HOPE — With a reverent respect of the past and a close eye on the future, the 49th annual Hope Heritage Days literally was busting at the seams over the weekend.
Those who haven’t been to the annual three-day fall festival lately might be surprised to see multiple rows of merchandise tents not only encompassing three sides of the Hope Town Square, but also spilling out onto several residential blocks east.
That’s quite a change from just a decade or so ago, when just a few rows of vendors were set up on the east and south sides.
The original founders attempted to limit all merchandise vendors to local charity organizations within the community of now 2,100 residents, said Mike Deckard, this year’s grand marshal.
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But those who object to the presence of for-profit vendors should remember the original purpose of the festival: to draw in out-of-town residents to stimulate the economy, Deckard said.
“And it’s really worked,” added the 66-year-old owner of Deckard Tool and Engineering in Hope. “Anywhere, you go, you can say ‘Hope Heritage Days’ and people not only know about it, but come from all over to experience it.”
In years past, visitors have always been tempted by the large number of yard sales stretching along State Road 9, from East 25th Street several miles north through Hope and across the Shelby County line. But this year, yard sales seemed to have expanded even further east along several streets east of the town square.
Nevertheless, most patrons seemed anxious upon arrival to get inside the town square to sample the foods offered by various churches and other nonprofits.
It’s never been a secret these organizations rely on Heritage Days sales for most, if not all, of their annual budgets, organizers said.
“All of us would be in trouble if it weren’t for this festival,” said Sharri Hamilton, coach of the Hauser Jr. High cheerleaders and manager of the organization’s food booth.
Due to the competition, many groups include menu items that go beyond the typical festival fare of burgers, brats and chips.
“We’re all trying to come up with the newest and best thing that people are going to go crazy over, so that people will come looking for us,” Hamilton explained.
That’s why festival patrons were able to avail themselves to such unique culinary delights as:
Ribbon fries with cheese, served by the Community Center of Hope
Chocolate-dipped cheesecake, by the Hauser cheerleaders
Wood-fired pizza, by the Bartholomew County History Center
Moravian sugar cakes, by the Hope Moravian Church
For the gastronomically courageous, there was also a concoction called “chocolate gravy” served by the Hope Community Church of God. The wife of church pastor Gerald W. Hancock gave assurances the stuff tasted better than it sounds.
“It’s like chocolate pudding, but it doesn’t have butter in it,” Martha Hancock explained.
While patrons may know there will be unique food items, most have no idea how many have gone above and beyond to build up the Heritage Days reputation, organizers said.
From Hancock’s church, they include farmers already working around the clock at harvest time — or those already working two or more jobs — who still donate time, goods and efforts to the festival, she said.
Nor do most patrons understand how many have stepped up in recent years to fill voids left by long-time volunteers who have passed away. For example, no less than three veteran volunteers for the church, who were nicknamed “Dumpling Dollies,” have died in just the past two weeks, Hancock said.
But the willingness of younger residents to fill empty shoes is a large part of why the Heritage Days is billed as “Wonderfully Hoosier — and uniquely Hope,” organizers said.
“It’s that new segment that comes in that keeps things alive and interesting,” Deckard said.
While traditional gospel and country music have long been a part of the event, those musical genres no longer dominate the live performances. In fact, classic rock was featured this year on Friday, followed by Motown on Saturday night and old-time rock ‘n’ roll Sunday afternoon.
While the musicians used to perform with a simple public address system at the gazebo or on a simple platform, they now have a modern stage complete with theatrical lighting and state-of-the-art sound equipment.
But while different music formats are presented each year, organizers still have some strict guidelines regarding the performances that honor Hope’s heritage, according to Brad Douglas, a Hope native and owner of Design Sound and Video of Greensburg.
“If I hear things going on (from performers) that would offend people, I have a standing order to shut it down,” Douglas said. “And then, the other day, one of the directors told me we want to keep God in the middle of this festival.”
While Douglas and his six-member technical stage crew practically live in the Hope Town Square during the festival, it’s only because they appreciate the big picture of the Heritage Days.
“It’s not just about the celebration,” Douglas said. “There are so many entities in the Flatrock-Hawcreek areas that would be hurting very bad if this weekend would ever cease to exist.”
Although some in Hope still bemoan the loss of small businesses over the past four decades, Deckard said he believes his community will always flourish as long as the town stays true to itself, maintains it’s own schools and has larger communities and jobs just a short distance away.
His investment in several buildings on the Hope Town Square, as well as neighboring farms, were decisions based on maintaining what the town is – not on speculating what it might later evolve into, Deckard said.
“Hope is within striking range of all sorts of things, but you don’t have all that congestion and commotion where you live,” Deckard said. “There’s a lot of hope in Hope — and I kind of like it that way.”
Organizers believe attendance at Sunday’s annual Hope Heritage Parade was about the same as last year.
While records show 75 combined entries into the parade, over 100 different exhibits could be seen by spectators, Heritage of Hope CEO Michael Dean said.
Parade highlights included Grand Marshal Mike Deckard and his family being pulled in a elegant horse carriage, as well as expanded numbers of both Jeeps and Ford Mustangs, Dean said.
During a special ceremony, it was announced that permanent memorials will be erected to four community leaders who have died in recent years.
- John Norman
- John Baute
- Harry “Buck” Meek
- Lowell Miller
Their names, as well as brief biographies, will be erected near the new clock on the northwest side of the Hope Town Square.