The man who would write the definitive history of early Huntington County got his start as the area’s original music man. Born in 1859 in Roanoke, Frank Sumner Bash was a farmer and had a piano and organ business. He was a singer and choirmaster, and taught and promoted music throughout the county. He headed many musical societies and performed across the country. Bash entered the world of journalism, eventually became editor of the Daily and Weekly Herald, where he remained for 17 years. In 1914, he compiled a book, “The History of Huntington County,” a two-volume, 850-page tome written with the help of U.S. Lesh, Monroe Wiley and Frank A. Miner. Bash continued to write about the history of Huntington County, interviewing county residents for a series of newspaper columns from 1922 to 1931. Many of the subjects were the county’s oldest residents who recalled their memories of the earliest days of Huntington County.
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.
Frederick Samuel Cooper Grayston was set up for a successful future in his native England when he and his new bride decided they would make a new life for themselves in America. They settled in Huntington, where Dr. FSC Grayston became one of the state’s top physicians and left a legacy in his adopted hometown that has lasted to the current day. Arriving in 1850 in Huntington, Grayston set up his medical practice. He continued his studies in Chicago, graduating in 1860. In 1864 he was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln as examining surgeon for invalid pensioners, an office he filled for twenty years. Dr. Grayston was committed to lifelong learning, and earned a master of arts degree from Butler in 1880 at the age of 57. He contributed numerous articles to the medical community that were widely published, and held memberships in several medical associations. He was active in many Huntington organizations. He was a voracious reader, and built one of the most extensive libraries in northern Indiana. All three of his sons and a grandson followed him into local medical practice.
Homer Hiner, born into a Huntington County farm family, was president of his high school senior class and played on a county champion basketball team. After a hitch in the Navy he returned home to open a diesel engine repair shop on Huntington’s south side. Before long he was driving his own truck and his company began securing hauling contracts. Hiner Transport quickly grew into a major regional carrier. His original complement of three trucks grew to a fleet of 132 tractors, 360 trailers, and 152 employees, and the trucks were a familiar sight on highways and byways for more than three decades. At home, Hiner was a key figure in civic projects from bicycle tracks to shooting ranges to all manner of assistance to community festivals. For decades he and his wife, Marj, supported, in ways large and small, advancement at Huntington and Ball State universities, Parkview Health, the Boys and Girls Club and the Historic Forks of the Wabash.
At the start of the 20th century, dentistry had yet to enter the modern age. Methods and tools were primitive, and there was little in the way of national organization for dentists to communicate or collaborate. Otto King was born in Huntington, and following his graduation from dental school, he returned to his hometown to begin his practice. Dr. King quickly became involved with dental organizations on a state and national level, rising to president of the Indiana State Dental Association. More importantly, as first General Secretary of the National Dental Association (now executive director of the American Dental Association), he founded the Official Bulletin of the National Dental Association. His publication, printed by Huntington’s Whitelock Press, united fellow dentists with a journal free of bias or special interests. Dr. King’s work was instrumental in ushering in the era of modern dentistry. Professional collaboration, innovation in the industry, and the implementation of dental ethics all advanced during his era.
John Kissinger was looking for a life in the military when he marched into the annals of history. He was serving with the Army in Cuba following the Spanish-American War when he volunteered for an experiment into the cause of the deadly yellow fever. Kissinger allowed himself to be bitten by mosquitoes carrying the disease, and he contracted yellow fever. Kissinger survived, and experiments allowed doctors to develop a serum, saving millions of lives. After his service, Kissinger returned to the United States, suffering several health problems, including the loss of the use of his legs. Kissinger and his wife moved to Huntington, but he was denied a pension and they became nearly destitute. Kissinger eventually regained the use of his legs, and funds were raised to build the couple a house in Huntington. Hailed as a hero when his story became known nationally, Kissinger was awarded a special gold medal by Congress in 1929.
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.
Fred Loew was a Michigan native who was among the earliest graduates of Huntington College. He returned to his alma mater just two years later — in 1904 — to teach botany and biology. Those pursuits led him into the broader study of agriculture, inspiring him to establish a degree program and an agricultural experiment station on campus. During World War I, Loew was tapped to organize 60 acres of community “victory gardens,” and that effort led to his being appointed in 1918 as the county’s first Agricultural Agent. He served just four years in that capacity, but is credited with championing the cold pack method of canning and introducing soybeans to northeast Indiana as a cash crop. Loew taught at Huntington College for more than 30 years, and during that time was instrumental in creating the school’s botanical garden/arboretum and its herbarium. The herbarium contains more than 12,000 plant species from Huntington County and survives to this day. Loew also championed development of local 4-H program and, as an influential fair board member, was a driving force in imparting a 4-H focus to the annual Huntington County Fair.
It was the golden age of college football, and Huntington native Harry Mehre experienced the game in just about every way possible. He went to the University of Notre Dame to play basketball, but was noticed by Irish football coach Knute Rockne, who convinced Mehre to join the football team as well, where he was the center on Rockne’s “Seven Mules” offensive line blocking for legendary George Gipp. Mehre and Rockne maintained a friendship after Mehre became football coach at the University of Georgia. Mehre put the Bulldog program on the map with an upset of national power Yale in 1929. He coached at Georgia for 10 years, then followed with a seven-year run coaching at the University of Mississippi, finishing with a career record of 98-60-7. Mehre joined the media side, writing for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more than 20 years he offered analysis and memories with his unique combination of insight and humor.
From a horseshoe pit in the backyard of their Grayston Avenue home, the Seibolds became the most famous family name in the sport. Curly and Bonnie Seibold made horseshoe pitching a family event for their children Bonita, Mark and Paris. All three became champions. Mark won world men’s titles in 1976 and 1979 to go along with a state-record 22 Indiana titles. Bonita was junior girls state and world champion in 1967, and Paris added junior boys titles in 1969 and 1971. Bonnie won 17 state championships, while Curly earned senior titles. Both have held leadership positions at the state and national level. Bonnie was national vice president for 28 years. Curly, Bonnie and Mark are all in the national and state halls of fame, and Bonita and Paris are both in the Indiana junior hall. Lee Seibold, son of Paris, is the third-generation champion in the sport, winning four straight Indiana junior championships.
Appointed by the Board of Trustees of the Methodist Memorial Home for the Aged in 1937, Dewey and Julia Souder moved to Warren, Indiana, from pastoring a Methodist Church in Roanoke to be Administrator of the Home in Warren. Dr. Souder served as Administrator for 28 years followed by his son, Philip E. Souder, who took over full leadership responsibilities in 1965. The current United Methodist Memorial Home CEO is David P. Souder (Philip’s son) who has served in that capacity since 1993. The United Methodist Memorial Home was founded on the philosophy of helping senior citizens fully enjoy their retirement years, a philosophy of fostering friendship, belonging, security, and dignity, by respecting individual privacy and independence while offering professional and thoughtful medical care and guidance. United Methodist Memorial Home owns and operates Heritage Pointe of Warren, Heritage Pointe of Huntington, and Heritage Pointe of Fort Wayne with 750 employees, over $85 million in assets and serves more than 900 residents at the three locations.
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.