"Pioneer Village lures you in," says Fran Lucas, who occupies the entry spot from the front porch door. With fellow volunteer Sandy Barton, sitting alongside a newly created wagon campsite exhibit, both entice you to come on over, sit a spell and listen to a story of a few centuries back. Or get some tips on how to fingerweave, piece a quilt or knit a muffler. It's all good stuff to keep your hands busy and your mind fertile.
Now retired teachers and empty nesters, Lucas and Barton have been returning annually over the years to the Indiana State Fair's living history pavilion. They're joined by about a hundred others, including Louis Turner, better known as the "broom man," who has been in the left hand corner directly inside the porch door for the past 32 years.
"When you get into a spot you keep it. People get used to it," explains Turner. He's been coming from Arcola, Illinois, because "Illinois doesn't have anything like it. I was born and grew up in Tipton, ended up in Illinois to work in a broom factory."
The half-dozen varieties of brooms he sells are handmade; Turner uses a machine only to affix the handles so they are sturdy. Way back it was his daughters who came with him: "I brought them over to learn. You look around, you learn. Now I've got my grandkids." Alec Downs, the oldest, took over the selling while his granddad chatted. Other grandkids were busy helping out in the kitchen, directly to the right of the porch door.
The kitchen is also where 11-year-old Jasmine Townsend is spending the bulk of her volunteer time. "I always loved the lifestyle of pioneering," she offers. "I have a lot of friends at Pioneer Village. One day I asked permission if I could have a job here. Last year I was in the candy shop."
"It's mostly about learning," adds Townsend. When there's a kitchen break, she's alongside someone who is demonstrating.
"I've been to every State Fair since 1993," says Quinton Nannet, poised to enter his junior year at Purdue in pre-med. The lure he explains goes back to when he was in second grade. "My dad was volunteering [at Pioneer Village]. He slept over at The White House."
"The White House" is hyperbole for a shelter that's a shade better than a tent, but it seemed magical to Nannet, who promptly signed on to assist in the cedar shop, annually moving into new experiences including the steam engine, threshing machine, baling straw and saw mill.
"Now I go wherever I'm needed," though he admits being somewhat creative in seeing to it that Fair Queens show up for photo opportunities. What he most enjoys is the opportunity to work with old style equipment and materials and "hearing the stories of people of every generation. I love looking at how they work, learning many points of view.
"Young people need to show up not only to learn history but to see the fundamental elements of how people lived from those who lived it," Nannet adds.
Outside the kitchen door is the cooper's corner. In the process of handcrafting a bucket is Mr. Cooper—honestly coming by his name. And yes, he could make a beer barrel, however, he's into a totally different project — building a frame cabin from timber fetched from a portion of Indiana's defunct canal system.
Then Bill Bailey shows up with a set of oversized spoons, a rigged-up washboard and assorted bits of wood. Within minutes of watching him, empty benches fill up and we're handed spoons, washboards and bits of wood. There we are, from toddlers to those who toddle, making music with what's available, just as they did in pioneer days.