Hoosiers are known for their hospitality and genuine friendliness, as well as a humble sense of themselves. But there is one Hoosier that passes along happiness with a business-card-size piece of paper.
Bob Freeman has attended the Indiana State Fair, which ended Sunday, every day for the last 38 years. If the music stage in Pioneer Village has a group performing, you’re guaranteed to find him sitting behind the audience, manning a video camera trained on the stage. When he isn’t working the camera, he oftentimes passes out his signature ticket, which reads:
“FREE TICKET – Not good for anything, just a free ticket. Have a great day.” On the back: “God Bless America.”
Bob has had thousands and thousands of tickets printed out, paying for them with his own money. This year’s tally broke 4,000.
“I was playing around on the computer a while back, and it made me laugh so I decided to start handing them out,” Bob said. “It’s just something I came up with to make people smile.”
That is the biggest reaction that can be seen after people take a card from him. Most people have a confused look on their face for a second, then after reading the card, their faces crack into a smile, which usually grows bigger and leads to a chuckle.
“This is what it’s all about. He says he wants to make someone smile,” said Jackie Freeman, Bob’s wife of 26 years. “He finds the ones with a frown on their face or the ones that just look like today isn’t their day. Those are the ones he gets.”
Depending on the day of the fair, it could be that hundreds of people pass by Bob at the back of Pioneer Village, and he tries his best to get everybody a ticket.
“I think I’ve only ever seen two or three on the ground,” Bob said. “And it was just today that I saw a guy just walk out and throw it in the trash can. Most people love ‘em, but sometimes it wasn’t enough to get ‘em.”
Many people accept the cards from Bob, but there are a number of folks who reject or ignore Bob’s offer.
“Some people won’t take ‘em. They probably think it’s some scam,” Bob said. “There’s just too many scams out there these days.”
One woman declined a card from Bob, but her husband took it and read it, passing it along to her. Once she read it, her face broke into a smile and they left the barn talking about the card.
On the first day of the fair, a woman rejected the card from Bob, saying she still had hers from last year. He finds that to be the case quite often, saying that people either don’t want another or they have come back for more, some for family and friends.
Garrett Matthews, of Greenwood, took a ticket from Bob, looked confused at first, then burst into laughter after reading it front and back. His friends followed suit with the same reactions.
“It made my day a little better seeing a free ticket and God Bless America,” Matthews said.
Terry Lee, of Knox, took a card from Bob and, following the majority trend, grinned a wide smile after reading it.
“It’s so nice to see him be so dedicated and handing these out,” Lee said.
Bob’s boss at the fair, Bill Bailey, has known him for about 15 years, and he helps get the Freemans set up with everything they need to videotape the groups.
“It’s just passing on a little bit of friendliness,” Bailey said of the cards. “Just showing his humor and how he feels about society, which is very positive.”
Not only does Bob have thousands of tickets printed up each year to pass out, he also orders and makes DVDs of each performance for every person involved. Every year, Bob makes between 400 and 500 DVDs for the different performers.
“I love people. So many people have passed, and there’s no recording of them,” Bob said. “That made me sad, so I started making ‘em, bad sound and all.”
“Hoosier spirit” can mean a lot of things, which the 163rd Indiana State Fair sought to embody: pride of place, rich traditions. But in the case of Bob Freeman, it means doing whatever you can to make people happy.
“He doesn’t sleep much, he’s working all the time. His mind just goes all the time. I don’t know how he does it and keeps going too,” Jackie said. “He’s always trying to think of something that will make people smile and laugh.”
Joe Grove is a writer for BSU Journalism at the Fair, a group of 30 students telling Indiana’s stories from a trailer somewhere between the cheese sculpture and the state’s biggest sow. This Ball State University immersive-learning project works for elephant ears.