Traditional Arts Indiana and the Indiana State Fair wish to recognize individuals for their mastery of a particular tradition and for their dedication to sharing their knowledge at the fair, year after year. These men and women give generously of themselves by exhibiting, demonstrating, or performing, at both the county and state fairs. They are well known by neighbors and friends in home communities for a particular skill and for their commitment to passing their excellence on to others.
For nearly 45 years, Ellsworth Christmas has volunteered at the Indiana State Fair’s Pioneer Village to teach fairgoers about Indiana’s traditional crafts and agricultural practices. He grew up on a farm in rural Warrick County, Indiana at a time when farming with a mule and plough was slowly giving way to tractors.
In 1975, Maurie Williamson at the Purdue Ag Alumni Association invited the young extension specialist to demonstrate chair caning at the Pioneer Village. In subsequent years, Ellsworth constructed a smoke house and built the pin-framed barn that serves as the backdrop for the Pioneer Village stage. He worked with other volunteer artisans to build the “Johnson Cabin,” a replica of the 1822 cabin that once stood on the fairgrounds. While he continues to demonstrate during the fair each year, Ellsworth works with a team of volunteers to restore the village’s collection of antique farming equipment and wagons.
From splitting shingles and smoking hams to building wooden wheels and making an ox yoke at the fair, Ellsworth Christmas has worked to preserve Indiana’s farming heritage through his contributions and demonstrations at the Pioneer Village.
*Maurie Williamson was the founder of the Pioneer Village and recipient of the 2015 State Fair Master Award
Rodnie Bryant was raised in a “very religious” and musical home. In his youth, he learned music theory alongside his older sister at the Wurlitzer Music Company and later took private lessons. His musical repertoire draws from the classical and jazz music he studied and the gospel music he sang every Sunday.
Mentored by “musical giants” in Indianapolis, such as Robert Turner, Al “The Bishop” Hobbs, and Delores “Sugar” Poindexter, Rodnie soon gained national recognition as a gospel musician and recording artist. His accomplishments include a Grammy Award nomination in 1998, and winning Gospel Music Workshop of America Excellence Awards for both “Choir of the Year” and “Song of the Year.” His music became a staple among church choirs in many congregations both locally and beyond.
Raised in Indianapolis within walking distance of the fairgrounds, Rodnie has always enjoyed attending the big event with his family and friends. In 1995, the Indiana State Fair asked him to coordinate “Gospel Music Day,” which features both local and national gospel music talents. Since the first program, which had 400 attendees, Gospel Music Day has grown to host an audience of nearly 4000 every year. Rodnie takes pride in producing an event that is “wholesome, good and able to service an entire family.”
Though born in Indiana, Kathy Rucker traveled around the world, following her father during his naval duty in the submarine service. When she was sixteen her family returned to Indianapolis. Throughout those young years there was one constant—Kathy was always dancing. She recalls, “I was either dancing with the cabinet, dancing with the refrigerator handle, dancing in my room— dancing all over the house.” Years later she would study square dancing and round dancing but clogging “caught her eye” when she saw a group performing at a local festival. So, she began taking clogging classes on the southside of Indianapolis and soon discovered that she was “pretty good at it.” “Why would you want to start clogging when you are forty?” some asked her, but Kathy recognized that it was fun way to exercise, and to meet people. Eventually, several fellow students suggested to her that instead of driving all the way to the southside to take lessons, they could clog with Kathy at her eastside home. What began as a small group, soon outgrew her garage.
Before long, she started teaching classes for older adults. First one, then a second, but as quickly as she added a new session, it filled. Finally, she was up to teaching twenty-one classes each week. As she jokes, “It keeps the body in shape… it keeps the body tired.” To fuel her teaching, Kathy traveled around the country taking clogging and dance workshops and classes, in addition to learning how to dance better, these experiences also taught her how to be a better teacher. She explains, “You can be a great dancer and a lousy teacher, and you can be an average dancer and a great teacher. I was going for the great teacher, I didn’t care if I was a superb dancer, I just wanted to teach someone how to do what I love to do.”
