MIDDLEBURY — Being in a leadership position is not unusual for Elkhart County entrepreneur and philanthropist Kelly Rose.
Being in a leadership position and having to learn how to wave and decide what to wear, however, is definitely out of the ordinary. Yet Rose and his wife, Karen, are preparing diligently to lead the Elkhart County 4-H Fair Parade as the grand marshals.
“It’s really neat,” Rose said. “What an honor.”
The pair were selected to take the helm of the parade because of their continuous behind-the-scenes support of the county fair and, most recently, for their work in raising funds to purchase the large swath of land adjacent to the fairgrounds. To fair board president Jack Lengacher Jr., picking the Roses to be the 2012 grand marshals was “almost a no-brainer” because they have been “instrumental in helping the fair be as successful as it has been.”
“They’re just really great people,” Lengacher said. “They’re the salt of the earth. They know they’ve been blessed. This is their way of giving back to the community.”
Both Roses grew up in Michigan but they have spent much of their adult lives in Elkhart County. Through the Kelly and Karen Rose Foundation that they established about 30 years ago, they have helped numerous charitable organizations, especially those that focus on children. Early on, they assisted the Child and Parent Services agency in purchasing a bigger building in Elkhart that was subsequently named the Joy Rose Center, after Kelly’s mother.
“We’ve been so blessed, we like to give back in so many ways,” Karen said.
At the Elkhart County 4-H Fair, the Roses take time to walk through the exhibition halls to look at the craft and art projects, and they are active bidders at the livestock auction to support the youngsters who have raised the animals.
When the opportunity arose to purchase the so-called “Fiddler property,” the fair board secured a one-year, $1.4 million note from First State Bank. Whatever portion of the note is not paid by Aug. 31 will be rolled into a loan.
However, Lengacher told Kelly, co-chair of the fundraising campaign, that his dream was to raise the entire amount to pay off the note and therefore not need a loan for the land. Kelly was immediately on board with the idea.
“It was neat so see someone like him say, ‘How can I help?’” Lengacher said.
To date, the campaign has raised $1 million. Kelly downplays his role, describing it as only making a few phone calls, and credits the residents of Elkhart County.
“Elkhart is so unique for a community,” he said. “So many people out there are willing to give.”
“It’s a giving community,” Karen agreed.
Kelly said he is a little impatient and had hoped to have the money in hand by now, but he is confident the funds will be raised in time.
Not having to make loan payments on the land will enable the fair board to push the project ahead by a couple of years and start working on putting in the infrastructure to support the 4-H activities, Lengacher said. The land will provide additional parking space for the fair as well as places for the fishing, shooting, and ATV clubs to practice.
To help with their grand marshal duties, Kelly and Karen have called upon their nieces and nephews. They have asked their eight young relatives to join them in the lead carriage at the head of the parade.
“It’ll be fun,” Kelly said.