Dr. E. DeWitt Baker was the president of Huntington College from 1965 to 1981, bringing to the position the sensibilities and dedication of the missionary he had been for 16 years. Enrollment grew steadily in the Baker years. A residence hall, the Huntington Union Building were built, the Merillat Physical Education Complex was begun and Lake Sno-Tip was completed during his term as president. Baker was revered in the African nation of Sierra Leone, where he had served as a missionary. He was the driving force behind the establishment of a number of United Brethren in Christ mission schools there, including two high schools that brought literacy and hope for a better life to thousands. After he returned to Huntington, Dr. Baker used his contacts in Sierra Leone to gain a foothold in that country for a polio-eradication initiative that had been started in the late 1970s by Rotary International.
Arriving in Huntington County in 1853, the Bippus family was quick to make a lasting impact. The family patriarch, Jacob, helped to lay out the town of West Point, later renamed Bippus for his dedication and hard work. Jacob’s son, George Jacob Bippus, used his skills as a tinsmith to get his foot in the door of downtown Huntington businesses. He would later help advance Huntington by improving the canal system, bringing the railroad, and adding natural gas, oil, and electricity to the growing city. The family success continued to George Jacob’s son, James Frederick Bippus, who would build the grand LaFontaine Hotel and extending services to businesses, residences, and the general public.
In 1907, two men from North Manchester decided to open a company in Huntington and make the city “Home of the Cedar Chest.” Winfred Runyan and J. Wallace Caswell knew of no other company at the time that commercially produced cedar chests. The Caswell-Runyan company started as a 15,000-square-foot factory at 1025 E. Franklin Street, with seven employees. Ten years later the factory was expanded to include a line of floor lamps and telephone stands. In 1925 they added again to their products, developing the first commercially produced radio cabinets, and later juke boxes. Runyan died in December 1942, and Caswell one month later in January of 1943. The company continued and created a metal division to aid the war effort. It grew to multiple buildings and thousands of employees. One of the most devastating fires in city history destroyed the factory in 1962. Caswell-Runyan cedar chests are still sought after for their quality and value.
The four sets of twins of Harvey and Gertrude Clark of Andrews were already well-known nationally before the boys decided to form a basketball team called the Clark Twins and go on the road. The boy twins - Bob and Ross, Dale and Don, and Jim and Joe - barnstormed the Midwest. The twin girls - Mildred and Margaret - originally played a bit, but were known more for their singing as halftime entertainment. In one five-month stretch, the Clark Twins played 94 games covering 33 states. After winning two National Family Basketball Tournaments and being featured in Life Magazine, the Clark Twins caught the eye of Abe Saperstein, manager of the Harlem Globetrotters. They were part of the world tour as an opponent of the Globetrotters for four years. In 1951 alone, the tour covered more than 100 games in 14 countries, including playing before a record crowd of 75,000 in Berlin, Germany.
In just seven years, Gary Dilley went from learning to swim in Huntington’s Lake Clare to standing on a podium in Tokyo in 1964, wearing an Olympic Silver Medal around his neck. After winning 10 national YMCA titles under legendary Huntington coach Glen Hummer, Dilley won the 200 backstroke at the 1964 U.S. Olympic Trials. At the 1964 Tokyo Games, the 19-year-old Dilley placed second in the 200 backstroke, edged at the finish by teammate Jed Graef. Dilley continued his swimming career at Michigan State University, where he was a 12-time All-American, amassed eight Big Ten Titles and two World University Games gold medals. Following his time in the pool, Dilley became a pediatric dentist, teaching and running a private practice in North Carolina.
Elizebeth Smith Friedman was a pioneer of cryptanalysis who made national strides in breaking codes and protecting American lives with her work. The youngest of nine children, she was born in Huntington with a “God-given talent” to figure out things. She attended Hillsdale College in Michigan and graduated with a degree in English Literature while also studying numerous languages. She loved Shakespeare and spent much of her early post college years trying to decipher the Bard’s work. In 1917, Elizebeth married William F. Friedman, and the two worked together for the War Department in Washington D.C. Mrs. Friedman worked during the Prohibition Era to stop rum-runners and drug smugglers by deciphering their encoded messages and testifying against them in court. During WWII, she worked for the Navy solving German Naval Intelligence using Enigma machine codes. Her work is still being used today to combat organized crime and terrorism.