In 1995, Kathy volunteered to manage a small dance stage at the Indiana State Fair. That first year, the crowds wanting to see clogging were so big that it blocked the roadway and the fair shuttles could not pass. To accommodate the popularity of the dance stage, the fair moved it several times to larger and better locations. Today, the dance stage is located in Celebration Park and has grown to as big as it can get at the fair. Throughout the run of the fair, the stage features a variety of dance groups, and serves as a great promotional tool for dancing groups around the region. Two of Kathy’s groups, The Circle City Cloggers and Still Kickin, are regular acts at the fair; performing several times each week. While the Circle City Cloggers consist of dancers from their teens on up, Still Kickin is for older adults, 55 and older.
The idea of an older adults group emerged when several of the members of the Circle City group felt the routines were getting too hard on them. Kathy too was getting older but recognized the elders desire to continue clogging. While some are alumni of the Circle City group, others are older women and men who didn’t start dancing until they were in their sixties or seventies.
Kathy also teaches line dancing in the Indianapolis area. One of her groups, the Heritage Place Ladies of the Dance is a group of older African American women who love to dance. They dance to classic Motown as well as more contemporary popular music. Kathy started the class nearly twenty-five years ago, and several of the original dancers are still with the group. Odessa Higginson, the “elder of the club” is 92-year-old, explains “I love dancing, and I intend to keep dancing as long as I can keep moving.”
For several years, Kathy taught twenty-one dance classes each week, but as she got older she slowly pared them down to the ten groups that she teaches today. At 73, she explains that dancing is more than a hobby or a job for her. It literally saved her life. She explains, “I’ve had cancer twice, and the doctors told me that if I hadn’t been so physically fit I wouldn’t have made it. I credit dancing with saving my life…I will probably continue to clog until I can’t lift my foot anymore!” Kathy and the Indiana State Fair have fostered a wonderful network of dancing clubs throughout the greater Indianapolis area. Kathy teaches the class and organizes the groups, and the fair helps promote the benefits of dance through its dance stage. Nevertheless, Kathy Rucky has made an incredible contribution to the cultural vitality and the health and wellness of all the communities in which she works.
A fixture at the Indiana State Fair for many years, Bill Bailey coordinates the entertainment in the Pioneer Village, inviting musicians, storytellers, and other entertainers from around the state to perform on the village’s two rustic stages. His relationship with the fair began in 1991, when he played percussion with a band in the village—but Bill is no ordinary percussionist. A self-proclaimed “idiophonist,” he makes his rhythmic music with spoons, washboards, and a variety of other everyday items.
Bill played percussion throughout his school years, but sold his drums when he went to college, remaining “music-less” for a while. Then in 1976, a couple that played old-time music moved next door, and he was inspired to try his hand at the mandolin, guitar, and harmonica—yet percussion continued to call to him. He picked up playing the spoons, and eventually began tapping out his syncopated rhythms on a washboard and a variety of other resonate objects such as a wooden shoe, triangles, and horse shoes. Before long, Bill was playing multiple styles of music including old-time, blues, and jug band.
In 1991, Bill played with a couple of bands that were performing in the fair’s Pioneer Village. He was hooked. Each year he returned and played with a variety of musicians. In 2003, Gerry Gray, the original music coordinator for the village, chose Bill as her replacement. He continued to book the old-time and dulcimer music that had been featured at the fair since the 1970s, but he also expanded the program to include a greater variety of traditional music and other forms of entertainment. One successful program that he helped develop was a tribute to the WLS National Barn Dance, which featured the music and theatrical routines of the popular radio show in the early 20th Century. For six years, large audiences came to see this reenactment show.
Besides his work at the Indiana State Fair, Bill serves as a musical ambassador for the Columbus Washboard Company, the last manufacturer of hand-built washboards in North America. Bill paints and outfits their boards, transforming them into musical instruments. The company sells dozens of Bill’s musical boards, which they ship all over the world. Each year, Bill also travels to Ohio to perform at their Washboard Music Festival to promote this unique musical genre.
Today, in addition to his own musical pursuits, Bill continues to coordinate the entertainment at the Pioneer Village. From old-time country, bluegrass, gospel, and blues, to storytelling and fiddling contests, the stages at the village help create a nostalgic atmosphere where fairgoers can escape the pressures of contemporary life. And while he makes sure the Pioneer Village stage shows run smoothly, visitors can still find Bill Bailey tapping out his upbeat rhythms and entertaining audiences.
