By Stephanie Dolan
In 1937 Franklin D. Roosevelt was president. A new house cost around $4,100. A loaf of bread cost nine cents. Amelia Earhart’s plane disappeared. “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” premiered. Daffy Duck made his first appearance. And the world was horrified by the Hindenburg disaster.
The Great Depression still loomed over the nation, making life difficult for everyone, especially farmers. Nevertheless, people still needed to eat, and crops needed tending.
Isaac Eckel Lewis, known to his friends simply as “I.E.,” was born at home on a farm in North Belleville on April 17, 1937. He’s spent his lifetime impacting Hendricks County with a career in education and farming with Hendricks County 4-H influencing his life and volunteer path.
Lewis grew up participating 4-H. He ended that phase of his youth so successfully that he made enough money to pay for his college tuition outright with $800 from the sale of a calf.
“At that time, tuition was $37.50 a term,” he said. “Room and board was $25. I didn’t borrow anything from anyone. I drove a ’52 Ford. It got me where I needed to go.”
Lewis, now 82, attended Ball State University where he studied English and social studies and went on to impact thousands of students in his career.
He spent 29 years working in the Mill Creek School system, working as an assistant principal, principal and then the superintendent.
“Can you believe back then that the Cascade High School building only cost $1.5 million to build?” he asked. “It opened in the fall of 1964.”
Even when he went to work after that in Brown County, he commuted daily from his home base was still Hendricks County. “I’m a product of Hendricks County,” Lewis said. “I was born here. I’ve never moved away. I was assistant superintendent in Brown County and then spent two years as superintendent,” he said. “I also completed two interim superintendent placements in Trafalgar.”
Lewis has been married to his wife Darlene Hammond for 54 years. Today he owns and runs Full Circle Custom Farming with the help of his son Aaron.
“My wife does a very good job at seeing we stay on track,” he said. “I’ve had the farm at least 25 years, maybe a little longer. We have about 84 acres of corn, 129 acres of beans. We have a beef herd, and we have some sows and pigs. We also have chickens.”
Lewis credits his farming and success teaching youth to 4-H participation. His son Aaron was in 4-H for 10 years, and Aaron’s daughters, Makenzie and Macy were both in 4-H for 10 years as well. Macy was a fair queen, and she is now a mortician in Indianapolis.
Lewis still participates in 4-H. He’s served on the fair board for six years and has one left on his term as the Liberty Township representative. He’s seen a lot of changes in his time on the board.
“There have been many improvements on the fair board,” he said. “We’ve got different committees and different people are appointed to those committees who are responsible for seeing that their part of the fair is accomplished.”
Those who go to the fair should notice many of these updates and changes.
“Recently, the horse arena has all been replaced,” Lewis said. “The sawdust is changed every year. We’ve added new pens. Llamas and alpacas are also now a part of the program. And we’ve added a new carnival, which is one of the best in the country. We’ve also added the Carthage barn, which is readily used by everyone.”
Lewis hopes using his experience as a teacher and superintendent of schools to share with the board makes a positive impact when decisions get made.
“At least I have input, and sometimes we need to be thinking outside the box,” he said. “I offer my recommendations and experiences. They have the opportunity to take it or deny it. At least it brings about good discussion.”
4-H is not the only place Lewis gets involved in Hendricks County. He is Hendricks County Redevelopment Commission president and serves as Center Valley Cemetery Board treasurer.
The top state officials have honored Lewis’ impact in Indiana.
“I was honored when I retired in the year 2000 by Governor (Frank) O’Bannon with the honor of Sagamore of the Wabash,” he said. “I was the only superintendent to be appointed that year.”
Lewis looks forward to many things about fair week.
“I’m looking forward to the new things such as the free entertainment,” he said. “I’m looking forward to more people being able to attend the fair and enjoy it. I’m looking forward to including the total county in our fair program. At this time, we can tell you how many people attended with our new system of payment at the entrance. We have made great strides at becoming more open about what we take in at the fair.”
Lewis loves that he was born in Hendricks County and spent his life here.
“We have such a short time and we’re gone for such a long time, and we can influence people positively if we just work at it,” he said.