Steve Simmerman is not afraid to commit himself to a project or passion. For the past 28 years, Simmerman, associate athletics director, has dedicated himself to managing Purdue's sports facilities. Last year, Simmerman saw his more than 20 years of involvement with another passion — 4-H fairs — lead to another new role: president of the Indiana State Fair Board.
What did you take away from your first year as president of the fair?
I love the state fair. It’s a real treat to be involved in the planning and decision making for a terrific event that has become a lifelong tradition for so many Hoosiers. One thing that's so compelling about working in the fair industry and leading the Indiana State Fair's board of directors is the nature and compassion of those you work with. They are all good-hearted, anchored in family and integrity, and they have the common goal of developing youth to the benefit of the family, the state, and our country. Serving as board president this past year confirmed this for me many times over.
What is your history working with the Indiana State Fair Board?
I've been working with 4-H and fair boards in general for approximately 20 years. It started at the county level, when my own children were involved in 4-H. I wanted to get active in that board and understand what 4-H and the fairs were all about.
As I got involved at the county level, I moved into fair administration, where I led an effort to create a master plan for the county fairgrounds. I had several other fairs around the state start to ask if I could come talk to them about how that process works and what kind of advantage we were able to gain by having a master plan.
Through that experience I began a networking process where I got to know a lot of people around the state. I was asked to join the state association that all of the county fairs around Indiana belong to: the Indiana Association of Fairs, Festivals and Events. Following my eight years involvement in INAFFE, the Indiana State Fair called and asked if I'd be interested in going onto the board of directors there.
I've served on the board for four state fairs now, and this year I was honored that the board of directors elected me as their president again. It's been a fun process.
What's your favorite part of being involved on the state fair board?
I think it has to be youth development. The 4-H program is an amazing program for youth. It gives youth opportunities to perform community service, get involved in leadership and public speaking, and learn the responsibilities that come along with doing the projects.
It really is an organization that teaches children and adolescents leadership, responsibility, and accountability through the completion of 4-H projects. These are characteristics that in many ways are more difficult to teach in public schools currently. The 4-H organization is just one of those organizations that still has the development of those characteristics embedded in their basic programming. It's just a tremendous thing for kids to be involved in.
What duties do you have as president?
As president of the state fair I'm charged with making sure that all of the directors are fulfilling their responsibilities. I make sure all of the programming is ready to present at the state fair. We promote agriculture, youth development, and agricultural education to the general public when the state fair takes place.
My entire responsibility focuses on the 17 days of the fair: being ready to put that program on, and present it in the best way it can be presented and in a safe environment for everybody who wants to come.
How far ahead do you start planning for the fair?
The state fair takes place in August, and in the September board meeting following that August fair, we begin planning for the next year. It's a yearlong process.
The 2012 Indiana State Fair will feature The Year of Dairy Cows. It will highlight the Indiana Dairy Industry as one of our primary state agricultural commodities. We will continue to host some of the greatest livestock shows in the Midwest, and will offer some very special entertainment opportunities to all who attend the fair this coming August.
What do you hope to accomplish as president?
I think there has been a definite loss of connection between urban life and rural life. Many people don't understand very basic tenets about the necessity of agriculture in our society.
Indiana is a very agriculturally related state, and even within our state we have a lot of people who live in urban areas who don't understand where their food comes from. What I'd really like to do is put a focus on communication throughout the state, with all the different demographic areas of the state, to help them realize what agriculture really means to them, and the importance and necessity of agriculture with relation to nutrition and food.
Is your job at Purdue similar to your job as state fair president?
There is a lot of similarity between the two -- not just from the standpoint of youth development, but even on the facilities side. I think it's probably what allows me to be effective at both.
My responsibility as associate athletics director really focuses on athletic facilities and grounds, the upkeep and maintenance of the facilities as well as new construction. I also have responsibilities for event management, game management, and event competition that we do here, and the scheduling of the facilities.
As president of the state fair, I have to be concerned about the upkeep of the grounds, buildings and facilities that are at the state fair. I get to be involved in some of the decision-making there with regards to what kind of projects are going to be done and which ones aren't.
Do you have time for any other extracurricular activities?
I do. I live on a hobby farm. I raise a few cattle and make hay, and help manage a small calving operation. It's not a big-time production by any means, but it keeps me busy and it's nice therapy for me when I'm away from my job. It kind of keeps me physically fit to be outside and work the farm that way. I enjoy that a lot. I also like golf, and I like to fish and hunt. Those kinds of things let me get a little bit of recreational time in, something we all need occasionally.