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Another in the Leading Light in History Series from Hawthorne Colleagues Brian Spangle

Author of Vincennes History You Don’t Know part one

Brian Spangle

When I was growing up, I never imagined that I would one day be the author of two books about Vincennes and Knox County history. I am a native of Knox County, raised on a farm in the northern part of the county. Like every Knox County student, I learned about early Vincennes history in grade school, specifically George Rogers Clark and William Henry Harrison, and had visited the Clark Memorial and Grouseland on school field trips. I can’t say that I knew much about other aspects of Vincennes history or the history of Knox County as a whole. I really had no special interest in history during my grade school and junior high years.

It was when I was in high school in the 1970s that a love of history developed. It was in those years, after the publication of Alex Haley’s book Roots and the airing of the subsequent miniseries on television, that the popularity of genealogy really exploded. I, like so many other people, became interested in my family history and it was through that hobby that I segued into an interest in history. I believe that many genealogists have experienced the same transition. There is a time to go beyond names and dates and focus on the bigger picture, the times people lived through and the things they experienced. As time passed, and even though the two do complement each other, I gradually became more engrossed in history than genealogy.

I then chose to major in History at Indiana State University and went on to get a master’s degree in that field. At ISU, I developed an interest in 20th century American history. So much happened during that period, from technological innovations to two World Wars to the Great Depression, that the time provided an endless choice of fascinating topics. Like many students, I had one professor, Dr. Herbert Rissler, who particularly inspired me. Dr. Rissler taught a class on (you guessed it) 20th century American history, which quickly became my favorite class. He had that rare gift of truly making his topic not only engaging, but relevant to the present day.

In 1986, I began working at the Knox County Public Library and, a few years later, found myself in charge of the library’s Historical Collection. In that job, I mostly dealt with family researchers, but also with patrons delving into a specific aspect of local history. Of course, Vincennes people place a heavy emphasis on the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the history that brings tourists to the city, and which had a national impact, but I gradually came to appreciate the later history, history that in my opinion had been neglected. The latter would include noteworthy local people, the growth of industry, agriculture, longtime downtown businesses, major fires and other tragedies experienced by the city, extreme weather, the changing role of women, and much more. It is all of these things that make up the totality of a community’s history. I learned more and more about that history over the course of my 30-year career at the library.

I became especially curious about the history of our library and published two historical calendars as library fundraisers.

McGrady-Brockman House

In 1999, thoughts were turning to the start of a new century, which led then Vincennes Sun-Commercial Managing Editor Bernie Schmitt to approach me about writing a weekly newspaper column that would take a look back at local history through the 20th century. Given my interest in that period, the project was a perfect fit for me. Still, with a full-time job, I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to a weekly writing deadline, but I decided to give it a try, wrote a few sample pieces, and the first column appeared in late February 1999. Twenty-two years and two published collections of columns later, I am still researching and writing the column each week, never having missed a deadline. That is more than 1,100 columns and counting.

I certainly had all of the necessary resources for research at my fingertips. While the Knox County Public Library already had an excellent collection of local history materials, in 2002 they opened the McGrady-Brockman House, a genealogy/regional history research center across from the main library. That facility combined several local collections making one large, centralized location for researching history and genealogy in Knox County.

In the beginning, I was confident of my writing ability, having written countless papers in college. Further, library staff members alternated writing a weekly column for the Sun-Commercial about library materials and services, so I had already written a couple of dozen columns for the paper, before starting my weekly column. I have also kept a journal for over 30 years. Any writer knows that this practice helps develop discipline and improves one’s craft.

I found that the column struck a chord with readers, in that the time period covered was more relatable to them. Afterall, many people who read the column had lived a part of that history, or at least heard their parents or grandparents talk about it. Others knew little about the early 20th century, so reading the columns was a real learning experience for them.

I appreciate the work of popular historians such as David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Ron Chernow, who, I believe write scholarly history while still making their books enjoyable and entertaining for the average reader. I make a real effort to write in a manner that will engage readers.

The column, which from the beginning was titled “Our Times,” underwent many changes over the years. It originally appeared in a now defunct Sunday supplement called “Currents” and later that year moved to a small box in the bottom left-hand corner of the editorial page. The column gradually increased in length (I always say I broke out of my little box) and I began doing more research and writing a little more in depth, occasionally doing two or three-part pieces. A few years ago, the column was moved to the obituary page (the page everyone looks at I was told). It now appears on the front page of the Lifestyle section and is published on Saturdays, since there is no longer a Sunday Sun-Commercial. At the start of 2021, I began submitting photos to accompany the column, something I had never done before, and which has certainly brought a lot of positive comment. Next Blog: Topics and Reactions

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Nelson Price: A Leading Light in Indiana History Today.

