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Indiana State Fair stage collapse: ‘That’s how we were trained, we just respond’

Mary Kay Foster
Posted at 12:33 AM, Aug 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-14 00:42:53-04

INDIANAPOLIS — A COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Indiana State Fair is not something Mary Kay Foster ever thought she would be running, much less even setting up.

But Foster, an IU Health Special Pathogens Program Manager, is passionate about getting people vaccinated and she said what better way to do so than to meet Hoosiers where they are at.

“I wanted to go see the cattle barn. I wanted to go get my elephant ear or whatever. No, I never thought I would be here doing mass vaccinations,” Foster said.

Every summer, the fairgrounds was a second home to her family as her children were growing up.

“Well, I raised my kids here. When they were little, we would spend days here,” the mom of two recalled.

Ten years ago, the family fair tradition was still strong. It was that summer, Foster, her teenage daughter, and neighbors scored ticked on the track to see one of their favorite bands, Sugarland.

PHOTO: Mary Kay Foster

Foster remembers checking the radar as they saw the storm come in, but she said it was something no one could prepare for. She said it happened in a matter of seconds, referring to the stage collapse.

PHOTO: Mary Kay Foster

“We heard a roar and we just looked down the track and this wall of brown is coming at us,” Foster said. "We turned around and looked at the stage and you just saw it go down.”

Photo: Mary Kay Foster

Foster said she immediately told her daughter and friends to run away. She, on the other hand, ran towards it all.

“It’s like you’re in a tunnel. I remember I had the sorest throat. I kept screaming, ‘I’m a nurse! I’m a nurse!’ And it’s like parting of the Red Sea. People just got out of my way,” she recalled.

The first person she helped was a security guard. Then, she went to help a group of people pull out a woman crushed by the stage.

“Finally got her out from underneath there and turned her over because she kept mentioning she had a daughter, Jade,” Foster said.

The nurse got the woman to safety, and months later, she met that same woman at a benefit concert. Foster said interacting with her, seeing her smile, her laugh, her kindness helped in providing closure.

“My mind just protected me from that horror of that moment, and it wasn’t until after I saw her and I went home and went to sleep, I remembered it all and I think that allowed me to process that immediately,” she said.

Much like running a vaccine clinic at the fair today, the night of August 13, 2011 was something she never thought would happen at her second home.

It took years before Foster was ready to come back and it took her daughter even longer. She came back when the memorial was installed and every summer since, she said she stops to pray at the memorial.

“Time heals, we don’t forget. Believe me there’s many times I think about that night,” Foster said. “I wish we could do more. I mean people want to put these kinds of things behind you, but for me, it’s good every year that I’m back here.”