BROWNSTOWN — Seeing her daughter wear a sash and a crown while standing on a stage holding a bouquet of roses and waving brought back memories for Kerry Johnson.
In 2004, the Brownstown woman was crowned the Jackson County Fair queen.
Even though that was on a much larger stage nearby at the grandstand at the fairgrounds in Brownstown, she appreciated the opportunity for her 10-year-old daughter, Ellie, to get a feel for the experience.
That was made possible by Seymour businesses Marshall Memories Photography and B.loved teaming together for a sash and tiara set fundraiser to benefit a local cause and setting up a tent with a makeshift stage in front and photos of Jackson County Fair queens over the years inside.
On Monday night outside Exhibit Building 3, Marshall took pictures of girls who bought the sash and tiara sets and gave a card to their parents to go online to download the photos and purchase for $5 if they wish.
All proceeds will benefit the playground equipment upgrade at Anchor House Family Assistance Center and Pantry in Seymour.
Ellie said her favorite part of the experience was wearing a sash, and she looks forward to someday entering the fair queen pageant and wearing dresses onstage.
“She went from the show arena to the future fair queen space tonight,” Kerry said of Ellie, who is in her first year of 4-H and is following in her mother’s footsteps by showing swine.
Kerry was a 10-year 4-H’er and said she decided to enter the fair queen pageant when she was going into her senior year at Brownstown Central High School.
“The fair was always very important to me, so the whole week was very memorable,” she said. “My parents brought me to the fair every day from young. I had older siblings who showed, so we were here a lot.”
Earning the title of fair queen is still special 18 years later.
“I was proud — proud of my community,” Kerry said. “It felt great to take that walk with the cape on.”
In 2014, her sister, Haley Brown, was crowned fair queen, so that’s a special bond they share. She hopes Ellie makes the most of that opportunity when she is of age to enter.
Jamie Marshall, who owns Marshall Memories Photography, said the fundraiser and extension of her business’ fair booth came about from a conversation with her daughter at the 2021 fair.
“Last year, I did the kissing booth. I just wanted some free fun for the fair, and I’m all about the photos,” Marshall said. “There were four little girls that sat there and someone put on the sign ‘Future fair court,’ and my daughter said, ‘Mom, you should do that next year,’ so that’s how it all started. I thought it was a great idea.”
She shared the idea with Brandy Hampton, founder of B.loved, who immediately jumped on board. Hampton was fair queen in 1997.
“I always wanted to highlight former fair queens,” Marshall said. “They would always highlight them for one year, and the pictures would go away, so we thought, ‘Let’s go find all of these photos.’ I’d say from the 1980s and on, we could easily get ahold of them through Facebook.”
Hampton knew a lot of the fair queens over the years, so she and Marshall’s intern, Morgan Branaman, were tasked with contacting the queens and obtaining their pictures.
“They gave us their original photo, and we replicated it and put it on metal,” Marshall said. “Brandy along with B.loved as a gift purchased all of the metals in hopes that they will plan on donating them to the fair board in hopes they will have it on display for everybody to see.”
Hampton said at other county fairs she attends, there is some sort of honorary tribute wall for queens.
“(Marshall) does beautiful photographs every year, and they don’t always get to be seen by everyone,” she said. “When it’s on the metal, it would be weather-protected, and I said, ‘I would love to do this for all my sister queens.’ I’ve committed to doing it even on a personal level if needed each year as time goes on. … It will be a really nice thing that we can add to every year.”
They also gathered tidbits about the queens over the years and put those on large cards.
“The best part is we’ve been talking to ladies, including the very first queen,” Hampton said. “It has been so fun to hear how excited they still are about it. One lady said to me, ‘Nobody has asked me about this in 30, 40 years,’ and she just went on and on and on, and she said, ‘It’s still one of the things that I think about often that felt so special.’”
Marshall received help from Julie Wischmeier in decorating the tent and stage and also introducing each girl who stopped by Monday night as fair queen.
“I’m hoping it just continues to the future and builds up the fair (queen pageant) program where we have awesome numbers,” Marshall said. “Jackson County always has great fair queens, and I have photographed it for 10 years now, and it has just been awesome. These young women represent our county so well.”
They sold out of the first 115 sashes Hampton ordered, and she was going to put in another order in hopes that they will be at the booth to purchase for photos from 1 to 4 p.m. today.
Hampton and Marshall are pleasantly surprised with the interest and support of the fundraiser.
“At the end of the day, it just shows that we want to do things for our kids,” Hampton said. “Our whole purpose is obviously, we get to take the proceeds and we get to put it toward this playground, and I just keep telling people ‘It’s kids for kids.’ … It’s going to a good cause, and I think that’s really important.”
Two other former fair queens, sisters Mariah Eggersman and Olivia Brown, brought their daughters by the booth Monday night. Mariah was queen in 2012 and went on to win the crown at the Indiana State Fair, and Olivia won the county pageant in 2015.
Their goal is to have their daughters, who are 3 years old and 9 weeks old, respectively, be interested in competing in the pageant someday.
“Oh my gosh! It’s just sweet. It’s like full circle,” Eggersman said while watching her daughter, Cale, on the stage. “I just hope she really wants to do it one day.”
Ever since she won the titles, Eggersman has been on the county fair queen pageant committee.
“Our family was a huge supporter to 4-H and really involved in 4-H and the fair and the ag world, and so I think just honoring and representing the Jackson County Fair was what made me want to do it,” she said of entering the pageant 10 years ago.
Their daughters have several years to consider entering the pageant themselves, but it’s never too early to pique their interest.
“It’s so neat,” Eggersman said of the queens of the past and future being highlighted at the fair. “I think Jamie did a fabulous job putting this display together, and there are so many little girls that are eating this up.”