Walter B. Arnold Jr. took a small youth fair in Miami and turned it into the Miami-Dade County Youth Fair and Exposition. Arnold was widely admired for his support for 4-H youth development programs and commitment to celebrating the success of young people.
Known as “Mr. Youth Fair,” Arnold joined the Youth Fair’s Board of Directors in 1959 and served on the board for 41 years until his death in May 2000 – an amazing 41 years of voluntary service to one organization. During those 41 years, he was Fair president for five years and also served as secretary, treasurer and general manager.
He was also Miami-Dade County’s first resident to be elected president of the Florida Federation of Fairs. He became president of the federation in 1970-1971 and was “Fair Person of the Year” in 1989. He was recognized throughout Florida for building the state’s fair industry.
When Arnold first joined the fair’s Board of Directors, the Miami-Dade County Youth Fair and Exposition was a small event that lasted for four days and was run by volunteers. Now, the fair draws thousands of visitors, runs for 18 days, features a midway with more than a hundred rides, and features dozens of concerts and exhibits.
Described as a precise man with meticulously combed hair and black-rimmed glasses, Arnold often said he believed in paying dues to society. His quiet and unassuming manner was a hallmark, and he often pondered carefully what he might say.
He was a lifetime champion of young people. Arnold shared his philosophy about life with the Miami Herald in 1984 saying, “You’ve been born into this world and you haven’t had to pay for a whole lot of things. We pay for it by what we do for other people.”
“His entire life was devoted to youth programs, community service, and his family,” said E. Darwin Fuchs, president and chief executive of the fair to the Miami Herald when Mr. Arnold passed away. “He is credited with taking a small 4-H fair and visualizing the concept for what the Miami-Dade Fair is today. Walter recruited me for this job as well as most of the members of the Board of Directors.”
An avid fisherman, Arnold enjoyed creating the fair’s fishing gear department in 1980, which nurtured in many south Floridians a love for the sport he cherished. The handmade entries ranged from lobster traps and fishing rods to wooden tackle boxes. He was recognized for his work promoting the economic importance of sport fishing with the Metropolitan South Florida Fishing Tournament’s Henry H. Hyman Award in 1992.
His philosophy about life was grounded in a humble sense of generosity. He was a generous supporter of the Florida 4-H Foundation. He also realized the value that recognition holds for young people. “When those kids came in and saw their exhibits up there with ribbons, they were so excited,” he told the Miami Herald in 1984. “I don’t think I was ever so thrilled as I was at their emotions.”
Arnold grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee and graduated from the University of Chattanooga (now the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga) in 1937 with a degree in business administration. He had a 62-year career with Aetna Life Insurance, and worked for the company in Chattanooga; Utica, New York; Columbia, South Carolina; and Miami. He moved to Miami in 1945. He and his wife, Nancy, enjoyed 48 years of marriage and had two children together.
Arnold’s life ended in 2000 before his lifelong dream could be completed – the creation of a Youth Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame was a dream Arnold had carried for twenty-five years to honor youth who take action to help others in their school or community. He wanted to see the creativity, dreams and accomplishments of our young people honored in a special way.
Following his death, his family requested donations be made to support his dream, in lieu of flowers. The Miami-Dade County Fair and Exposition Board of Directors continued progress towards Arnold’s dream and on May 8, 2000 the Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition Board of Directors officially established the Walter B. Arnold Jr. Youth Hall of Fame.