When the torch passed through Jennings and Scott counties September 17, 38 torchbearers brought their personal and state histories to the route. Here are four of their stories.
Raymond Jones of Scottsburg, IN, currently serves as the vice president of the Scott County council and is an EMS adviser who recently had the Raymond W. Jones Emergency Medical Services Complex named in his honor.
A “Hoosier through and through,” Jones previously served in Korea and the National Guard. When he saw the email notifying him that he had been selected to be a torchbearer, he experienced a “gamut of emotions.”
“[I was] a little bit surprised, a little bit humbled … when you settle it all down, then I was very honored,” Jones said.
Before the relay, Jones was apprehensive but excited. He received the torch from the mayor of Scottsburg and carried it in a 1934 fire truck.
“I carried the torch through our veterans’ memorial on the courthouse lawn … of course I’m a vet and a retiree,” Jones said. “I can’t tell you what the emotions were, they were mixed … I was pleased to be able to do that.”.
For Jones, the bicentennial is “a culmination of 200 years of progress” and “a good recognition of our history and where we’ve come from and where we’ve been.”
Miss Indiana USA Morgan Abel of North Vernon was one of 20 torchbearers for Jennings County. For her, Indiana means growth, change, future promises and most importantly, it means safety and security.
“As Miss Indiana USA, I wanted to use my year to shatter the stigmas associated with Mental Illness. I am a full time psychiatric nurse and it hurts me to hear stories about individuals who were scared to seek treatment due to fear of retribution,” Abel said. “Today, I carry a torch as an ambassador not only for the state of Indiana and my amazing hometown, but I carry it for every individual who has been impacted by any type of mental health diagnosis.”
Going into the relay, Abel felt nerves comparable to walking on stage to compete, but she was extremely excited and fortunate to be a part of history.
“I am so proud to tell people I am from North Vernon. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’m incredibly thankful that I was chosen to be a part of this community event,” Abel said. “This is a memory I will be able to share with my children in the future.”
Dan Wright is the mayor of Vernon, Indiana, one of only two Indiana towns with a mayor. In the past, only cities had mayors. He has served as Vernon’s mayor for 14 years but did not expect to be selected as a torchbearer.
Vernon’s bicentennial was actually in 2015, because the town was established one year before Indiana became a state. Vernon’s current population is 323, and North Vernon has approximately 6,500 residents.
“In a small community, I think that I was the person selected to bear the torch, but I think it was an honor for a lot of our citizens because we do a lot of things where we don’t have a lot of resources … we have a lot of people who do a lot of things in our community, so it’s really kind of nice to represent that community spirit that we have,” Wright said. “It’s a very nice feeling that we as a community have been around for 200 years and we’re still growing and developing and hopefully making a difference in our nation and in our world.”
A town ceremony and proclamation took place when the torch came to Vernon. The torch went through Vernon, up to North Vernon, and then travelled back by train to Vernon before moving to Jefferson County.
“The first train in Indiana ran from Madison up to Vernon and North Vernon came into existence because there wasn’t any place to expand the railroad in Vernon,” Wright said. “We felt that that was an important part of our history, so we had the current and the former mayors of Vernon and of North Vernon and we rode on the train … One of the former mayors of North Vernon was the torchbearer who came back to Vernon.”
For Wright, one of the most memorable moments for him was the way he carried the torch. He was asked to think of unique ways to carry the torch, so he chose to ride in a Crosley pickup truck that was built in 1948.
The developer of the Crosley car formerly owned the Cincinnati Reds as well as property across the river from Vernon, which is now known as the Crosley Fish & Wildlife Area.
Wright gave the torch to John Whitcomb of Indianapolis.
Whitcomb was chosen as a torchbearer in honor of his grandfather, Edgar Whitcomb, who served as governor of Indiana from 1969-1973.
Edgar Whitcomb was supposed to carry the torch, but he passed away in February at age 98.
When John Whitcomb was notified that he had been selected as a torchbearer, he was confused as to why the state would want him to do it. The state initially approached John’s mother with the position, but due to her busy schedule, John was selected.
“After the initial confusion, I embraced it and I figured it’d be a great honor,” John Whitcomb said. “I just don’t want to let him down. I figured if he had the ability to see me doing this today that he’d be pretty proud … I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio … I moved back into Indiana when I was five, but it’s definitely been my home. Indiana means a great deal to me.”
“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total; of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.” -Robert Kennedy Thank you to the four torchbearers who shared their stories and became part of history.