Since 1957, the 500 Festival has been a long-standing presence in the city of Indianapolis and its surrounding communities. Since its founding in 1957 as a way to celebrate the Indianapolis 500 race itself, it has since grown into a community-oriented, philanthropic foundation that continues to create new and lasting events from the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon to the highly remarked 500 Festival Princess Program, presented by The National Bank of Indianapolis. All the events in between have been a way for Hoosiers and around the country to celebrate the beginning of warm months ahead as well as The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indy 500.
For 66 years, this organization has had millions of participants, volunteers, and staff rally around these events, but very few get to say that they have seen the 500 Festival since its founding. One Indianapolis native, Janice Lamkin, has a very special connection with the 500 Festival and the AES 500 Festival Parade: she was along for the ride in one of the first Indianapolis Power & Light Company floats. Having worked there from 1956 to 1959, she got to experience the parade during its humble beginnings with just over 150,000 spectators. Now, the parade is expected to have over 300,000 viewers during our 66th run this year.
Janice was born in November of 1937 and has lived in central Indiana ever since. She is a graduate of Broad Ripple High School and currently resides on the south side of Indy near her two sons and granddaughter. She loves to spend her free time going on walks, having lunch with friends, and working on lots of puzzles. Mrs. Lamkin has always been a fan of the Indianapolis 500 but has a special place in her heart for the 500 Festival and all its events.
“The Indianapolis Power and Light company used to have a choir that I was a part of, but when they conducted interviews for their parade float, I was just very interested,” said Mrs. Lamkin. Back then, AES conducted an interview process of current employees and then made their selection of who would represent the company on that year’s float. The 1958 float featured Ben Franklin holding a key attached to a kite at the front of the float, with 6-8 female employees on the sides.
When Mrs. Lamkin was asked to describe what the Month of May meant to her, she couldn’t fit it in just one word. “To me, the Month of May means celebrating. I used to host a race-day breakfast at my house where friends and family would come over to eat, celebrate, and listen to the Indianapolis 500 on the radio! It’s 500 month, so it’s a special time when our city is excited and on display.”
It can be said that the 500 Festival and its events have changed a lot over the years with the addition of things like the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon, to the implementation of the Salesforce & JPMorgan Chase 500 Festival Kids’ Day. But Mrs. Lamkin has even noticed how the Festival has grown exponentially in both size and involvement. “It’s gotten much larger. There are more activities for the people of Indianapolis to get involved with, and more things for families to do, too- that part I like.”
As we grow closer and closer to May, we asked Mrs. Lamkin what her favorite Month of May event is. Her response was simple: “Going to the parade of course!” she said. “You get to see the drivers, the bands, and I just love parades! I even remember when they used to have the checkered flag carpet on the parade route, and it was funny to see the horses try and walk on it.”
With all the many meanings, traditions, and feelings the Month of May holds for everyone, it’s easy to see how so many have lives have been impacted by the 500 Festival events for over 66 years. The mission of the Festival has always been to “produce life-enriching events and programs that celebrate the spirit and legacy of the Indianapolis 500 and foster a positive impact on the city of Indianapolis and state of Indiana.” With testimonies like Janice’s, there’s hope that these traditions and events will continue to create memories for Hoosiers for the next 66 years to come.
To learn more about the parade and how you can get your tickets, head over to https://500festivalfoundation.com/parade/