A Fair Deal
Steve Patterson Embraces Life as Executive Director of the Hendricks County Fairgrounds
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Everyone has their own definition of what it is to be in hog heaven. For Steve Patterson, hog heaven is where the hogs are, and the horses, and the bunnies and the elephant ears. Because Patterson is happiest when he’s at the fairgrounds. In fact, he’s built his life around the fair, having been involved in 4-H since he was 10 years old. A lifelong resident of Hendricks County, Patterson was elected onto the fair board in 1992 where he served until 2014 when he was hired as the Executive Director of the Hendricks County 4-H and Agricultural Fair Association.
Through the years, Patterson has served on the board in every capacity — as treasurer, secretary, vice president, president and was part of the planning committee for the new facilities that opened in 2006. Once doors opened, Patterson served on the operations committee. Why the intense involvement?
“I have a passion for fairs — always have,” says Patterson, who also worked at the state fair from 1983 until 1996. After taking a bit of time off, he returned in 2001. In 2007, Patterson was appointed by Governor Daniel’s office to serve on the state fair board, where he stayed for nine years.
“I got to experience the behind-the-scenes aspect of the 17-day state fair,” says Patterson, who last year worked in the Gateway counting money.
As Executive Director of the HC Fairgrounds, Patterson is responsible for managing the 150-acre facility, booking events and, of course, putting on the annual weeklong county fair.
The state-of-the-art facility is outfitted with audio-visual equipment in all of the meeting spaces as well as Wi-fi technology throughout the campus, thanks to Endeavor Communications and Hendricks Power Cooperative.
The complex has a main conference building, which houses a 2,010 sq. ft. conference room that can be broken up into two separate meeting spaces. The room’s kitchenette makes it ideal for family reunions, business conferences and seminars. About 70 people can comfortably fit in that space. Then there are three classrooms with a total square footage of 2,325. Those rooms, ideal for educational purposes, can each hold up to 150 people theatre-style or 75 people classroom-style. In addition, there is a north/south hall, with 1,170 sq. ft. in the main room that includes a stage. Popular for wedding receptions, it can hold up to 450.
The Hendricks County Expo Hall is a pole barn with a 16,830 sq. ft. pavilion, great for huge blowouts as it can hold between 600-700 people. Though the actual structure is not fancy, Patterson’s staff uses pipe and drape to soften the space.
“It’s great for large weddings or for events where people want to have room to move around a lot,” Patterson says. “Sometimes couples divide it up and have their ceremony in one section and their reception in another so everything stays on site.”
The old fairgrounds were sitting on just 25 acres and didn’t see much activity.
“We booked a wedding here or there,” Patterson says.
Oh, how times have changed!
“I’m looking at our calendar for the upcoming year and there’s literally not a single day that we don’t have something going on here,” he says.
The HC Fairgrounds hosts everything from craft shows, antique shows and gun & knife shows to huge consignment sales like “Here We Grow Again,” a bi-annual children’s consignment sale that attracts young families in need of gently used clothes at a reasonable price.
Other annual events held at the fairgrounds include Relay for Life and the Hendricks County Solid Waste Management District Tox-Away Day where the community is invited to recycle household appliances, chemicals, paints and hazardous household waste.
The fairgrounds are booked year-round as construction and utility companies often hold training seminars, continuing ed classes and trade shows during the winter months when they can’t work outside.
Two weekends in February, they hold the Champion’s Cup Gymnastics Invitational, set up in the Expo Hall.
“We have a lot of recurring events where groups want to come the same weekend each year,” says Patterson, noting that they’re currently booking into 2021.
They host the National Pow Wow, a native Indian dance program that assembles every three years to celebrate the group’s heritage through tribal dancing. In addition, the HC Fairgrounds hosts the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism), an international living history group that studies and recreates Medieval European cultures.
Though the staff does a great job of booking events, every now and then they encounter a planning hiccup. For instance, a couple of years ago, they held “Dancing with the Stars of Hendricks County” on the same night as a local prom, which presented a parking challenge. This is never a problem for the annual county fair, however, since there is lots of green space on the north of the property.
The outer grounds, which is in operation from early April until early November, also has rentable event space. There is the rustic tin-frame Cartlidge Barn, which was moved in 2013 from the YMCA property in Avon after a group banded together to preserve the structure for historical purposes. In 2015, a 40×60 shelter was added on to the back of it, making it a popular venue for wedding receptions, family reunions, graduations and other parties.
Activities also occur in their pavilions and covered horse arena that’s 250 ft. long and has 1,000 seats. Though it’s geared toward equine events, it can be used for cattle shows and other events. It’s connected to a horse barn that has 150 stalls.
These spaces are utilized during the seven-day county fair that regularly draws an impressive crowd. This year’s fair will run from July 14-20 and showcase entertainment, livestock, tasty food and competitions.
“We pride ourselves on providing a state fair experience at county fair pricing,” says Patterson, noting the free grounds entertainment such as the Dynamo Dog show, the High-Diving Pirates of the Caribbean show, and the beloved Swifty Swine pig racing.
“We hosted that for several years, stopped for a year and had a lot of people ask to bring it back,” Patterson says. “It’s basically pigs running around the track racing for an Oreo cookie.”
Another successful program they plan to bring back this year is “Hendricks County’s Got Talent.”
“People love the county fair because it’s inexpensive, family-friendly fun,” Patterson says. “Folks come for the food, the animals, the entertainment and the education.”
This past year, they started a new program called the “Ag Experience,” which teaches fair-goers all about where food products come from — from the farm to the refrigerator. For instance, how does milk get to the store? In today’s world, people don’t always understand the agricultural aspect of how things are raised, produced and processed.
Patterson’s three kids — Taylor (25), Mikayla (22) and Robbie (19) — are all indoctrinated into the 4-H program. In fact, Robbie, a firefighter at North Salem, works at the HC fairgrounds, and Taylor works at the Indiana State Fair in the accounting department.
“She says that fairs are in our blood, and she’s right,” Patterson says.