Hendricks County 4-H Fair Director Steve Patterson at the fairgrounds in Danville
Hendricks County 4-H Fair Executive Director Steve Patterson (Photography at Amy Payne)

All’s Fair: Reflections on 10 Years Leading Hendricks County Fairgrounds

Anyone who has hosted an event at the Hendricks County 4-H Fairgrounds and Conference Complex has likely had the opportunity to meet Steve Patterson. He loves meeting and working with people, serving others, and multitasking. In 2024 he’ll celebrate 10 years as the executive director of the fairgrounds. For those who haven’t hosted an event, Patterson’s the one we don’t often see, balancing and organizing the year-round conferences, festivals, events and more at the fairgrounds.

He has had 4-H in his life for decades. “I was in 4-H for 10 years and when I was in college at Ball State in the mid to late 1980s, I worked in the Extension office as a summer assistant,” Patterson said. “I put together the 4-H fair during the summers and then I started working at the Indiana State Fair too. Fairs and events have been in my blood for many years.”

In 1992, Patterson joined the Hendricks County 4-H Fair board. He served in all of the roles: treasurer, secretary, vice president and president. Then, in 2014 the executive director position opened up, and after much discussion the board voted to hire Patterson to lead the way. It’s safe to say the decision paid off. The position isn’t an easy one, requiring someone who can juggle multiple tasks simultaneously. It’s a 110-acre facility with outdoor, indoor and campground accommodations, and it welcomes everything from small conferences to large festivals and events.

Hendricks County Fairgrounds team in front of events sign

“When you look at my job, there are four pillars,” Patterson said. “I do rentals, financial management, board governance and their committees, and the county fair. The county fair is a whole different thing outside of renting the grounds for an event.” The reputation of Patterson and the 4-H Fairgrounds speaks for itself. In fact, they consistently book out up to several years at a time. After one positive experience, guests will schedule their annual event as far out as possible. He isn’t searching for them either. The majority of the events come to Hendricks County through word of mouth. The fairgrounds hosts the Purdue Small Farm conference, Indiana Vegetables Growers Association conference, and the Indiana Fire Investigation Conference to name a few.

It’s home to the Indy Tattoo Expo, the Indiana Junior Rodeo Association and international events like the National Powwow. Patterson is behind it all, helping guests create the best experience possible. Anyone who has hosted a barbecue or birthday party knows not everything goes smoothly. Just imagine that with tens of thousands of people in attendance. “I love working with people and seeing their event be a success,” Patterson said. “It’s not always rose-colored glasses. Sometimes there’s issues but people don’t realize it. There might be some tweaking of schedules or changing layouts, but the bottom line is, the event is an overall success.”

Horse rider holding an American flag

It’s what Patterson does best. “When I came in it was all white walls, so one of the first things I did was buy some piping and drapes to create the look and feel we’re going for,” Patterson said. “We want to be able to utilize the space and create a cozy space for those events.”

It’s these special accommodations and the extra effort that cause some groups to return after they’ve left for a few years for a different venue. They know that Patterson and the fairgrounds team will do their best to meet their needs. Of course, most anticipated is the annual Hendricks County Fair.

Patterson said planning for next year’s fair begins the day after the current year’s fair ends. “We’re already looking at 2025 and the entertainment we need,” he said. “We have to think about that about a year and a half in advance because it’s so competitive out there. When I walked in, we didn’t have committees and we’ve created those to run the fair and operations. They meet throughout the year and give us feedback, and we have a lot of talks and discussion.”

He’s even got what he calls the Fair Bible. “It’s a living document that we keep updated,” he said. “My goal is, by the time the fair starts in July, we have all of Is dotted and Ts crossed. If I’m not there, it still runs smoothly. We have a great full- and part-time staff that understand the overall vision. It’s sort of a joke to follow ‘Steve’s fair template.’” As requests for accommodation continue to pour in and the calendar routinely gets booked years in advance, Patterson knows it’s time to look at growth.

“The discussion is always, ‘Are we a fairground or a conference center?’ and I say we’re both,” he said. “For the conference center, however, we need to take it up to the next level. The board and operations committee are aware and we’re currently working on a feasibility study and developing a master plan.” Patterson said they’ll be looking forward to the next 20 years for the 4-H Fairgrounds and identifying needs in further development. “There’s plans underway to see what we need to do,” he said. “We’re looking at improving parking, accessibility, traffic flow, etcetera. We really haven’t done anything since we moved in, in 2006.”

He’s even thinking about the next person who will take his role – not that retirement is coming anytime soon. “It’s a lot of multitasking and customer service,” he said. “You can’t just walk into it and be able to pick it up. We’re a pretty lean staff right now and we could expand it. I’d love to have the next person in line within the next few years.” For now, frequent visitors to the fairgrounds know that when the red truck is parked outside, Patterson is there and ready to help in any way he can.

“I’m there a lot but I love my job,” he said. “It’s fun to see these events come together and see the parking lot full. When we started, we had hopes it would be successful. You have goals and dreams, and I’ve enjoyed it and it was fun and it’s still fun.”

Visit the Hendricks County 4H Fairgrounds website to learn more.

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