Local woman named to Indiana Association of Fairs Hall of Fame

Jeanette Hackman was in for a surprise or two.

Her daughter, Kathy Thompson, recently had asked her questions about her involvement with the Jackson County Fair.

At one point, Hackman said to her daughter, “Are you doing my obit? I’m old, but I’m not dead yet.”

Hackman found out the reason behind the questions: She had been selected by her District III peers for the Indiana Association of Fairs Hall of Fame.

All fairs, festivals and events belonging to the association can nominate a member or past member of their board or organization for this award. The nominee should be chosen based on their community and fair, festival or event board activities and must be living at the time of the nomination. One person from each of the state’s four districts is selected for the honor.

On Monday, Hackman’s son, Kevin Hackman, offered to drive her to Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1925 in Seymour for the Jackson County Fair Association meeting. Jeanette is a longtime member of that board.

What she didn’t know is her daughter and her grandson along with his wife and three kids would be there, too.

Fair board member Jim Thompson presented a framed certificate and a clock for the Hall of Fame honor. She also received a bouquet of roses from her family.

“It makes you feel great to realize that people have that much respect for you and feel that I did a good job and worked hard for it,” said Jeanette, who lives near Tampico. “There are other people, too, that work just as hard, but it was a great feeling that they would recognized me in that effect.”

Jeanette is the fifth person from Jackson County to be named to the Hall of Fame. The others are Hershel Rotert, Edgar Hackman, Earl Goecker and Jim Thompson.

Since eight of the top 12 county fairs in Indiana are in District III, Jim Thompson said it’s a big deal for Jeanette to be selected for the honor.

“The fact that Jeanette was selected by her peers to be an applicant for that award is just fantastic because when your peers select you, you know you’ve done something right,” he said.

Thompson recalled one year riding in a golf cart with Rotert at the fairgrounds when they said hello to Jeanette as she walked by.

“Hershel said to me, ‘When Jeanette retires from the fair board, it will take five members to do her work,'” Thompson said. “She has been a workhorse for us. Most of us wouldn’t even tackle the fair catalog. I wouldn’t, and yet she has done that and the queen (pageant), the women’s building, just anything we ask her to do. She has always given a tremendous amount of her effort to the fair.”

Jeanette grew up in Jackson County and graduated from Crothersville High School in 1957. She attended the fair each summer and continued that when she married Gerald Hackman.

She then began working at the fair. Through her association with the Tampico Extension Homemakers Club, she was asked to work in the Family Arts Building in 1966.

The popular exhibit building at the fair is filled with entries from county residents of all ages in the categories of quilts, sewing, crafts, painting, photography and more.

Jeanette became superintendent of the building, a title she still holds today.

“Whenever people come and enter their projects in the Family Arts Building, it’s just a fun thing to do,” she said. “It’s on hot days, too, but it’s really nice. There’s just a lot of exhibits in the building.”

On the Saturday before the fair, the women who assist Jeanette with the building judge the entries and enjoy a pitch-in lunch. Then the building is open the next day for the weeklong fair.

“When the building is open, it’s beautiful,” she said. “We have a crafts department for the young kids, and they enjoy that. When they get their ribbons, they are so happy. A lot of the women are, too, don’t ever forget that.”

A baking contest also is conducted in the building, and Jeanette said men and women enter their homemade goods.

“You know how Jackson County women are. They like to bake,” she said. “Some men enter in the foods department, too, and they are just so happy. If they get that purple ribbon, they are really well pleased.”

Jeanette said she likes seeing fairgoers admire the hard work of the exhibitors.

“(The men) get a big kick out of it. They’ll come and stand around and look at what they’ve done and look at everything else and get ideas,” she said. “The women will come into the building and they’ll spend hours in there looking at everything, and it is so nice. When the weather is good, it is great for them to do that. It’s just a part of the fair.”

Her involvement with the Family Arts Building and coordinating the fashion show resulted in Jeanette being asked to join the fair board, which she accepted.

Then when Luella Abell stepped away from organizing the fair queen pageant, Jeanette took the reins in 1977.

“It was a big undertaking because first, there was a lot of girls because they could enter from 16 on. Of course now, you have to be 18,” Jeanette said.

A big improvement for the pageant came when it went from being conducted at the front of the grandstand to a mobile stage that sits on the dirt track. Behind the stage is an air-conditioned trailer in which the contestants can change outfits.

“The girls are fun to work with,” Jeanette said. “They are just beautiful girls, not just one of them, but they are all beautiful when they are in the pageant. They want to do what’s right, and it’s always fun to watch them model and ask their questions they’re interested in. It’s so interesting, and the girls are happy. When certain ones win, they are all happy for them.”

The queen and her court attend events and present awards during the fair, and later on, the queen competes in the state fair queen pageant in Indianapolis. The only one to win the state contest during Jeanette’s tenure is Mariah Huff in 2013.

Huff is now married and known as Mariah Eggersman, and she and Fayeann Hurley assist Jeanette with the pageant.

“It’s just a great evening, and it’s a big evening, too,” Jeanette said. “By the time it’s over, we’re all exhausted.”

Jeanette also is chairwoman of the fair catalog, which contains a daily schedule, information on exhibits, a list of fair queens and more.

While it takes a lot of time and money to compile, she said it’s a valuable resource.

“It’s an undertaking, but yet I feel it’s needed because the exhibitors know what’s in the building. They go to the book in their hand and are able to come into the building with their projects,” Jeanette said. “It takes time to get this set up, but we enjoy it.”

In terms of community involvement, Jeanette is a member of the Past Presidents Extension Homemakers Club and St. John’s Sauers Lutheran Church Ladies Aid and also is the Jackson County Democratic Party chairwoman.

For work, Jeanette used to help her husband on their dairy farm until she became the secretary to the director of the Indiana Department of Transportation Seymour District.

“I helped milk, and then I was happy that I got to quit,” she said, laughing. “That’s hard work for these farmers.”

Since her husband died in 2017, her son and her grandson, Andy Hackman, do the farming. Jeanette keeps busy in retirement with all of her activities.

She said it takes a lot of work from a lot of people to pull off the fair each year.

“The executive committee — the president, the vice president — and all of them on the board, they jump in and help if need be,” she said. “Everybody helps with the fair, and that’s what makes it a good fair. 4-H, too, year after year, they are growing, so that’s good for the kids.”

Jeanette plans to keep serving on the fair board.

“As long as I’m healthy and can do the job, I will continue,” she said. “I really enjoy it. Being the chair of each of those positions, it’s a lot easier when you have a lot of help and the help is good. I don’t mind it at all. We work it and we’re exhausted by the end of the day, but believe me, it’s worth it.”

Many people refer to the Jackson County Fair as the “Lawn Chair Fair” because people bring their chairs to the middle of the fairgrounds and reminisce about the old days while taking in the sights, sounds and food of the fair.

That’s not far from the Family Arts Building, and Jeanette said she always takes note of it.

“When I go back out to do some last-minute things and the fair is over with, I can sit on the bench and I can still hear the people talking and laughing,” she said. “You get that in your head and mind and think ‘There’s so much fun going on here, and people are having such a good time.’ You just hope and pray that life can stay this good forever. That’s just the way it is.”