The phrase “Fishers Freedom Festival” conjures up images of happy children getting their faces painted, beautiful crafts being displayed, and flamboyant fireworks illuminating the sky. For Fishers residents and beyond, this hopping, action-packed, two day event symbolizes continuous entertainment with fun things to do in the summertime such as the 5K Fun Run & Walk, Disc Dog Competition and Children’s Parade. Besides putting smiles on our faces, this festival undoubtedly accomplishes another feat—it connects the members of our community all year round.
“We try to have something for everyone,” says Jennifer Kehl, Executive Director of the Fishers Freedom Festival. “Almost everything is free. Anybody at any income level can come out and enjoy the day and participate in the activities.” Jennifer has served as the Executive Director for 19 years.
“Jennifer is a pretty amazing individual. We all have a personal tie to her,” says Don Dragoo, President of the Board of Directors of the Fishers Freedom Festival Committee and Parade Coordinator. “She’s always looking to expand the Freedom Festival membership into other involvements for two reasons: 1) to keep events continuing and 2) to run them in an efficient manner so that we have funds to invest into future events.
Dragoo was among the volunteers who were present at the very first Fishers Freedom Festival twenty-four years ago. In celebrating Independence Day, a few volunteers organized a one-day event with a parade, some children’s games and a community picnic. It was so popular that the tradition continued and has grown to represent the epitome of a close-knit community.
How Did Her Involvement Begin?
One summer back in 1990, Jennifer had a friend who needed help with drawing posters for the Parades. This friend, Brenda Berding, happened to be the former Executive Director of the Fishers Festival. Eventually, Jennifer expanded her volunteer efforts to obtaining more sponsorships and donations. After her friend, (Berding) moved to Michigan, Jennifer became the new Executive Director. She recalls, “My work evolved into finding more sponsorships and dollars and trying to grow with the town and meet the needs of this community…When I first began helping with the Fishers Festival, this area was a transient town but now represents a more stabilized area where people are staying for longer periods of time and establishing a sense of community.”
“Jennifer is such an incredible person,” says her assistant, Kym Greiner. She continues, “Year after year she dedicates herself to making sure the Fishers community has a wonderful, family-friendly festival experience. We are extremely fortunate to have Jennifer as our Executive Director. Her level of expertise is unrivaled and her passion for what she does is evident day after day.”
The 24th Annual Fishers Freedom Festival will offer amazing fun on June 23rd – June 24th. There will be 130 crafters, 30 food vendors and 100 business vendors present. The Children’s Tent will offer face painting, temporary tattoos, and all kinds of crafts. Also, K-ID’s BMV will be on site to make personalized kids ID’s for free.
The younger children can watch the puppet show and balloon art in the Park Building. As for the older kids, (12 and up) there will be a climbing wall, water balloon launch and bungee trampoline. After 6:00pm on both Sat. and Sun., everyone can enjoy listening to RadioNOW (100.9) with a live DJ, dancing and free giveaways.
On Sunday, beginning at 8:30am, a non-denominational church service will take place. There will be a 10:00 am children’s parade sponsored by Aarons Inc. and a 4:00 pm parade funded by XFINITY. On Saturday “Whiskey Biscuits” will perform from 6:30 pm-10 pm and Sunday, “Big Daddy Caddy” will play from 6:30 pm to dusk followed by a fireworks display.
Canned goods or new toys will be collected to support our local pantries. Over 300 volunteers are still needed for this occasion. All ages are welcome to help (12 and up.)
Other Events Throughout the Year
The Fishers Festival Committee plans for so much more than just the two-day jubilee in June. This organization has scheduled other exciting dates throughout the year. As with all events, volunteers are still needed and canned goods/new toys will be collected for local pantries.
Here are some of the other worthwhile events/programs:
- Firefighter Combat Challenge
IU Saxony Hospital presents the first regional Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge (FCC) on August 3rd (5:00pm-11:00pm) and August 4th (9:00am-4:00pm) at Roy Holland Park. The main purpose of this national event is to highlight the skills, talent, and bravery of our American firefighters while promoting an exciting sports competition. This regional event draws interest from the news media, such asESPN, to help promote capturing positive stories within our community. Spectator attendance is estimated to reach between 5,000-10,000 people throughout the competition.
