Scrolling through her emails one day, Sherry Bridges saw one that said, “Congratulations! You have been nominated.”
She kept scrolling because she thought it was a spam offer, like signing her up for a credit card.
A couple days later, Arann Banks, executive director of the Jackson County Visitor Center, called and asked if she had received an email from the Indiana Office of Tourism Development. Bridges told her she didn’t remember seeing it, but she would take a second look.
[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]
She hung up the phone, looked at her email and found it.
“I found it and read it, and I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness!’” Bridges said.
Then she called Banks back and said, “OK, maybe we should read more of our emails than just the first bit.”
Bridges was among 15 representatives of the tourism industry presented with the Hoosier Hospitality Award for their high level of service in tourism-related jobs at hotels, restaurants, attractions and other destinations.
This year’s Crothersville Red, White and Blue Festival was Bridges’ final time serving as director. After filling that role for 24 of the 44 years of the festival and serving 37 total years on the festival committee, Bridges announced her retirement along with five others: Doris Kovener (44 years), Terry Prine (43 years), Bobby Deal (20 years), Marion Gill (12 years) and Cami Brumett (four years).
The Hoosier Hospitality Award recipients were presented plaques by Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and the Indiana Office of Tourism Development during a ceremony Aug. 16 at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis.
“Our Hoosier Hospitality Award recipients represent the best of our state from the tourism industry,” said Misty Weisensteiner, director of the IOTD. “These individuals dedicate their time and service to showcase to visitors and their communities what a great place Indiana is to work, live and visit.”
Nominations for the award are submitted by community members and destination patrons and are reviewed and selected by IOTD. Outstanding service is a major factor in determining whether a person returns to an individual business or destination, according to a news release from the state.
Banks said she nominated Bridges for the award for her years of dedication to her community through her work with the Red, White and Blue Festival.
“She was a dedicated planner and a really good committee leader,” Banks said. “Event planning isn’t easy, and festivals are very tough. It takes a certain spirit of community to do what she did for so many years.”
Banks said she was traveling with the state communication director when she received an email from her office announcing the winners.
“I was thrilled,” Banks said. “This is not an award that is given to just anyone with a ‘name in the hat,’ and her good work was able to stand for itself. Without community pride and dedication like what Sherry has displayed, it’s hard to do my job in tourism.”
Bridges said she was shocked about being selected.
“(Banks) has told me numerous times, ‘I’ve never found anybody who knows how to run a festival like you.’ I take that as the utmost compliment,” Bridges said.
Accepting the award, however, was bittersweet, she said.
“I was saying goodbye to a job, but it wasn’t a job. It was an honor to serve my community for all of those years,” she said.
“Then to be honored by those who deal with tourism and festivals and fairs across the state of Indiana, I’m sure it had to go through a panel,” she said. “My first thought was they nominated somebody from all 92 counties. Every county got to nominate one. Then when I got the program and saw how few there, it was then I was like, ‘OK, this is a big deal.’”
The Red, White and Blue Festival celebrates patriotism and Old Glory. It brings the small southeastern Jackson County community together each June, but it also has visitors from the area and even other states.
“I’ve had people from California and Florida and New York come up to say, ‘We were related to so-and-so and they lived here 30 years ago, and we wanted to come and see this little festival,’” Bridges said.
One time, someone from Indianapolis called and said they were coming to the festival because they were trying to find something for their family to do.
“That’s what I appreciated, when they said, ‘We wanted something for our family,’” Bridges said. “Crothersville, that’s what we did. We looked at it like throwing nothing but a big family party. Bring your lawn chair, gather together and let’s just enjoy our time being a community and sharing the riches of Crothersville.”
Erica Gorbett has taken over as festival director and has organized fundraisers to keep the tradition alive.
“I want to see it continue, and I want to see it celebrate the 50th and the 60th if I’m still kickin’,’” Bridges said.
She looks back on her involvement with the festival with pride.
“All of the gray hairs and frustration and fighting to get a carnival to a little bitty festival, all of those late nights, all of the phone calls, I would do it all over again just to have Crothersville be recognized,” Bridges said.
“I walked up there (at the awards ceremony), and some of those people had never heard of Crothersville,” she said. “This is one more thing that Crothersville did, the festival did to put Crothersville on the map.”
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”On the Web” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
To read about the 15 Hoosier Hospitality Award recipients, go to visitindianatourism.com/2019hha.