Three days of rain had nearly drowned the 2003 Lake County Fair. It had swamped the arena and the fair’s grandstand. Cars rolled into the grass parking, only to sink in the hidden mud beneath. It was a mess.
And there was Zern Hayden with his trucker hat kicked back from his forehead, 70 years old and splashing in the mud along the midway. The tilt of one of the concession trailers had gone from ugly to alarming. It needed shoring badly. As the Lake County Fair’s concession superintendent, it fell on Zern Hayden to fix it.
And he did. He always did.
Zern Hayden wore a dozen hats in his life: a farmer who saw to a thousand acres along the Kankakee River. A bus driver for Tri-Creek schools who knew our country roads better than Google. He was a husband, a father, a grandfather, and an uncle.
He dolled out public service by the decade. 25 years as a 4-H leader. 30 years putting together the Lake County Fair. 50 years as a Grange member. 12 years as a member of the Lowell Library Board. Zern Hayden chiseled out the image of Lake County with its odd mix of industry and agriculture. He helped create the best parts of today’s Indiana.
Respect came to him naturally. He didn’t need to shout to make himself heard. He possessed the uncanny ability to find the crux of any problem and solve it without the pitfalls of personality or politics, and always with an easy smile. We trusted Zern Hayden for his intelligence, for his wisdom, and for his kindness. We admired him for always being a calm voice in any chaos.
50 years ago, when America was still trying to decide what America was, the Founding Fathers defined the ideal citizen as the gentleman farmer. A man as comfortable working soil as he was working through a stack of books.
If ever a gentlemen farmer lived, it was Zern Hayden, who passed away on October 21st in his favorite chair at the goodly age of 91.