“Pearce McKinney has been committed not only to his award-winning sheep, but also to the upkeep of his farm, home, and property in Wingate, Indiana. Pearce’s family has lived on this farm for five generations. In 1924, his father, Lawrence, named the property Walnut Knoll for the many walnut trees that still dot the landscape today. Over the years, Pearce has worked to restore the old farmhouse back to the way it looked in the early 1900s.
Since they took over the family farm, both Pearce and his wife Alice have left their imprint on the property through their restoration work and modern additions. Pearce restored the barn at Walnut Knoll, which was originally built in 1885. Maintaining the functionality of this historic building, he constructed a modernized hay chute inside the barn and added an office in the space to help with his daily farm responsibilities. In 1991, Alice engineered Fence Line Feeders, an innovative method of feeding the herds of sheep at Walnut Knoll.
On the farm, Pearce and Alice have raised Suffolk and Montadale sheep. The sheep interest began in 1954 when Pearce borrowed $300 from his grandmother to buy three ewe lambs. Pearce worked with sheep breeders in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and in 1963, he raised and showed the Reserve Grand Champion Ram at the Chicago International. Pearce has been actively involved in several Suffolk sheep associations, serving on both national and local committees, and he has judged competitions across the country.
At Walnut Knoll, Pearce and Alice enjoy their time at home with their three Great Pyrenees dogs and the beautiful gardens Alice maintains. Upon reflection on his life and career, Pearce has often liked to say, “If you love what you’re doing, I’m sorry, it ain’t work.” Pearce has always been proud of his family lineage and cherished the daily tending of his flock.
In addition to his work on the farm, Pearce has been a generous benefactor of the Indiana State Fair and the 4-H program for many years. He has contributed to the Sale of Champions, which helps fund 4-H members participating in livestock competitions. Pearce has served on the Board of Animal Health and the Indiana Sheep Breeders Association, and also led an initiative to give fairgoers an opportunity to see and sample lamb produced in Indiana. Through his work with the State Fair, Pearce has set an example for future leaders of Indiana farming communities.”
Thanks to Mauri Williamson, the Pioneer Village has become one of the most popular and beloved activities of the Indiana State Fair. The Village celebrates Indiana’s agricultural heritage through displaying antique tractors and farm implements, as well as by hosting old-time craft and farm-life demonstrations. The roots of the Village date to 1961 when Mauri, then the Purdue Agricultural Alumni Association secretary, brought a collection of farming artifacts from the university to create an educational display at the Indiana State Fair. In 1968, the Village began to grow when the Fair built a barn dedicated to housing its unique collection.
From fiddling and quilting to threshing and storytelling, today the Pioneer Village features dozens of musicians, artisans, and demonstrators who share their talents with fairgoers. More than just the founder of the Pioneer Village, for over 54 years Mauri Williamson has worked to make the Village a memorable experience for countless Hoosiers.
The Indiana State Fair Master Award was established to recognize long-time fair participants, who share their knowledge and talents at the Fair. Indiana University's Traditional Arts Indiana and Indiana State Fair are Honored to name Mauri Williamson the 2015 Indiana State Fair Master.
Each year, Traditional Arts Indiana honors a long-time state fair participant with the Indiana State Fair Master Award. These men and women give generously of themselves by exhibiting, demonstrating, or performing, at both county and state fairs. They are well-known by neighbors and friends in home communities for a particular skill and for their commitment to passing their excellence on to others. This year, we are honored to name Mary Alice Collins of Markleville, a master baker, as the award’s recipient.
Mary Alice grew up in the kitchen. Learning how to cook and bake was just part of living on her family’s Hancock County farm. After finishing 10 years of 4-H and starting a career as a home economics teacher, she began participating at the Indiana State Fair in 1955.
Since then, she has won thousands of ribbons for her pies, cakes, breads and cookies, and has been featured on The View and in a cookbook published by Midwest Living. Mary Alice passed away September 09, 2019.
2013 marks Mary Schwartz’s 50th consecutive year of exhibiting at the Indiana State Fair. Active in 4-H as a girl, Mary started embroidering as a compromise with her mother: she could continue to show sheep if she participated in an activity her mother believed to be more feminine, such as embroidery. While Mary works in several different styles of needlepoint, her favorite medium is crewel embroidery, a technique that uses wool thread to create depths of color and shading. “I like the feel of the wool,” Mary said. “I was a sheep producer at one time – my family was – and so therefore I’m going to continue to support the sheep people.”
