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Elkhart Fair's first year without Doc Abel: His legacy lives on

ELKHART COUNTY, Ind. - This year marks the first fair in decades without Doctor Robert M. Abel, or Doc Abel, as many know him.

He died on January 14 at the age of 92.

Doc Abel is the one who actually brought the fair back here to Goshen in 1955, where he served as the resident fair physician for decades.

“You can’t go anywhere on these fairgrounds without being reminded that Doc was here,” said Peggy Miller, a current fair board member, who worked with Doc Abel for years.

For the first time in 59 years, the familiar face of a friendly physician will be missing from the Elkhart County 4H fair.

“It was a devastating loss,” said current fair board president, Jill Garris.

Most notably, he’ll be missing from the building baring his namesake—Dr. Robert m. Abel.

“It’s hard to have lived in Elkhart County and not to have known Doc Abel. He’s been a part of so much in the whole county…in the barns, in the grandstand…of course, the medical building,” said Miller.

“I had the pleasure of working with him from the time I joined the board [in 1983],” she said.

“I served on the fair board with Doc Abel for 14 years, but long before that he was the fair physician for years and years even when I was in 4H,” said Garris.

“He was a very quiet man, who led by example and gave and did so much behind the scenes that very few people would ever know about and that was just the kind of guy he was, and we miss that, a lot around here,” she said.

“What didn’t he do for the fair?” said Miller.

“He would donate banners for champion livestock,” said Garris.

“He raised funds. He was an ambassador…[He purchased] the property,” said Miller.

“And [he] just really, really believed in the 4H organization and the children and the life skills that it taught,” said Garris, like living out the 4H motto: ‘To make the best better.’

Doc’s former colleagues agree, the Elkhart County 4H fair blossomed because of his leadership.

“So, one little thing that I wanted to do to honor him was to just have a simple embroidery placed on the back of each hat that just simply says ‘Thank You Doc Abel,’” said Garris.

“[It’s] just to show our appreciation for him and let everyone know that we appreciate his efforts and he’s dearly missed,” she said.

“We’ve always said we’ll probably never see the likes of him again, but…if we would try very hard in all the ways we knew him to be special, to be special like that, then we would see people like him again, and that would be quite a legacy…all people trying very hard to be the kind of person he was. What more could you ask?” said Miller.

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