The sound of rain tapped on the barn, like the echo of BB guns fired 20 years ago.
Parke County roads were jammed with festival traffic this weekend, as thousands flocked to Mansfield, Rockville and all towns in between. But unbeknownst to all but a couple dozen regulars, on a small farm northwest of Bridgeton, the Covered Bridge Festival Olympics were raging on Saturday afternoon. The manifestation of childhood friendships, the games drew not only a group of men in their 30s, but now their wives and children.
“This is our 20th year out here,” explained Matthew Sullivan, 36.
Meanwhile, dodge ball was under way on the east side of a large red barn as players ran about wearing colored beads while others chomped down hot dogs.
Owned by his uncle and aunt, Brad and Ruth Rukes, the Parke County farm first hosted the gaggle of Terre Haute North Vigo High School students as campers on opening weekend of the Covered Bridge Festival. Friends in high school during the mid-1990s, the guys have returned to the site each year for 20 seasons, bringing their own families from places such as Indianapolis, Chicago and New York.
Brad, now 56, recalled the tradition’s origins as BB gun wars in the woods, where his nephew and friends liked to play.
“Actually, they started a few years before that,” the retired carpenter said of the 20-year mark, noting he and Ruth have no children of their own. “These are my kids here.”
Autumn’s colors painted the 12-acre compound of farmhouse, barn and outbuildings. Ruth said the couple first moved there about 30 years ago and have been personalizing it ever since. Markings in the main barn’s concrete floor are difficult to discern, but denote its construction date as either 1901 or 1907, making it more than a century old.
“When we first moved out here, the loft didn’t even have the boards nailed down,” she laughed. “We had no idea it was in such good shape.”
But this weekend, music poured from a stereo near a refrigerator lit by neon signs. A hand-crafted bar sits by wooden poker tables, and the whole ground floor resembles the clubhouse it’s become.
“Yep, that’s all I do with it,” Brad said, describing it as a party barn.
And for their nephew’s friends, then teenagers, it was the perfect place to birth a tradition of camping and games.
Taryn Stanley stood off to the side of the grassy playing field where races were under way.
“I belong to the crazy guy in the red shirt,” she said, pointing to her husband, Jay.
Still residents of Terre Haute, the couple attended Terre Haute North with Sullivan and began hanging out at the Parke County farm on Covered Bridge weekend. This year their two small children came along, and Taryn remembered her own years there hanging out with the guys.
“I just think it’s neat that these guys, after all these years, make time to get back together. It’s a testament to their friendship that they do that,” she said.
Sullivan said the group chooses a different theme each year, and 2012 brought a third round of Olympics. Bead necklaces of gold, silver and bronze represented medals for events ranging from sack races to a homespun pentathlon, and a campfire blazed near the “eternal flame” they’d lit at opening ceremonies Friday evening. His 16-year-old nephew Lane played the national anthem on an electric guitar for the ceremonies.
The weekend also includes a trip to The Bean Shack in Bridgeton for breakfast of biscuits and gravy, a routine they’ve done so long the owners know each of their names.
“We’ve been doing that for 20 years now and we’ve never missed,” he said proudly.
Clouds darkened a little Saturday afternoon, but Jay Stanley said the group is indifferent to weather.
“There was one year we were out here when there was six inches of snow on the ground,” he said.
Ruth remarked that even as kids, the guys never gave them any trouble out there regarding behavior, policing themselves well enough. Both her and Brad’s parents were there Saturday, and over the years, the other guys’ parents come out as well, she said.
“It’s all family and friends and the families keep getting bigger,” she said.
Visitors sign sheets of plywood with the year scrawled across the top, and Lane said he’s enjoyed playing with the guys since his own earliest years.
“It’s really fun,” he said. “It’s just a really cool get-together.”
In 1997, Sullivan suffered a debilitating accident while diving, but neither that nor the growing distance of hometowns has changed the group’s resolve to re-unite each fall.
“These guys mark their calendars like Christmas,” he said, megaphone in hand.
And there will be no shock to those there Saturday if the gang’s still at it in 2032.
“I sure hope so. I think if you ask, to a man and woman they’d say yes, we have another 20 years in us,” Sullivan said.
Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tradition reaches its 20th year
The sound of rain tapped on the barn, like the echo of BB guns fired 20 years ago.
- Local & Bistate
Purdue shooting leaves one person dead
A Purdue University engineering student opened fire inside a basement classroom Tuesday, killing a teaching assistant and prompting officials to put the campus on lockdown, police and the university said.
MARK BENNETT: First BaconFest sure to cure your salty fried meat cravings
Bacon taught me a life lesson.
I wrapped strips of it around chicken livers and secured the cold, gooey bundles with toothpicks to earn money.
THS grad Miller among students in adjacent building when shooting occurs
Kris Miller and his roommate were in a computer lab of Purdue’s mechanical engineering building Tuesday when they received a call that a shooting had occurred next door.
Bosma moves gay marriage ban bill to friendlier committee
Republican House of Representatives Speaker Brian Bosma sent a bill that proposes a constitutional ban on gay marriage to a more conservative-leaning legislature committee Tuesday, because it lacked support on the first committee to which it was assigned.