Earning numerous blue ribbons over the years, Mary’s skill and artistry in embroidery represents just one aspect of her contributions to the Indiana State Fair. She has worked for the past several years as coordinator of the Antiques division in the Home and Family Arts Building. She enthusiastically supports her department, treating her co-workers as family and welcoming and encouraging new participants and visitors each year. The distinction of being named a State Fair Master is a highlight, said Mary, as she joins the ranks of the many distinguished and talented people that have preceded her: “It is really an honor to be recognized for the state. You stop and think about how many exhibitors are on this campus at one time, to be singled out and saying, ‘we recognize you for your years of servitude to us’ – it’s a big thing.”
For 31 years, Harold Stark has set up, demonstrated, and repaired farm equipment in the Pioneer Village at the Indiana State Fair. His interest in steam power grew out of watching his grandfather work a small 80-acre farm in Rush County. It was then that Harold first learned about working with and maintaining a steam engine. From plowing fields to powering buzz saws, steam was an exciting and important part of his youth. In 1979, he completed his half-scale steam engine, which he built as a memorial to his grandfather, uncles, and friends who fostered his lifelong interest in steam power.
Harold's decades of service to the Fair were honored in 2010 by the State of Indiana with the Partner in Progress Award, but he stresses that he is proudest of his "work with some of the younger ones, helping to repair the equipment, so future generations can enjoy them for years to come."
Produced by Traditional Arts Indiana • Videography by Jon Kay and Mark A. Corson • Editing by Jon Kay • Graphic design by Arle Lommel • Special thanks to: Cynthia Hoye, Indiana State Fair Executive Director • Roger Hale and Bobbi Bates, Indiana State Fair.
Starting with only 30 sows, Wayne and Helen Drake built what would become a multi-generational family hog breeding business now involving thousands of pigs. Far from being an isolated practice, Wayne says he learned a lot from other hog farmers. “I learned a lot from the old people, that’s what I called them. You’d sit around the pens, and chew the fat with them, and you pick up a lot of ideas, and exchange ideas. It was really educational for me as a 4-H kid.” Both Wayne and Helen Drake began showing at the State Fair in the 1940s and have continued nearly every year since. Their children, now running the family business, Drake Purebred Farms, have also been showing hogs their whole lives, and have amassed numerous awards and accolades themselves. For the Drakes, hog breeding and showing has turned into a family tradition with no signs of slowing down.
In 2008, the Tuttle Orchard celebrated their 80th anniversary. Like their grandfather Roy Tuttle and their parents Ray and Virginia Roney, Mike and Tom Roney consider participation at the State Fair an important part of the family’s tradition of excellence in growing apples.
As a small girl, Patti Light saw a baton twirler in a local parade, which ignited her lifelong passion for the baton. Having twirled for most of her life, she continues to be active in this sport and art through teaching students and judging at the State Fair.
Jon Kay, Director and Producer
Ben Schreiner, Videographer and Editor
Music by Pete and Paul Schreiner
Graphic Design by Wood Frog Design
Noble Melton a minister in Indianapolis earns the title of State Fair Master for his decades of commitment to the fiddler’s art and playing at the Fair. His musical education was informal,. Growing up in Crawford County, Noble was exposed to old time fiddle music at house dances and later in the dance halls where he first played. For more than 30 years he has become a staple act at the Fair’s Pioneer Village.
Gerry and Ralph Dunkin are largely responsible for the increased appreciation for miniature donkeys in the last two decades. They enjoy introducing people of all ages to these intelligent and companionable animals. Their greatest reward is the camaraderie between exhibitors and visitors that extends beyond the Fair, to home and farm.
Jack Rodibaugh and his family operate a hog business where they produce swine for breeding, market and 4-H youth. Rodibaugh's career began when his uncle gave him two piglets during the Depression. While he admits that he did not know much about pigs those first few years, he learned from older farmers and has spent the last 63 years perfecting breeding stock and competing at the State Fair. Today, he and his family encourage the tradition by producing and selling quality hogs to 4-H youth.
In 1952, Bill Harshbarger began showing sheep on the county and State Fair level, and continued to exhibit until the early 1960s. After going to shearing school in Warsaw, Indiana, he began shearing at the State Fair. 2006 marked his 52nd consecutive year competing in the State Fair Sheep Shearing Contest. Harshbarger is also a fixture at the Sheep Barn, having helped generations of State Fair participants by sharpening their shears.
