Alyssa Garnett achieves childhood dream with state fair queen title

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“Why do you have a crown?” asked a 3-year-old boy.

Alyssa Garnett crouched down, adjusting her Miss Indiana State Fair sash.

“I'm the fair queen,” she said.

A smile grew on the boy's face.

“Oh. Hi.”

Indiana's 2014 Miss Indiana State Fair, Alyssa Garnett, is the longest reigning fair queen in state history, due to a change in the competition. The 20-year-old and third queen ever from Pulaski County will reign for 16 months while starting her junior year at Purdue University, where she studies business management.

She spends her day from dawn to dusk running from building to building and activity to activity, whether it's milking a cow, letting kids try on her crown or riding in a parade. She acts as an ambassador for the Indiana State Fair and its visitors.

“She is a marketing employee. So aside from being seen here, which is wonderful and considered the hostess of the fair, she is a marketing employee,” said Bobbi Bates, queen pageant coordinator. “She meets and greets with more people than any of us do.”

Starting her day around 8 or 9 a.m., Garnett and her escort, Cameron Frazier, will stop by the Communications Building and pick up her schedule. It will show what she needs to attend that day—an average of 10 events—before she is finished, usually around 10 or 11 p.m.

On Sunday, Garnett had a luncheon with more than 80 county-fair queens as they prepared for a show that day, a first step toward the competition for the 2015 state fair queen title on Jan. 2.

Around 1:30 p.m., she hopped onto a golf cart and Frazier drove her to Pioneer Village, nearby a cattle exhibit owned by Rich Knebel Sr., her cousin's grandfather.

“I call him my grandfather—he isn't but might as well be.” Garnett said. “I always came down with him and my cousins and hang out with him and milk cows and watch cows be born.”

She stood next to a line of kids going up to milk a cow. She handed out stickers and chatted with them as they gazed at her dress and crown.

“It's kind of my secret hideout at the state fair because no one knows I am related to him,” she said. “If I need a break, I'll go behind the scenes and sit in his trailer.”

She walked inside the tent where the cattle were being kept and asked Knebel if she could milk a cow. Garnett would compete in—and win— the Celebrity Milking Contest on Wednesday and had been practicing the past two weeks on the cows in Knebel's tent.

Still wearing her yellow knit dress, satin sash, diamond crown and champaign-colored high heels, she knelt down and began milking. Being an alumnus of 4-H, with which she showed swine, farm animals aren't new to her.

As she finished and brought the milking pail out, her mother, Cyndi Garnett, said, “That's enough for cereal, honey.”

She wiped her hands and hopped onto the golf cart headed toward the Communications Building, then a walk down Main Street to another event.

Garnett waves to the crowd during the daily parade at the Indiana State Fair. She rides on a fire truck that has a sign with her name on it. Taylor Irby / BSU Journalism at the Fair

Alyssa caught two children being pulled in a red wagon staring and stopped. She knelt down and chatted with 2- and 3-year-olds.

“Do you want to try on my crown?” she asked.

The 2-year-old, Cora Shaw, from Southport, smiled.


Alyssa unclasped the crown, and then put it on the child's head. The girl beamed with joy.

“I offer to let them try it on. What's the worst they can do?” Alyssa said.

Around 3:30, she walked into the Home and Family Arts Building. She gave a short speech to a crowd about the county queens, and they began walking a short runway. As she watched them walk across the same stage as she had a year ago, a man approached her seat and knelt down, asking for her autograph. Her face lit up, and she signed it.

“It's neat to have that,” said Eddie Wetzel, a Crawford County resident. “We don't get up here often because we are from down south, so we try to get whatever we can to remember the trip by.”

For Alyssa's parents, the highlight of the fair has been seeing their daughter's connection with fairgoers.

“Honestly, my favorite thing is to see her interact with people,” said Cyndi, “because you are meeting someone from Indiana every time, and sometimes not even from Indiana, and seeing how she takes time, like with the little girls, to ask them questions about themselves and not just a token wave … an actual genuine interest.”

Cyndi herself was Pulaski County Fair Queen in 1984 and a fourth place runner-up that year.

Her mother's stories from the time she was queen played a role in Alyssa's decision to try for it. The state and county queen pageants were influential in Cyndi's life, and she exposed her daughter to it because she thought it might help her with her own life journey.

“So, of course when I was little I would see the pictures of her in a crown and sash and say, ‘I wanna do that, I wanna do that,'” Alyssa said. “So I decided to go out for my pageant last year after my freshman year of college, and I was super excited to win. I kind of just went to state fair with the mindset that I was going to have fun.”

Another inspiration was a former Pulaski County queen.

“The girl who was second, back in 2006, I was just obsessed with her. I would write her fan mail saying, ‘Hello, my name is Alyssa and I just want you to know I'm your number one fan and I really look up to you,'” Alyssa said. “I would sign it her ‘No. 1' fan and put a picture in it of her and ask her to sign it and send it to me.”

As for growing up to be state fair queen herself? “Nothing can top this,” she said.

“For me to be in her shoes and to be experiencing what she experienced has been one of my favorite parts. I mean it doesn't get much crazier than getting to be the girl you wrote fan letters to.”

Alan Hovorka is a writer for BSU Journalism at the Fair, a Ball State University immersive-learning project placing 25 student journalists at the heart of the Midway to tell the weird and wonderful stories of the 2014 Indiana State Fair.