We enter the deep freeze again
If you had to step outside to get your newspaper this morning, you might have noticed it’s painfully cold once again.
Levy redirects school funds
If the new “protected levy” legislation goes into effect later this year, it would mean “a substantial reduction” in revenue for Vigo County School Corp. bus transportation, capital projects and bus replacement funds, according to the district’s chief financial officer.
School debt levy redirects funds across Indiana
School officials and state legislators from around the state are searching for ways to keep the school buses running — and children safe on the streets — pending the loss of millions of dollars for school transportation.
More than 50 school districts in Indiana stand to lose at least 20 percent of their revenues for transportation, new buses and other big-ticket projects under a new law that requires them to first pay off their debts.
VIDEO: Sen. Donnelly updates T-S editorial board
Passage of a long overdue U.S. farm bill could be completed by the end of this month, Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., said Tuesday.
Vigo coroner tries again for salary increase
After being denied last year, Vigo County Coroner Dr. Susan Amos is again seeking to have her county salary increased to match that of several other county office holders.
New rules may keep moped riders on road
Rep. Dave Wolkins could oppose moped regulations for only so long, as more bikes zipped along the roads and were involved in an increasing number of accidents.
Nearly half of Indiana students get meal aid
Nearly 50 percent of Indiana public school students receive free or reduced-cost meals through the federal school-lunch program.
Hearing date set for Dugger charter school
The Indiana Charter School Board is scheduled to conduct a public hearing on April 8 related to a proposed charter school for the Dugger-Union Community School Corp.
Sullivan County ambulance overturns on Interstate 70
Two Sullivan County emergency medical technicians were treated and released from Terre Haute Regional Hospital after their ambulance rolled over in the median of Interstate 70, about 1 mile east of the Indiana 46 exit on Wednesday afternoon.
New trustee appointed to Indiana State board
Kathleen G. Cabello, president and co-founder of Cabello Associates Inc., has been appointed by Gov. Mike Pence to serve on the Indiana State University Board of Trustees.
Car from home invasion recovered
A stolen vehicle believed to have been used by suspects in a March 4 home invasion has been recovered.
Sisters of Providence to close Woods Day Care/Pre-School in June
Citing a growing number of concerns, the Sisters of Providence said in a press release issued Wednesday that they would close Woods Day Care/Pre-School, which has been a sponsored institution for nearly three decades.
Stolen car used in home invasion recovered
A stolen vehicle used by suspects in a March 4 home invasion has been recovered.
Ambulance overturns on I-70
Two Sullivan County emergency medical technicians were taken to Terre Haute Regional Hospital this afternoon after their ambulance went into the median east of the Indiana 46 exit along Interstate 70.
Gov. Pence appoints new member to ISU board of trustees
Kathleen G. Cabello, president and co-founder of Cabello Associates Inc., will serve on the Indiana State University board of trustees. Gov. Mike Pence announced the appointment today.
Vigo County Jail Log: March 12, 2014
The following individuals were booked into the Vigo County Jail by area law enforcement on Tuesday and Wednesday, based on jail records.
Cold and snow returns after brief period of warmth
Another storm dealt yet another wintery blast to the snow-weary Midwest and a blizzard warning was issued in upstate New York on Wednesday after a day or so of spring-like temperatures teased the region.
Sheriff: Investigation affecting department’s current police work
The Putnam County Sheriff’s Department is putting the best possible face on a string of allegations lodged against one of its deputies.
Greencastle Council seat will remain vacant for now
The Greencastle City Council is still waiting to learn the appropriate next step in dealing with one of its members who is facing federal allegations of civil rights violations while in his role as a Putnam County deputy.
Former pitcher Tommy John now saving lives
Terre Haute native Tommy John is well known for his illustrious major league baseball career, which spanned 26 years and included 288 victories.
Downtown housing project on schedule
Demolition of buildings fronting Wabash Avenue from Sixth Street west to Fifth Street is on schedule to be completed by the end of this month, with construction of a new five-story building to house Indiana State University students and retail shops starting in April, said Nicole King, marketing coordinator for Thompson Thrift.
Where no one follows the law
Loughmiller’s Pub across Washington Street from the Statehouse is a favorite hangout for legislators and lobbyists who like the tavern’s menu of gourmet burgers and craft beers. State police are regular lunch customers, as are state officials who regulate the sale of alcohol.
Terre Haute man facing felony arson charges
A Terre Haute man faces a charge of class-B felony arson in connection with an August garage fire.
Stolen gun, drugs found in search after traffic stop
A traffic stop Monday night on Third Street led to the arrest of a Terre Haute man on drug-related charges and recovery of a stolen handgun that had belonged to a Vigo County Sheriff’s Department reserve deputy.
Vigo election board to give presentation at NAACP meeting
A presentation by the Vigo County Election Board will be the focus for the March 17 meeting of the Greater Terre Haute Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Merom Water being acquired by Indiana American Water
Merom Water, a municipal water utility with approximately 125 customers, has been acquired by Indiana American Water, the company announced on Tuesday.
- More Local & Bistate Headlines
- Purdue shooting leaves one person dead