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State fair tragedy rekindled romance for couple 20 years later

Posted at 5:28 PM, Aug 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-23 12:20:30-04

Greg Johnson invited us to his home to share a love story he owes to the horrific events of August 13, 2011.

That’s the day a strong gust of wind knocked down the rigging and equipment at the State Fair Grandstand which resulted in the death of 7 people and injured more than 40 other people.

Greg, being such a big fan, was in the area closest to the stage known as the “Sugar Pit.”

When the stage collapsed, Greg was able to help others and he walked away with no physical injuries. Other survivors were not so lucky. Greg knows because he keeps in touch with them and they often have a reunion at the Grandstand where a memorial stands in honor of 7 people killed.

“Some people still don’t have their memory back. Some people lost limbs, others have never been able to get over it and turned to illegal substances. There are still a lot of people going through a lot of things and it’s been 10 years," said Greg.

When we met Greg, he showed us a medium-sized box that contains every card and letter he received from Linda Vitalo Tarandy.

His most treasured possession, a Polaroid of the day he met Linda in November 1989.

"Once you realize you are with somebody that cares about every of you as a person there is no better feeling.”

Greg and Linda dated nearly two years and then went their separate ways and married other people.

On August 13, 2011, Greg posted on Facebook that he was going to see the country music group Sugarland at the Indiana State Fair.

The group never performed due to the rigging collapse. The disaster made international news which caught Linda’s attention. The night of August 13, 2011,

She decided to call Greg for the first time in years worried about his well-being. Cell phone service was strained and connecting with people was difficult. When they got a chance to talk, they decided to see each other.

Fifteen days after the stage collapse, on August 28 the lady in the Polaroid and the Hoosier would start a new journey.

Twenty years later, both were divorced and fate would lead them to rekindle their romance. The love was there and they picked up where they left off.

"It was two decades had passed and it was immediate. It was so exhilarating to feel that way again. We were so very fortunate to reconnect and share this incredible love for the last 10 years. Some live to 100 and never get to experience what Linda and I had together."

The Hoosier and Chicago girl made the best of every minute with long talks & walks and trips to her favorite spot Nashville in Brown County.

Linda would be his saving grace especially every year on August 13 - the day of the State Fair nightmare - and also Greg's birthday.

It was there that night in 2011 that he turned 54 years old. To keep his mind off that day, Linda every year made it a point to find special things do with her guy whether going to a sporting event or a fun place to eat.

"She made the best of every event more bright just a good time."

The couple also made several visits to the State Fairgrounds - with Linda at his side everything was okay.

Their love would be tested in 2014, when they found out she had Stage 4 Breast Cancer.

It would be a 7-year battle. Linda would beat the breast cancer and ring the traditional bell of victory. After her mastectomy, Greg helped with her daily care.

"What somebody needs at a time like that is somebody that loves them, somebody that cares about them."

Linda also had a tumor removed from her brain. The medical procedure was a moment of relief. But cancer refused to surrender, as it spread to her spine and other parts of her body.

"Finally, we were told Linda is not going to live. We had so many plans, so many plans. It wasn't meant to be."

Linda never gave up on love or life.

It was on display this past March 1st as she sang Happy Birthday to her teenage son. There’s a 20-second video that shows Linda all in on the celebration.

Happy Birthday

Two weeks later, the mother of two passed away on March 17, 2021.

She was 56 years young. Her brother was also 56 when he died from cancer six years earlier.

Since her funeral in March, the past few months have been a blur and bittersweet.

Greg has leaned on the music of Sugarland during this heart-breaking moment.

In 2018, he met the group at a concert in Louisville.

The words to their song "Love" are comforting all the time. The lyrics remind him that his love with Linda was "one in a million" one he could "call home."

"This isn't a tragic tale of someone losing their life at the Sugarland concert--rather it’s the story of someone actually being reunited with soulmate because of it "

"It was an honor that this was an amazing woman and she loved me."

Greg is keeping his love alive for Linda by keeping his promise to watch over her teenage son Dennis and her 92-year-old mother Ann.

Greg communicates with both of them several times during the week.