Since 1843, the Huber family has worked a small homestead located in the Knobs of Clark County, Indiana. Originally from Baden Baden, Germany, the family brought a fruit-growing and winemaking tradition with them to Southeastern Indiana. Like many of their neighbors, generations of Hubers have made a couple of barrels of wine each year for their own table. Winemaking was not a commercial venture until 1972, when Indiana passed the Small Farm Winery Act. Since the Huber family operated a fruit-based farm and had made wine as far back as they could trace their history, they decided to transform their retail fruit farm into the Huber Orchard and Winery.
Knowing that amateur winemaking was different from running a commercial winemaking operation, brothers Carl and Gerald Huber researched the business and trained themselves for their new agricultural venture. In 1979, they produced their first wine for sale. Gerald began competing and winning the Governor's Cup at the Indiana State Fair's International Wine Competition, which is the third largest competition of its kind in the United States. The competition helped the Hubers improve and develop their winemaking tradition and secure their reputation as a premier Indiana winery.
Gerald's son, Ted, began working in the vineyard as a young boy and in the winery as a teenager. At 21, he became the Huber Winery's head winemaker, after his father and uncle transferred the family business to Ted and his cousin Greg. Today, Ted oversees the winery and vineyard on the six-generation farm, while Greg manages the orchard and retail operations, which attract 550,000 visitors each year.
In 1982, Minnie Marchant visited the Indiana State Fair's Pioneer Village and saw that no one was demonstrating quilting. She quickly volunteered her home quilt group to fill this void. Ever since, the Piecemakers, a group that quilts at the Salem United Methodist Church in Evansville, has been a staple at the Pioneer Village. In addition to demonstrating, the group donates a one-of-a-kind quilt to be auctioned at the Fair.
Like clockwork, each Wednesday throughout the year, the Piecemakers gather at the church to quilt. Some of the members also assemble on Mondays to make a quilt for the State Fair, a project that requires more than 200 hours of shared labor and talent. "Putting a quilt together is an art -- putting the colors and designs together and being able to see it in your mind before it actually happens," explains Jane Eberhart. All of the members came to quilting in different ways. Some learned to quilt at their mother's knee while others taught themselves. The making of each quilt teaches the group more about the art and draws the circle of friends closer.
Harold Farrar taught his four sons to garden, in part so they would learn about hard work and managing money. As children, John, Stephen, Mike, and Richard would rototill, hoe, weed, and pick the crops on their father's five acres of rented land. They sold their harvested tomatoes on the neighborhood streets, dividing up the profits among themselves.
In 1954, Harold Farrar participated in the Indiana State Fair for the first time, entering tomatoes in six-year-old Mike's name. Mike laughs as he remembers how his father headed for the fair with ten-pound baskets of tomatoes balanced on the handlebars of his bicycle. The Farrar family has entered the State Fair every year since, even after their father's death in 1983. Mike and his brothers are also teaching the next generation to garden. Mike's son, Bradley, loves the competition among family members.
Mike gardens mostly because he "just loves to watch things grow." He specializes in tomatoes, but also grows flat-head cabbage, carrots, radishes, and even walnuts. It's a challenge growing vegetables so that they're all equally ripe for the fair.
Since the vegetables have to be as fresh as possible, the Farrars hand-pick 200-300 tomatoes the day before the fair. Then the whole kitchen overflows with tomatoes. Only those that are uniform in size and quality are selected for the fair. Each one is polished with a rag soaked in tomato juice to give a shine without splitting the tomato.
Mike was surprised to have his family picked as State Fair Masters. "It's just a family thing," he says, as he proudly shows the State Fair Grand Champion plaque they won for a yellow tomato. The hardest thing, says his wife, Peggy, is not being able to eat the vegetables before the fair.
A native of the Washington area Jean Swann learned to sew on a treadle machine as she moved through the 4-H program in the 1930s. The local home economics teacher was the 4-H leader, but Jean remembers that she learned to sew pretty much on her own. After WWII service, she returned home and became a 4-H leader herself, guiding her younger sister through several state competitions.
In time, Jean taught her two daughters to sew and, as committed 4-H participants, they earned many county awards. Her older daughter, Martha Miller, won the state Fashion Revue in 1972 with a wool pantsuit and coat ensemble, and went on to represent Indiana in national competition.
