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October 8, 2012

Harvest Homecoming originator dies

Thelma Bertrand helped founding of festival

NEW ALBANY — A giant of the city’s biggest festival and champion of senior citizens died over the weekend.

Thelma Bertrand, a founding member of Harvest Homecoming, died Sunday. Her longtime friends said her 45 years of volunteering for the festival showed her commitment to the community.

Polly Niemeier, a 2012 vice president for the festival’s board, said Bertrand loved the area and worked hard to promote it.

“She was totally community-minded,” Niemeier said. “Thelma loved Southern Indiana and was in numerous organizations to promote not only the community she lived in, but to support senior citizens.”

Niemeier said Bertrand also volunteered with the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, among other organizations in the area. She also said Bertrand’s involvement with Harvest Homecoming started before it got its name. She said it was originally called Pumpkin Festival.

When it came to getting people of retirement age involved and the festival she helped start, Niemeier said she was very passionate.

“She was kind of a firecracker when she got started talking about senior citizens or Harvest Homecoming,” Niemeier said. “She became very animated and loved talking about either of those.”

Larry Fischer, Harvest Homecoming’s chairman of the board, said she always told him she celebrated four holidays — Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Harvest Homecoming.

“The festival was really important in her life,” Fischer said. “She worked with people to get it started, but she stayed with it to maintain its traditions. Even when she got a little older, she stayed active with it. She was just a good, outgoing, genuine person.”

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