Even though Florence Henderson was a Hollywood icon beloved by many, she never forgot her indy roots. Born in Dale, Indiana, as the 10th child to a tobacco sharecropper, the cherished Brady Bunch matriarch stayed loyal to her state up until she died in 2016.
In addition to wowing us on screen, she also stunned racing fans when Henderson performed 23 times at the famous Indy 500 race. From 1991 and 2015, Henderson would sing either the national anthem, “God Bless America” or “America the Beautiful.”
The love for her state was mutual. Henderson’s appearance at the race wasn’t just a casual appearance for the actress but a commitment she was honored to take part in. Henderson would proudly make the trek to her home state every Memorial Day weekend to have fellowship with her fellow Hoosiers.
In addition, Henderson would never accept any money for her appearance. Instead, she would often put money right back into the community, shopping at the IMS Museum gift store for souvenirs and buying trinkets to take home to family and friends.
Florence Henderson Acts as Grand Marshal for Final Indy 500 Appearance
As fate would have it, at her last appearance before her death, Henderson acted as the race’s Grand Marshal. Days before the 100th Running of the Indy 500 in 2016, Henderson took over the duties after the scheduled marshal was stranded while traveling.
During her final visit, Henderson greeted drivers and dignitaries and delivered the “drivers to your cars” message. She also and rode in a parade car just before the start of the race.
“Just to hear the crowd at the parade was absolutely fantastic,” Henderson said at the time. “I’ve done that parade forever, but the crowd was huge.”
Just six months after gathering with her fellow Hoosiers, Florence Henderson passed away November 24, 2016. In the days following, the world and her home state mourned her loss. Track president Doug Boles tweeted that Henderson “shared a passion for the 500 that all @IMS fans have & she was an integral part of 500 pageantry & traditions each year. We will miss her.”
“She became one of us at the Indy 500,” longtime Indianapolis sportscaster Dave Calabro said. “She made you feel special because you were part of her family, and she considered race fans her family.”
“As popular as she was in her career, to be there at the event we all love, fans easily gravitated to her and appreciated that she was there,” Mario Andretti said. “Everybody could identify with her.”