Dr. R.M. “Doc” Hafner was a civic force of nature who devoted the last half of a remarkable career to helping people and businesses in Huntington County prosper and grow. Reared on a family farm in Allen County, Hafner was an Army Air Corps pilot in World War II. He was a large-animal veterinarian who gravitated to banking and became chairman of the board and president of Community State Bank in 1971. In a remarkably influential 15 years of leadership in the financial sector, Hafner provided guidance, counsel, and financial support for an array of local businesses, from large corporations to individual entrepreneurs. Honors that came his way included a Sagamore of the Wabash from the state of Indiana and Chief of the Flint Springs Tribe from the Huntington County Chamber of Commerce.
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.
Helen Purviance, was the original Salvation Army “Doughnut Girl.” She figured out how to make the deep-fried treats from the scant supplies available in the front-line trenches of France during World War I. Born in 1889, Helen was enrolled as a soldier at the Huntington Corps in 1906. A year later she entered the Salvation Army’s officer training college in New York, N.Y. In 1908, she was sent to the front in France during World War I where she came up with the idea of making doughnuts to help comfort the soldiers. Working in the trenches at a short pot-bellied stove fueled by a wood fire, Lt. Colonel Helen said, “I was literally on my knees when those first doughnuts were fried, seven at a time, in a small pan. There was a prayer in my heart that somehow this home touch would do more for those who ate the doughnuts than satisfy a physical hunger.”
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.
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.
In 1904, Luke Scheer was born in Huntington County, and from an early age he was immersed in the rich native history of the area,. His mother Elizabeth was raised in St. Marys, Kansas, which had been a Jesuit Mission for the Pottawatomi. As a child, Scheer attended Miami-center events, such as the 100th birthday of Kilsoquah, the granddaughter of Little Turtle. As an adult, Scheer followed his interest in the Miami people. In 1943, he purchased the historical home of Miami (Myaamia) leader Jean Baptiste Richardville located at the Forks of the Wabash, near Huntington. He spent years researching and preserving the Miami culture. Through his work, he gained a reputation for being knowledgeable in Miami history and genealogy. He was a champion for the Miami’s rights and was dedicated to the goal of federal recognition of the Miami Indians of Indiana. He helped lay the groundwork for Huntington’s Historic Forks of the Wabash.
The writing career of humorist H. Allen Smith, who delighted readers worldwide in the middle of the 20th century, began as teenage cub reporter for the Huntington Press. Smith was born in 1907 in McLeansboro, Ill. His family moved to Huntington shortly after World War I. He left school after the 8th grade and joined the Press at age 15. By 1929 he had worked his way to New York City, where he honed his unique style. During World War II, Smith became one of the most popular authors in America. It was a time when people desperately needed a laugh, and he delivered. He burst into the literary scene in 1941 with the autobiographical “Low Man On a Totem Pole,” which included chapters detailing his exploits in Huntington. The last of his 37 books was published in 1970, six years before his death
Ivan "Kaiser" Wilhelm was considered the best all-around athlete of his time and is still known as one of the greatest all-time in Huntington. At Huntington High School, Wilhelm was the on-court leader of the Viking basketball team that made the state Final Four in 1945, and quarterback on the football team that was conference champion his senior year. Wilhelm earned all-conference honors in football and basketball, and was an All-State selection in 1947. He also played baseball, ran track and played tennis. Wilhelm went to Tulane University, where he captained the basketball team, earning MVP and All-Southeastern Conference honors as a senior. After earning his teaching degree, Wilhelm returned to Huntington in 1956, where he coached basketball for four years and taught high school math until his retirement in 1989. Wilhelm was elected to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.
Jerry Yeoman was one of those rare people who not only comes up with ideas but takes a leadership role in helping put the ideas into action. He started Yeoman Engineering in the garage at his home on North Lafontaine Street in 1959. Yeoman built his company into a successful and well-respected business producing high-quality precision industrial molds. He was active in the United Way and served on the Huntington County Medical Memorial Foundation for many years. His passion for building Huntington’s infrastruture led him to a co-found the Lime City Economic Development Commission and he was instrumental in the development of River Forks Industrial Park. His care for the people of Huntington County showed with his involvement in establishing Pathfinder Services, PAL and Little League (Gemmer Field) baseball, and the LaFontaine Center.