- Aaron’s Kids Combat Challenge
The FCC will also host a miniature version of the adult physical fitness/firefighter competition for kids (ages 4-11yrs old.) This is an exciting day for kids to dress up in fire attire and get to spray the hose. Signups will be held at 9:00am on Sat. (Aug 3rd) The Aaron’s Kids Combat Challenge will be held at Roy Holland Park. Various craft, food and entertainment vendors will be present.
- Fishers Oktoberfest @ Saxony
If you appreciate German food and live entertainment, arts and crafts, then you won’t want to miss the Fishers Oktoberfest @ Saxony. This fun-filled day will be held on Saturday, September 22nd from 12:00pm to 10:00pm at Witten Park (13257 Saxony Blvd.) There will be something for everyone including games and activities for the kids and a beer garden for the adults.
- Oct Craft Show
The Oct Craft Show is like celebrating “Christmas in October” with over 150 juried arts & craft vendors. This event will be held at Fishers High School from 9:00am-3:00pm on October 13th. Food sales will benefit the school’s PTO and proceeds from the raffle will support the “Roy Holland Backpack for Kids” program. Shoppers who bring either canned goods or new toys will receive $1.00 off admission price.
- Roy Holland Backpack for Kids Program
In honor of Roy Holland, this new program was launched in 2000 to help supply HSE students in need of backpacks and school supplies. Any children living within Hamilton Southeastern School district and needing a backpack (even if they are home-schooled or attend a school outside the district,) may go to their home school and request one. So far, over 3,000 backpacks have been distributed. Fishers committee will be collecting materials during the Fishers Freedom Festival. Items can be dropped off at the Food Drive Tent or placed in any of the grocery carts throughout the park.
Fishers Festival: A Not for Profit Organization
Many may not realize that the Fishers Festival is an independent organization, separate from the Town of Fishers and the Fishers Chamber of Commerce. This not-for-profit group operates on a budget of $269,000 to orchestrate the festival and other events. All financial support stems from sponsorships, fundraising, booth space rentals, grants and contributions from nearby area businesses and residents. Donations are always welcome and can be mailed to: P.O. Box 930 Fishers, IN 46038. To receive additional information, call the Festival Hot Line at 317-595-3195.
The Director Behind the Scenes
Jennifer Kehl is a Certified Festival Events Executive (CFEE) who works continuously to help make Fishers the best community possible. She is married to George Kehl, Chief of Fishers Police. Together they have two sons, Greg, (27) and Geoffrey (23). They are proud grandparents to Waylon (9) and Kloey (4.) During her spare time Jennifer enjoys scuba diving with her family.
When asked about her time commitment and executive role, Jennifer concludes, “As a director, there’s a lot of planning and a lot of work; yet when I see the kids smiling and having fun at the festival, it’s definitely all worth it.”
Mission and Lasting Purpose
The mission of the Fishers Freedom Festival is to encourage fellowship through civic partnerships and citizen involvement by creating a safe environment, developing needed community services, promoting family integrity and striving to improve the quality of life for every Fishers resident by investing in human potential.
Although this mission statement may have initially focused on the two-day festival itself, it now inevitably encompasses all the events that are promoted year-round.
Dragoo sums up the mission of the Fishers Freedom Festival when he says, “We’re trying to create warm and fuzzy memories of a small town atmosphere in a spreading community…We’re trying to generate and heighten community involvement and appreciation of our town.”
Volunteers Always Needed & Welcome
If you are new to the area and would like to get out and meet your neighbors, please consider volunteering to help at any of the Fishers Freedom Festival events held throughout the year. Helping at any of these occasions is an excellent way to give back to the community while forming new relationships, including students needing to earn service hours. The Fishers Festival Committee also invites your original input and/or suggestions for enhancing any of its seasonal events.