Editor's Note: This is a series of posts in which Visit Hendricks County is partnering with the Hendricks County ICON and Business Leader by re-publishing stories that first appeared in their publications. These stories will highlight some of our local faces of tourism as part of our All In, Hendricks County content to highlight the good stuff happening in our community.
(Original article published December 2018 in the Hendricks County ICON by Lindsay Doty)
You won’t see him out shaking hands or making grandiose speeches. He’s more of a behind-the-scenes guy. But Steve Patterson, executive director of the Hendricks County 4-H & Agricultural Fair, puts in the hours to make sure the fairgrounds in Danville deliver.
And because of his dedication to his professional role and his stalwart approach to his community, Patterson is the Hendricks County ICON’s 2018 ICON of the Year.
“My bottom line in management is I don’t want to be seen. I want to make sure the event is great and people have fun,” said Steve Patterson, a self-described Introvert who’s had a passion for event planning and 4-H since showing his family’s garden tomatoes as a child.
His job as executive director is to oversee the one-week 4-H Fair and the year-round operations of the facility in Danville. During the busy summer season, it’s not uncommon for the 53-year-old to be up long before sunrise to hash out ideas and to-do lists.
“I’m waking up at 2 a.m. thinking about material that needs to be prepared and final plans that need to be documented. With that there is no use trying to go back to sleep -- time to head to the office, make a pot of coffee and start working through the tasks,” he explained.
And come July, when the crowds are gobbling down steak sandwiches and funnel cakes while maneuvering strollers in the livestock barns, Patterson has already been in full-throttle mode for many hours.
“There is a lot that goes into it all. I just want the families to come to the fair and make memories and enjoy themselves.”
Before taking the job in 2014, the former insurance man with State Farm Bureau served on the fair board for several decades. When the time came for a total career change, he was eager to take it.
“I love events and wanted to grow the facility,” he adds.
Under Patterson’s leadership, sponsor participation has gone up, the 4-H Fair has moved to electronic ticketing and the event has more of a focus on agriculture education.
“I want to continue to emphasize agriculture education for the attendees since many individuals are not aware of where their food comes in today’s world.”
In the off-season, he hustles to book the fairgrounds and the conference complex with conventions, workshops and celebrations.
“We were at approximately $130,000 in rental revenue when I started and we are up to over $200,000 in rental revenues,” he adds humbly.
“One thing he was really good at doing is initiating the weddings out there, which are huge,” said Brenda Burnell, former Hendricks County 4-H Fair board president, who served on the board with Patterson for several years, including his time as president (Side note: They also went to kindergarten together).
"Something I really admire about him is he’s trying to get the facility to go forward and it is. I think he’s just a great promoter of Hendricks County itself, not just of the facility or the conference, but he’s taken such a personal interest and passion in promoting the county through the facility,” she said.
State Work & National Recognition
Patterson’s fair resume goes beyond Hendricks County. During his college years at Ball State, the finance major spent his summers volunteering at the Indiana State Fair.
“Oh, it was a whole different time. We actually stayed on the grounds for August. We worked daily. It was long hours because back then there weren’t so many regulations,” he remembers of the 80s.
“I started learning more about the fair and the ins and outs of the fair and extension and I developed that passion.”
Patterson went on to serve on the board of directors with the Indiana State Fair for 9 years and still works behind the scenes during the event. He also served on the Indiana State Fair Commission Board of Directors and currently is the director of administration for the Indiana Association of Fairs where he organizes a massive convention for 1,500 fair insiders.
The International Association of Fairs and Expositions recently named him State and Provincial Associations of Fairs Executive of the Year.
“We have 38 executives around the U.S. who are part of this organization and to be selected by that group for this title is really neat. I look up to these people,” explained Patterson.
The father of three seems to always be serving his community somehow. His involvement list for this year reads like an essay. If there is a board, there’s a chance he’s on it. Patterson also helps manage the 500 Festival Princess Program for the five months leading up to the race and volunteers and serves on the board at Sycamore Services, non-profit that helps adults and children with disabilities.
“I can’t say enough about Steve Patterson and his commitment to Hendricks County,” said Rick Myers, publisher for the Hendricks County ICON. “His passion for the fairgrounds, the county fair and 4-H in general; not to mention the recent acknowledgment by his peers and his willingness to work with the many non-profits in the county are all reasons why he is the 2018 ICON of the Year.”
Patterson never stops promoting his passion, the fairgrounds. He’s already ramping up for this summer -- he’s currently trying to book someone to shoot through the air from a cannon. When he’s not juggling it all, Patterson tries to find a moment during the fair where he can take a seat and watch visitors as they explore the fairgrounds he loves so much.
“It’s seeing the different families out there and the little ones in the stroller then you have high-school aged that have gone through 10 years of 4-H and seeing them progress and seeing all the families making memories.”
And if he can enjoy that with a pork burger and lemon shake-up, well that’s pretty great, too.
Five Questions for Steve Patterson
- What do you listen to in the car? Generally, I am on the phone while driving. Able to return calls that I missed!
- Last time you bought something for yourself it was…. A 7-day cruise to the Western Caribbean for me and my three children!
- You’re a dad, what’s your favorite outing with the kids in Hendricks County? Attending an evening (Demolition Derby) at the Hendricks County 4-H Fair.
- If you could get anyone to come to the Hendricks County Fair, who would it be? Hendricks County residents who have not attended the Hendricks County 4-H Fair!
- What carnival ride could you go on over and over? Not an amusement ride aficionado. Would rather be sitting by the ocean reading a good book!