23 people on a task force in Allen County have been in charge of planning a year’s worth of events to celebrate Indiana’s bicentennial.
“We tried to include as much of the community as possible … to do things that people will engage in for a longer period of time then just a day or even longer than the bicentennial year,” Curt Witcher, county coordinator, said.
Allen County has held events such as All-In, a community festival, and the “Be A Tourist in Your Own Hometown” day, where 16 Fort Wayne museums and attractions offered free admission to encourage residents to explore the city.
Allen County’s trail system allows access through nearly all of the county by bike, and 19 legacy parks along that trail will soon have metal benches through the Bicentennial Bench Project. This project was one of several that will last even though the torch has crossed county lines.
“They’re gonna have the bicentennial state logo cut out of the medal and then Indiana 1816-2016, so at least for a generation people will know hey, in 2016 we celebrated our 200th birthday,” Witcher said.
The torch started in Allen County on October 1st on the courthouse green. 26 torchbearers brought the torch through Allen County into DeKalb county. The relay route passed historic cemeteries, bridges, schools and places of worship to honor the history of Allen County and recognize the contemporary advancements currently taking place, such as the downtown renewal of Fort Wayne.
For Witcher, Indiana’s bicentennial has a personal meaning because his ancestors have been in Indiana since the 1820s.
“In a personal way, the history of Indiana is kind of the history of my family,” he said. “I’ve always been a fan of local history and of family history. I work in the genealogy center here in the Allen County Public Library … it’s just a neat way to kind of bring history to life.”
Another aspect of Allen County’s bicentennial is the 200 @ 200 project, spearheaded by Todd Maxwell Pelfrey, executive director of the History Center. 200 artifacts were identified and are on display at the Center and online. The Center’s displays are showcased for three months before returning to storage or a permanent display.
“We were looking for a way to highlight our community’s human history during the state bicentennial celebrations, and we decided to condense the entirety of human history down to 200 objects in celebration of the state’s 200 years of statehood,” Pelfrey said. “The pieces themselves are arranged by monthly themes.”
The themes were developed, and then items from the center’s storage and permanent displays were selected to fit those themes. January’s theme was iconic Fort Wayne, and October’s theme deals with public safety.
Pelfrey said all items were from the Center’s 28,000 object collection.
“Deciding on 200 pieces was quite daunting, and we had some wonderfully spirited conversations about which objects and which stories to highlight, and we feel really, really confident that what we have presented is a great overview of our community’s experience over the past 200 years,” Pelfrey said.
Two torchbearers carried some of Fort Wayne’s history and their family history along with the torch.
Todd Sidel carried the torch posthumously for his father, Alan Sidel, who was a family physician.
“My dad actually had died three years ago, but I nominated him as a candidate for torchbearer … he had a very successful, thriving family practice,” Sidel said. “At the time of his death, he had about 4,000 active patient charts and he was the medical director at three different nursing homes.”
Sidel said that he still hears stories from people who were affected by his father in some way.
“It’s a great honor to have the opportunity to have him recognized yet one more time for his service and the things that he did,” Sidel said. “When I was growing up, I didn’t really appreciate it nearly as much as I did as I got older … I knew that he was important to people because whenever we would go out in public, he was always greeted by someone who knew him … we couldn’t go to the grocery store without someone coming up to him and saying hi.”
Jacob Feichter is a 99 year resident of Allen County. His grandfather, a Swedish immigrant, moved to Fort Wayne in 1858, and his father built the house he grew up in.
“[Fort Wayne] has meant permanence of employment (70 years), good housing, friendly people, reasonable living costs and good restaurants,” Feichter said. “I enjoy geography and have been to most counties. Short trips are enjoyable to my wife Lucille and myself. October 3rd is our 75th anniversary celebration.”
Feichter, a former realtor and home builder, said Indiana’s population has grown and educational opportunities are better. When he started in real estate, many Indiana residents didn’t have electricity.