August 1, 2017
Rhonda Smith has been volunteering for the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon for 11 years now. During that time, she's passed out water and Gatorade to thousands and thousands of runners, and managed the OneAmerica Pit Station. She's also spent 15 years involved in the Spirit of America Walking Flag for the IPL 500 Festival Parade. And now, in 2017, Rhonda Smith is the 500 Festival Volunteer of the Year!
"I love both the (Indy Mini) and the Parade," said Rhonda. "The appreciation of the runners and walkers for the Mini make those early mornings all worth it. When I participate in the Parade, it helps me remember what Memorial Day is really all about. The Veterans stand up and put their hands over their hearts and salute the OneAmerica Spirit of America Walking Flag. It always brings tears to my eyes."
In early May of 2017, Rhonda was chosen for a special photo shoot. The long-time volunteer had been a superstar in the volunteer game for more than a decade, yet she'd never seen the Mini-Marathon course. Three days before the 2017 Indy Mini, Rhonda got to see the route in the passenger's seat of a Festival car driven by IndyCar driver Spencer Pigot! Photographer Chris Bucher captured the ride-along and some amazing feature photos of the 500 Festival Volunteer of the Year.
Rhonda has been a valuable part of making 500 Festival events so special. She continues to impact those around her and she embodies what the Volunteer of the Year award represents.
Now, Rhonda's oldest granddaughter volunteers with her.
"I like to instill in them how important it is to give back in some way," she said. "It offers the opportunity for friends and family to volunteer together and meet new people every year."
Those people are more than just fellow volunteers. Some of Rhonda's best memories from volunteering include the fun she got to have with friends.
"I lost a dear friend (Debbie Vaughn) a few years ago that always volunteered with me at the Gatorade Pit Station," she said. "I will always cherish those extra times we got to spend together. She would always dress up as Raggedy Ann for the pit. She was a dedicated volunteer and was so much fun to be around."
Thank you, Rhonda, for sharing your story and continuing to make 500 Festival events so fun and memorable.
Look for Rhonda passing out water at next year's Indy Mini sporting her famous blue glasses, and tell her thanks!