Jean sewed all of the family's clothes while working full-time and volunteering in the community. Thirty years ago, after her children grew up and moved out of the house, she turned to sewing for herself and began entering items in the State Fair. The annual Showcase of Fashions is a competition she never misses, and her stack of silver trays represents an impressive run of wins.
Martha's own collection of trays rivals Jean's. The mother-daughter team works closely together, choosing fabrics and patterns, matching plaids, tailoring garment, and selecting coordinating accessory pieces. Sewing quality clothing from choice fabrics is an exciting challenge, explains Martha. "There's a creativity thing there, too. What can I do with this uninteresting piece of material? What can I do with this to make something that really looks good? People are artists in different ways."
Mary K. Borgman learned to make candy as a child by watching her mother at Christmas time. She began exhibiting at the State Fair fifty years ago "to see if I could beat somebody," she says with a good-spirited laugh. Mary has won more grand prizes than anyone in the candy division. And now she's competing with her granddaughter, whom she taught.
Mary's repertoire includes chocolate-covered fondant, toffee, pecan, and caramels. Mary and her husband, Raymond, now work together as a team. Mary stirs the sugar mixture while it heats to the precise temperature; Raymond skillfully chooses the prize-winning pieces of candy, sorting out those with "feet" (excess chocolate on the bottom). Over the years he has provided many tools for their trade, fashioning molds from metal scraps and salvaging slabs of marble.
Mary and Raymond have lived on their Hancock County farm for nearly 68 years, raising their four children and tending livestock. The Borgmans now fish for bluegill and catfish in the farm pond and make candy for holidays and birthdays as gifts to family and friends.
In 1945, Jim Patton's grandfather bought his first Angus cow. Since then, the Pattons have been breeding some of this country's finest purebred Angus seed stock.
Jim's wife, Randee, didn't grow up on a farm, but she soon adapted, providing valuable support in the cattle barns while the rest of the family was on the road at shows. Their three children, Steve Patton, Susan Patton Gillen, and Beth Patton Korniak, are all ten-year veterans of 4-H, winning multiple competitions locally and nationally. Susan and Beth are three-time Silver Pitcher Award winners, an award given to the most-winning girl at the National Junior Show. And Steve has continued in the family tradition, managing LaGrand Ranch, a large purebred Angus ranch in South Dakota.
Jim's father was known for having a good eye. Picking a good heifer or bull is the key to successful breeding. It has been a challenge over the years to stay current with the trends. Qualities that were once prized in a cow—short, deep, and fat—are now being bred out. "The cattle of the past don't resemble the animals of today," says Jim. Lean is in and so the Pattons have had to adapt accordingly. Since his Grandfather Patton's era, the task of breeding purebred seed stock has become far more complicated, requiring a working knowledge of biogenetics. The Patton family's adaptability and "good eye" continue to serve them well.
At any time during the run of the Indiana State Fair, you can expect to find at least two and as many as a dozen members of Johnson County's Canary family at the Dairy Barn or Pioneer Village.
Long time dairy farmers, the Canarys have taken on the challenge of interpreting historic agricultural practices to a modern audience. From running cream separators and milking machines to pitching wheat into a thresher and churning butter by hand, the Canary family re-enacts the practices of their family's past, keeping contemporary Hoosiers in touch with our state's long and deep agricultural roots.
Both Bill and Arlene Canary have been involved with the Indiana State Fair since they were children. After they married they continued their involvement, showing livestock and helping with what would become the Pioneer Village back when it was just a small, one-room antiques exhibit in the old Grandstand. Bill and Arlene raised their children at the Pioneer
Village and their children have done the same. Now, on any given day, you can expect to see three generations of Canarys, side-by-side and hard at work at the Fair.
The Eller family has always had winning horses on their farm. They bought their first registered Belgian Draft Horse in 1927 and won their first Grand Championship less than a decade later. Since then, the Ellers and their Belgian Draft Horses have accumulated Champion and Grand Champion ribbons from across the country. According to Crae Eller, they also farm a thousand acres in Hamilton County, but “try not to let farming interfere with the horse business.”
The Ellers are as dedicated to the Fair as they are to their horses. Since 1947, an unbroken line of Ellers has guided, shaped, and served the Indiana State Fair. Clifford Eller became the Draft Horse Barn's First Assistant Director in 1947. When Clifford passed away in 1971, his son Lee became First Assistant Director. This year, Lee's son Crae will take the reins from his father, marking the third generation of Ellers to serve in that capacity.
