Community & Public Service
Clare H.W. Bangs
During his life, Clare Hobart William Bangs earned many titles. He was known as a college president, city mayor, newsman, attorney, pilot, major land owner, and social advocate. But he made his mark on a national scale with another moniker — jail inmate.
Bangs was just 25 years old when he was named president of Central College in 1919, becoming the youngest college president in the country. The school’s name was changed to Huntington College and Bangs oversaw its rapid expansion.
He left the college in 1919, earned a law degree, and started his own law practice in Huntington. He was a fierce advocate for the poor and underprivileged until his death in 1973. He also owned the Huntington News and ran the newspaper for 37 years.
Bangs was elected mayor in 1934, and became a national figure when he was jailed for ignoring a court order to desist from providing city utilities to citizens struggling to pay for commercial services during the Depression. He spent 633 days and a bulk of his mayoral term behind bars in defiance of the order.
With his record of service, David Brewer has heard a lot of knocks on the door looking for his help. Since arriving in Huntington in 1963, Brewer has been involved in the launching of several organizations and sat in leadership of many others. He has volunteered his time to projects as varied as coaching PAL Basketball to helping restore the LaFontaine Center. The Cleveland native came to town after earning his undergraduate and law degrees from Indiana University and joined the firm of Bowers, Feightner & Palmer. He has held leadership positions in the Huntington County Bar Association, and has been admitted to practice before the U.S. Tax Court, the U.S. District Court, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Brewer’s lengthy resume of volunteering earned him the first-ever Charles Burgess Award from Huntington Kiwanis and the Herbert LaMont Award from Pathfinder Services. He was named the 1982 Chief of the Flint Springs Tribe.
John Albert Crago was with the United States Army’s 17th Ordnance Company in the Philippines when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Crago soon found himself in combat.
In the early months of 1942 and with supplies running out, American and Filipino soldiers were captured and force-marched to a prisoner of war camp, an event known as the Bataan Death March. Crago survived the brutal three-day march, but more than a thousand of his fellow American prisoners did not.
Crago spent four years in the horrendous conditions of Japanese prison camps, during which his weight fell from 140 to 95 pounds. Allied forces liberated Crago and the American POWs in September, 1945, ending 40 months of captivity. He returned to Huntington and married Florence Walters in 1947 and they had four daughters. He later served as National Commander of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor from 1983-84. Crago died in 2005.
Pete & Alice Eshelman
Pete Eshelman made a name for himself in the insurance world, but that was just the start. Working from his business base in Roanoke, the New Orleans native shifted gears two decades ago to become, with his wife Alice, a restaurateur with an international reach and reputation. Pete Eshelman had been a professional baseball player before meeting Alice, then an actress, in New York City when he worked with the Yankees’ front office. He gravitated to the world of risk-management insurance, and that took them both to Fort Wayne when he joined an industry-leading agency. He soon struck off of his own and established American Specialty Insurance, which counted some of the largest sports and entertainment endeavors in the country as clients. Its in-house restaurant, named Joseph Decuis for one of Pete’s ancestors, won immediate acclaim as one of Indiana’s finest dining establishments. The Eshelmans expanded the Joseph Decuis brand beyond fine dining into upscale lifestyle offerings of all sorts, which included raising Wagyu beef cattle on their farm north of Roanoke. Those efforts have brought them recognition among the leading figures in the farm-to-table dining movement in America.
Much of the preservation of Huntington County’s historic sites and the embrace of its rich heritage through festivals and educational programs can be traced directly to the life’s work of Jean Gernand. Reviving the Junior Historical Society in 1975 led directly to the popular Forks of the Wabash Pioneer Festival and the restoration of the Chief Richardville House. Her efforts have targeted numerous sites for preservation, and her research and expertise have carried the county’s heritage and culture into current day for education and celebration.
During an adult lifetime of service to her adopted home community, Marj Hiner has taken leadership positions with scores of boards, committees, and community projects. She was instrumental in establishing the current local chapter of the American Business Women’s Association, which has raised thousands of dollars in scholarship assistance for Huntington County students. Her long political association with Dan Quayle was highlighted when she spearheaded local preparations for his historic visit to Huntington with Republican presidential nominee George H. W. Bush in August, 1988, that launched the Bush-Quayle ticket’s successful campaign for the White House.
Most well known for her role in building the Indiana Room at the Huntington City-Township Public Library well before it was moved to its present location, Joan Keefer has dedicated over 40 years to the library, the city, and the county of Huntington. Her knowledge and memory of people and places surpasses anyone’s expectations. From teaching genealogy and local history to classes of school children, to assisting in finding long-lost grandparents to patrons who walked in the library or contacted her as County Historian and County Genealogist, Keefer has helped thousands of people. The complilation of materials has been a valuable resource in preserving the history of Huntington County and its people.
