Image: West Baden Springs Hotel
PR NEWSWIRE
An aerial view of the West Baden Springs Hotel — one of the winning destinations that the Indiana Office of Tourism offered to its Web site contestants as part of a state tourism campaign. Sharon Byerly's tale of ruined proms won her a three-day trip to West Baden and adjacent French Lick.
updated 8/1/2007 11:54:24 AM ET 2007-08-01T15:54:24

Sharon Byerly showed up solo at her senior prom in spring 1967 because her date — the man she married months later — was half a world away serving in Vietnam.

And it wasn't the first time a prom was ruined. The year before, Byerly's junior prom was staged at the stately French Lick Springs Hotel and it was a solo affair too because her future husband, Darrell, had just been called up for the draft.

Byerly's tale of ruined proms won the couple a three-day trip to West Baden and adjacent French Lick through an online contest run by the state's tourism agency. About 3,600 contestants competed for three free trips to Indiana tourist destinations.

In her brief story posted on the Indiana Office of Tourism Development's Web site, Byerly told of her "40 year wish" to someday visit French Lick with her husband, writing, "I have always hoped to go there together."

The 58-year-old and her 60-year-old husband will be staying at the West Baden Springs Hotel, not far from the French Lick casino, with Byerly's brother and sister-in-law.

Byerly hopes the trip is memorable for her and her husband, both retirees from Greenville, who will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in November.

"When we got married we immediately started a family, got busy and didn't have the bucks to go down there or anything," she said Tuesday. "I always thought it would be neat for him to get a chance to go, and now that's going to happen."

The contest's two other winners collected trips for four to Indiana Beach in Monticello and nearby Lafayette and Holiday World & Splashin' Safari and Evansville. Among other perks, the three winners receive a $500 gas card, a digital video camera and free local lodging.

The contest was the second part of an effort by the state tourism agency to familiarize people with its Web site that began with a challenge to Hoosiers to select their three favorite Indiana destinations.

Out of 12 sites listed, about 92,000 online votes were cast before the top three sites the winners are headed to were chosen, said Curt Brantingham, a spokesman for the Indiana Office of Tourism Development.

"The overarching theme is to get people interested in Indiana, especially Hoosiers and folks who are not wanting to travel far, whether it's gas prices or economic reasons. It's a chance for us to showcase the state," he said.

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Brantingham said the agency's latest research suggests that about 59 million people a year visit Indiana tourist sites each year, adding about $9 billion to the state's economy.

The winner of the Indiana Beach/Lafayette trip, Dawn Harper of Fort Wayne, said in her entry that she's a single mother of three who was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago. Harper wrote that her illness has been hard on her children and she wanted something nice for them.

"I would love to take my kids away for a special day together as a family that they would never forget," she wrote.

Laura Day of LaPorte won the Holiday World/Evansville trip.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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