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Community & Public Service

Clare H.W. Bangs


During his life, Clare Hobart William Bangs earned many titles. He was known as college president, mayor, publisher, attorney, pilot, major landowner, and advocate for the poor and oppressed. But he made his mark on a national scale as a county jail inmate.

Charles and Virginia Bangs were farmers near Auburn. They had five children, including Clare, who was born in 1890. All five of the children graduated from Tri-State College and would go on to careers in education.

Clare H.W. Bangs was just 19 years old when he became superintendent of high schools in Steuben County. He continued his education, studying at King’s College of Oratory in Pittsburgh, Indiana University, and the University of Chicago.

In 1912, he joined the faculty of Central College in Huntington, where he taught sociology and philosophy. In addition, he organized and taught classes for Italian immigrants working on the Erie Railroad. Classes were often held in railcars. Bangs had to arrange for alternate facilities when enrollment reached 200.

In 1915, at age 25, he was named president of Central College, becoming the youngest college president in the country at the time. During his five-year tenure, the school was renamed Huntington College, and Bangs married Nellie Binning, the head of the school’s English Department.

As president, Bangs worked with local leaders to improve relations between the city and the school. He tripled the number of volumes in the school library. Many new classes were added and he gained state accreditation for the college. A list of 8,000 prospective students was developed and Bangs personally met with 1,200 of them. He greeted arriving students at train depots and drove them to campus. In his time as president, enrollment grew from 81 in 1914 to 225 in 1918.

Bangs resigned as president in 1919 and went to Columbia Law School, graduating in 1922. His distinguished work earned him an opportunity to study international law with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in France. He took his wife and two young children with him as he attended the University of Paris. They lived there for two years, and Bangs and earned a Doctor of Law degree.

Upon returning the United States in 1924, Bangs established a law practice in Huntington. He was known for his folksy manner in the courtroom but was a fierce advocate for the underprivileged, having spent time in the poorest sections of Chicago and St. Louis. He often lectured on social issues and was known as a leader in working toward solutions of social problems.

Bangs bought the Huntington News in 1932. Two years later, the News had its gas and electricity cut off for bills that were allegedly unpaid. Bangs continued to publish his newspaper, using an automobile engine to power his press. That incident spurred Bangs to run for mayor in 1934. He campaigned for municipal ownership of public utilities. He was elected and took office in 1935. At the time, a city-owned utility provided services for municipal needs, but a commercial utility, Northern Indiana Power Company, provided electricity for citizens. It was the Depression, and many people struggled to pay for basic services and were cut off by the NIPC. Bangs thought that was wrong during the difficult times. He used the smaller city power plant to provide utilities to those people. The NIPC obtained a court injunction to stop Bangs, but the mayor ignored it and was jailed for contempt.

He spent a good portion of his mayoral tenure in jail, from May to August 1935 and from July of 1936 to September of 1937. Behind bars, Bangs stayed busy, continuing to run his newspaper, doing clerical work for the sheriff and writing his autobiography. There was even a movement to draft him as a candidate for governor of Indiana. The case earned Bangs wide national notoriety. It was said at the time that a letter addressed to “C.H.W. Bangs, U.S.A.” from anywhere in the world would reach him at the Huntington jail.

Bangs was defeated in his re-election bid for mayor in 1938 but was back in jail for 306 days in 1940. He was finally released on Christmas Eve, 1940, after a total of 633 days behind bars. A judge declared at that point “the law had been satisfied.” After his tumultuous term as mayor, Bangs continued to serve the Huntington community. He remained in active practice as a lawyer until shortly before his death.

During construction of the area reservoirs, the government was purchasing land for the projects. Some residents who were being displaced felt they were not receiving fair value for their land. Bangs successfully took on their cases and won the owners full value.

Bangs continued to publish the Huntington News until 1969. He even took up flying at the age of 52 and flew around the country on business. He was involved in many service and philanthropic organizations. A one-time quarry he owned on the city’s east was donated to local government, and was eventually renamed Lake Clare in his honor. He died Oct 3, 1973.

In 1952, Huntington College named him its first “Alumnus of the Year,” and in 1966 the school presented Bangs with an honorary doctorate. Clare and Nellie Bangs were active members of College Park Church for more than 60 years. They were posthumously awarded the Huntington College Centennial Medallion in 1997 in recognition of their significant positive contributions to the school.

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