For all that she packed into her life, May Kay LaMont needed every one of the 102 years she spent on this earth. Above all, her dedication to the children of Huntington County will be her legacy. That passion led to Kay LaMont spearheading the raising of funds for the creation of Kids Kampus, the child-care arm of Huntington’s Pathfinder Services. She was a trailblazer, as the first woman to serve on the Huntington College Board of Trustees, and in 1981 was the first woman to be named Chief of the Flint Springs Tribe for her service to the community. While on the Pathfinder Foundation Board of Directors, she was integral in creating the Herbert LaMont Award in honor of her late husband in 1986. The LaMont Award honors a member of the Huntington community who has gone above and beyond in the service to those with developmental disabilities.
Emmaline "Emmy" Purviance Henn
Native New Yorker Emmaline “Emmy” Purviance Henn left her adopted hometown of Huntington twin legacies -- a place for adults to live in dignity and comfort, and a place that helps children fulfill their potential. Emmy’s family moved to Huntington in 1943 and she married businessman Don Purviance in 1946. As a homemaker, she became involved in local civic and church boards and eventually stepped into leadership roles, first with the LaFontaine Center Restoration, then with the Boys and Girls Club of Huntington County. The LaFontaine Hotel held wonderful memories for Emmy. When the decaying hotel was at a crossroads in 1981, she helped lead a not-for-profit effort to restore the building as housing for older adults. Don Purviance died in 1999. Emmy married Robert Henn in 2004 and she remained one of the city’s most influential and esteemed citizens until her death in 2014.
Father Ron Rieder
For more than 30 years, Fr. Ron Rieder has been a spiritual leader in the Huntington community as priest of the SS. Peter and Paul parish. In addition to leading his own parish, Fr. Ron has been active throughout Huntington, serving on boards of numerous organizations. He serves as chaplain to the police and fire departments and ministers to inmates at the Huntington jail. Fr. Ron was instrumental in the renovation of the St. Felix Monastery when he had once studied as a young novitiate in the 1950s.
Melvin (Mel) Ring
In 1963, Mel Ring left a career in radio to open a Sherwin-Williams Paint store in downtown Huntington. He was a member of City Council in the early 1970s when Huntington developed its downtown pedestrian shopping mall, and his vision for the future of the community helped organizations like River Forks Industrial Park, Lime City Economic Development Corporation, the Historic Forks, the Dan Quayle Foundation, Habitat for Humanity and the Boys and Girls Club become established. For nearly 60 years, the lessons of progress, cooperation and goodwill taught by Mel Ring have improved countless lives in the community he has served.
Walter Rusk had a profound influence on Huntington County still evident today. As county agricultural agent for more than 20 years, he helped local farmers to modernize methods. He advocated for young people and developed one of the top 4-H programs in Indiana. Serving as county agent from 1941-63, Rusk was an important liaison between the rural community and the Huntington business community. He established the annual Achievement Night that was the social highlight of the year for both the rural population and city folk. His lasting influence was on the young people of the county. He created the Rural Youth program, an organization with activities for young people after high school that was eventually adopted all over the state. Rusk bolstered the Huntington County 4-H program, building one of the largest enrollments in the state. He had the vision for the local 4-H Fair, making the focus on the youth and their projects instead of adding a carnival midway — a model that continues to this day.
Arthur Sapp put Huntington, Indiana, on the international map when he was elected as the president of Rotary International in June of 1927. Originally a teacher, Sapp earned his law degree and started a practice in Huntington in 1912. He was prosecuting attorney for three terms. In addition to his involvement in Rotary, Sapp was involved locally with the YCMA and was a founding member of the Huntington County Red Cross among numerous other local and state organizations.
Gene Snowden has never been shy about expressing his love for Huntington County, and he has spent his life in service to its residents. He has served the community in a number of elected offices. He first served on Huntington County Council, then followed with election to the Indiana House of Representatives and eventually the Senate. He later retuned to Huntington to serve as auditor, and finally won election as mayor, where he oversaw expansion of business and technology.
Thais Wilhelm stepped away from her duties as office manager for the Huntington County Sheriff’s Department in 1985 and made history a year later as Indiana’s first popularly elected female county sheriff. The 1947 Huntington High School graduate entered pubic service in 1958 and became well-known in the community for her clerical work at a succession of government agencies. After joining the Sheriff’s Department, she rose to the rank of office deputy – a uniformed position managing the administration of both the sheriff’s department and the Huntington County Jail. In 1985, she was named interim sheriff by Sheriff Ray Williams when he resigned the post, then was elected sheriff from a field of six candidates in a Democrat special election to fill Williams’ unexpired term. A year later, she made Indiana history when she was elected to a four-year term in her own right. That was followed by a second full term in 1990. Sheriffs are limited to two terms, and she retired in 1994. As sheriff, she instituted the inmate trusty system at the jail, and in retirement, she stayed active in community affairs and in the congregation of Central Christian Church.