INDIANAPOLIS—Mary Alice Collins has made a yearly appearance at the Indiana State Fair since 1955, competing with her baked goods and winning thousands of ribbons for her pies, cakes, breads, cookies, and so much more.
In 2015, she suffered septic shock, losing all ten of her fingers and both of her legs. With months of therapy and practice, Collins learned how to bake again with the help of her husband, Darl. And she was back at the fair in 2016.
This year, the Collinses, of Hancock County, have entered 22 pies, or 55 baked goods total, in baking competitions. And for their decades-long commitment to the fair, the two were awarded with a lifetime pass to the fair.
Hoosiers who received lifetime passes to the Indiana State Fair (first row, from left): Phyllis Kingden, Wayne Dillman and Jane Ade Stevens (second row, from left) Miss Indiana State Fair 2019 Halle Shouts, Pat O’Connor, Mike Parks, Martha Parks and Robert Hurber. Photo by Brandon Barger, TheStatehouseFile.com
Darl Collins quickly accepted the award while his wife remained in their car because of the afternoon heat. And then they were off to judge an heirloom recipe baking contest.
The Opry House in the Pioneer Village, cooled only by fans on a hot and sunny Wednesday, was where past and current state fair volunteers were awarded a lifetime pass in recognition of their years of service.
In all, 24 people were honored with a lifetime pass to the state fair, meaning they can get in for free whenever the fair is open for as long they want.
Award recipient Jane Ade Stevens, of Indianapolis, has been a volunteer at the fair for the last 30 years, although she had been attending since she was a child. She helped build numerous features such as the glass barn and a covered bridge.
“It’s great. It’s very nice to be recognized by the state fair,” Stevens said. “Anyone who’s been out here knows it’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun. I’ve been coming to the fair for 60 years, since I was little. So with this pass I will certainly continue to do so.”
Stevens said she believes that the state fair is a special place where everyone can fit in.
“There’s something for everyone, whether you’re into do-it-yourself stuff, or food, or animals, even science, whatever it is, there’s something for you,” she said.
State Trooper Pat O’Connor, who is in charge of security at the fair, reacted with humility during Wednesday’s ceremony.
Sgt. Pat O’Conner of the Indiana State Police recieves his state fair lifetime pass during the ceremony inside the Pioneer Village Opry House at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on Wednesday. Photo by Brandon Barger, TheStatehouseFile.com
“To be honest after I listened to all the long dissertations about all the other people, I was like ‘man, they contributed a lot,’” he said. “My involvement has been since 2012, but the state police has always provided the security here.”
O’Connor, of Indianapolis, said winning this award was a team effort because the state has about 130 officers every day covering multiple shifts at the fair. Ultimately, he was the one making the big decisions, but everyone worked together in order to ensure the fair is safe and enjoyable in the few weeks that it is open.
“After 9/11, we don’t want to change the way we live our lives. But you always have to be aware of your surroundings to make sure you’re safe,” O’Conner said. “But the fair has made great strides in doing just that and making sure everyone stays safe.”
The Indiana State Fair runs until Aug. 18 and gates are open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. General admission is $13 and children under five are free.
Haley Carney is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalists.