeping the records for her husband’s farming operation for over 20 years, her love for cotton and roots in the industry run deep. She then took her record-keeping experience into the office where she began keeping the books for Farmers Cooperative Gin in Carnegie in 1990. By 1996, she worked herself into management. Today, she manages Western Planters Cotton Gin, Hobart.

Along with over 30 years of experience in the cotton industry, Hileman has earned many awards and other recognitions. She was the first certified female ginner for the National Cotton Ginners Association, nominated for Significant Women in Agriculture in 2018, has served on numerous boards and committees and can now add to her list being the first woman inducted into the Oklahoma Cotton Hall of Fame.

Hileman will tell you that amongst the bales of cotton ginned and list of accomplishments, what is most precious to her is her family. Her husband of over 50 years, Randall, children Aaron and Sadie, along with other family members and a host of friends and supporters gave Hileman a standing ovation as she walked up to accept her award. Beaming with pride and humility, she simply said, “Thank you.”

Also recognized was the late Wayne Winsett of Elmer. As all good cotton producers do, Winsett’s involvement in the industry is generational. As early as age five, Winsett was in the fields picking cotton with his father. Winsett graduated from Elmer High School and attended college at Oklahoma A&M, now Oklahoma State University. In 1941, Winsett enlisted in the United States Army where he also attended Officer Candidate School. He served in the 84th Infantry Division, was the unit commander in the 325th Field Artillery and fought in the Battle of Bulge, all earning him numerous medals and promotions.

In 1942, he married his wife Freda, moving back to Jackson County in 1946 where he began his cattle, wheat, and cotton operation. Throughout his farming career, Winsett worked closely with the OSU Extension Service growing test plots for the OSU Research Station. Along with mentoring many young producers, Winsett served on numerous boards including the National Cotton Council advisory board and Cotton Incorporated. Many will tell you his experience and knowledge in the cotton industry has left a legacy for many to admire, and that his highest yielding crop is, of course, his family. Accepting the award on his behalf were son Gary Winsett, daughter, Ann Hawkins and step-daughter, Jackie Witte.

A silent auction was held throughout the evening, auctioning everything from a Solo Stove and MacKenzie Childs Cake set, to a module bale wrap and a custom-made charcuterie board with engraved cotton bolls. The final event of the night was the live auction. A spa trip to La Cantera, a golf trip to Tapatio Springs, Jason Aldean tickets and a 14k gold cotton boll necklace are just a few of the items sold. The night ended with dancing and mingling as people parted ways.

“Everybody had a good time, and the event was a success”, says Harvey Schroeder, Oklahoma Cotton Council executive director.

Reid Nichols, Denim Ball committee chairman and CAC Chair, echoed his sentiments adding, “It’s great to not only raise money to ensure that the cotton industry has a strong voice, but also to create an opportunity for producers across multiple states to get together, network and have a good time.”

Tas Smith, Vice president of Producer Affairs for the National Cotton Council agreed stating, “As challenges for the agriculture industry continue, it is more important than ever for producers to have elected leaders in Washington fighting for their best interests. Events like the Denim Ball are just a small part of efforts continuing to support CAC and their ongoing efforts to support the cotton industry and Members of Congress who are supporting our issues on Capitol Hill.”

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