One of the greatest talents any horseman can have is the ability to recognize a good horse in the "rough": ungroomed, untrimmed, running free and wild in afield. Lee's great-grandfather was known for this ability; his father also was recognized as a master. "I've heard guys tell me he could look through a horse in a minute. I mean, he had the eye," Lee said. Modest men, neither Lee nor Crae will claim "the eye" for themselves, but their long string of Champion and Grand Champion Belgians seems to say otherwise.
George Harrell lives on the same farm in Johnson County where he was born and grew up. The same farm that his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather worked since the 1850s.
For as long as he can remember, there have always been sheep on the farm. From a very early age it was his job to take care of them. From farm chores, to 4-H, to his career as farmer and wool grader, George has been immersed in the sheep business for most of his life. He is a sheep shearer. He is a sought-after contest judge who has judged at every county fair in Indiana, at fairs from coast to coast, and even a fair in England. He is also a leader in wool and sheep organizations across Indiana.
But George's gift - what we recognize as his occupational art - is the way he distinguishes minute differences among different grades or qualities of wool fleece. George is a master wool grader. Of the 24 grades between Coarse and Fine, George can tell every one of them with a glance and a pass of his hand.
George hasn't missed a State Fair since his first in 1946. "I've always been a competitive person," he says. He won Supreme Sheep Showmanship at the State Fair at the age of 12, but quit showing once he started judging regularly. George is serving his 38th year with 4-H, always willing to share his knowledge of sheep and wool with young people. You can meet him in the wool room in the Sheep Barn during the Fair.
For the past 30 years, Keith Ruble has dedicated two weeks of his annual vacation to the Indiana State Fair. When not at the Fair, Keith is likely in the woods or on a lake or stream. He oversees 13 employees and over 1,000 acres of park land as superintendent of Vigo County Parks. In his spare time, he makes wooden buckets and hews bowls in his living room.
As a child growing up along the banks of the Ohio River in Dearborn County, Keith learned to love the outdoors, spending his summers bailing hay and milking cows. He taught himself how to hew a log by hand, reconstruct log cabins, and split rails while working for Vigo County Parks. Like the early pioneers, Keith has to be resourceful, often consulting the masters in his community about everything from stone masonry to engineering a grist mill.
In the early 1970s, already well known for his log cabin building skills, Keith was invited to build a log cabin inside the Pioneer Village Barn at the State Fair. Keith has returned every year since-- to help build the log smokehouse, the pen-frame building, and furniture for the log cabin. A whole "family" of talented demonstrators returns each year to Pioneer Village. In fact, it was in Pioneer Village, working beside Bill Day, master bowl hewer from West Lebanon, that Keith learned to hew bowls. Over the years they shared bits of wisdom with each other and together taught many their craft. His intimate knowledge and love for wood are apparent with every expert chop of his adz. Keith will be demonstrating throughout the Fair in the Pioneer Village Barn.
Mary and Nancy Schuman (left to right) were born and raised on a farm in Whitley County. They remember farm life well. Livestock, chores, gardens, canning — and the smells of their mother's kitchen. Food was an important part of their family life not only because it provided stamina for the day’s labors. Sharing food was part of being neighborly. Food brought people together.
Raised with their mother's appreciation for the kitchen and a deep respect for the art of neighborliness, Mary and Nancy were naturals when it came to baking. They helped their mother work and learned their baking basics from 4-H. Both remember their 4-H experience well; indeed, it shaped their youth and became the basis for their professional careers as Purdue Cooperative Extension Educators. They've devoted much of their professional lives to 4-H youth. Their father served on the Indiana State Fair Board for years, missing Nancy's birth because she arrived during Fairtime. The sisters grew up at the Fair and today plan their travels around it.
Mary and Nancy have been exhibiting at the State Fair for 20-30 years. They are famous for their cookies and cakes. Between them they have won dozens of contests including the Nestle's Chocobake Contest and the Land-o-Lakes Sour Cream Contest. Mary has demonstrated her champion cake baking on local television shows. Archway still produces Nancy's 1975 prize-winning Rocky Road cookies, their best seller. According to Mary, however, Nancy's are much better than Archway's. Visit the Seyfert's Home and Family Arts Building to see the Schuman’s baked goods.
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