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La Porte County legend honored

April 17, 2019

WANATAH — As one of his longtime friends describes it, everything Wanatah’s Gene Shurte touches “turns to gold.”

It was Shurte who, 25 years ago, founded the Wanatah Scarecrow Festival, an event that has morphed into a three-day festival that draws at least 10,000 visitors to his hometown.

The farmer and former county highway department superintendent is also the individual who, during his tenure as fair general manager, was responsible for transforming the La Porte County Fairgrounds from a place that is active only one week out of the year to a facility that hosts events throughout the year.

The lifelong La Porte County resident was also instrumental in ensuring the survival of the La Porte County Convention & Visitors Bureau during a turbulent period in its life.

“None of us, or at l, could aspire to help that many folks and do that many things and leave things the way that Gene has,” said LPCCVB Executive Director Jack Arnett. “We’re so lucky that he has been able to share, with his family, the time to help us in all those areas.”

Arnett and other members of the Convention & Visitors Bureau honored Shurte, a longtime member of the organization’s board, during a ceremony Saturday at the Wanatah American Legion Post 403. The agency recognized the Wanatah man for his 14 years of service on the LPCCVB Board, which he recently stepped down from in January.

Shurte — whose 165-year-old family farm recently earned a Hoosier Homestead Award from the state — has an extensive record of volunteer work in the community. Besides his service to the La Porte County Fair, LPCCVB and the Scarecrow Festival, Shurte has served on the Wanatah park, library and school boards, on the town’s chamber of commerce and has served four terms as commander with the Wanatah American Legion.

In late 2017, the state honored the La Porte County man with its Circle of Corydon Award, a distinction given to Hoosiers whose contributions have bettered the lives of their community.

Shurte’s 14-year tenure on the LPCCVB Board was the focus of Saturday’s ceremony.

Shurte was the main force that kept the LPCCVB intact when the Lake County CVB was looking to consolidate with both La Porte and Porter counties, Arnett said during his presentation Saturday. The Wanatah man approached Arnett shortly after the latter stepped down from the LPCCVB Board, convincing him to take over as executive director of the agency.

Shurte orchestrated a plan that allowed the LPCCVB to reorganize and reach new heights, ensuring that it remained an independent entity, Arnett said.

“What Gene started has allowed the CVB to grow and become one of only five in the state of Indiana that is accredited internationally, to achieve the goals that were set by our peers to be recognized as one the best bureaus in the state, to receive awards annually, to pull off events like the [boat] races in Michigan City,” he said.

Current LPCCVB Board President Patricia Harris also praised Shurte’s leadership.

Harris recalled her first meeting on the board in 2008, when, after the members had wrapped up their business, Shurte approached her and said “glad to have you, we need you.” Five years later, after Harris became the board president, Shurte again came up after her first meeting at the head of the table and told her, “you can do this.”

The board president said she has continued to look to Shurte for guidance and advice.

“You know that whatever he said was sincere, from the heart, and what he felt was right,” she said after the presentation.

After Harris and Arnett presented Shurte with his plaque, the Wanatah man said his achievements have always been a two-way street, thanking his former colleagues for their help over the past 14 years.

“The staff of the [LPCCVB] board is beyond any board I have ever worked with,” he said.