Hawthorne Publishing author of Indiana Legends and Host of Hoosier History Live

Here’s Nelson:

Photo courtesy of Hoosier History Live. See full description below*

Back in the late 1990s, after the first edition of my book Indiana Legends: Famous Hoosiers from Johnny Appleseed to David Letterman was published, a Kiwanis chapter in Indianapolis invited me to make a presentation. That’s where I first met Molly Head, a veteran radio producer and long-time Kiwanian. Several years later, our paths crossed again. Molly had cooked up a format for an interactive radio show that would explore all aspects of our state’s colorful heritage and approached me about being the historian host.

Today, more than 13 years since the debut of “Hoosier History Live” on WICR-FM (88.7), the live, one-hour radio show at 12 noon on Saturdays is only one aspect of a multi-media production. The history program now has its own history, with an archive of more than 580 shows ranging from a rotating series about ethnic immigration (“German heritage in Indiana”, “Irish immigration”, “Cubans in Indiana” and “Korean immigration” are among them) and town histories to shows exploring the sports, art, music, political and social heritage of the 19th state. Other programs have explored natural history, true crime, and the impact of the Palm Sunday tornado outbreak of 1965, the Blizzard of 1978, the Flood of 1913, and other natural disasters.

For the last three years, ever since associate producer Mick Armbruster joined our team, we have been podcasting our shows not just on our website at, but on Apple, Stitcher and other distribution networks for mobile devices that are a new frontier for a low-tech guy like me. But I certainly appreciate how – thanks to computers and smart phones – we have listeners who tune in to our live show from Fort Wayne, Elkhart, Corydon, Terre Haute and other points beyond the over-the-air frequency range of WICR-FM.

These folks – as well as retired Hoosiers in Florida – listen live by visiting our website or Transplanted Hoosiers overseas even listen to our podcasts in London and Romania. The latter expatriate grew up in Knightstown, became fascinated by the Titanic, and met his Romanian wife at a convention of fellow buffs. He discovered our show online when we did a “Titanic and Hoosiers” program. (Did you know there were 14 passengers from Indiana aboard the ill-fated ocean liner in 1912?)

If podcast listening “counts” are indicative of popularity, our most enticing recent shows have been “Epidemics in Indiana history” and “The Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919: The Second Wave”, both with medical historians as my guests. No explanation needed for why those topics would intrigue listeners during a pandemic year.

So what sparked my passion for exploring history? Once I realized it was about the stories of people — not the rote memorization of dates so many folks say turned them off in classrooms – I became captivated. I strive to shape our topics – even when they are about places, from scenic Rising Sun on the Ohio River to Lake Wawasee and Lake Maxinkuckee, our largest natural lakes– through the voices of people.

Photo courtesy of Hoosier History Live. See full description below**

Which brings me to an important point about preservation and interviewing. Although all of our earliest shows are not podcast online yet, I’m grateful we have saved our audio from the beginning, when the program was only 30 minutes. (After four years on the air, we expanded to one hour.) More than 50 of my guests – including several World War II veterans who were in their 90s when I interviewed them – have passed away since they joined me at the radio studio. They never again can tell their stories. To us, their oral histories are treasures.

There’s an additional aspect to the multi-media “Hoosier History Live” production. Molly, Mick and I put together an informational, free e-newsletter that’s blasted to history lovers and regular listeners across the state. The e-newsletter consists of history articles about upcoming shows, with photos and links embedded. You can sign up by visiting the website.

As you might expect, many of the famous Hoosiers featured in my Indiana Legends book have been “Hoosier History Live” guests. They range from basketball icon Bobby Plump and “Hoosiers” screenwriter Angelo Pizzo to astronauts, Indy 500 drivers and jazz great David Baker, who died a few years after his guest gig.

David Baker emerged from the Indiana Avenue jazz scene during post-World War II Indianapolis and became the conductor for the first orchestra funded by the Smithsonian Institution. When he was my “Hoosier History Live” guest, he had just returned from Egypt. He described how the orchestra played jazz by Indiana composer Hoagy Carmichael at the base of the majestic Pyramids – and how the Egyptians were enchanted by the music.

See what I mean by people stories?

Get Nelson’s book Indiana Legends by clicking back to the website.


*Image 1: Nelson Price (left), the host of “Hoosier History Live”, is joined by his guests after the broadcast of a show in 2014 that’s among several programs featuring Hoosiers who survived World War II. Guests on this show were 90-year-old Merrill “Lefty” Huntzinger (seated), who grew up on a Grant County farm, landed on Omaha Beach a few weeks after D-Day and received a Bronze Star for valor. The other guests were Stephen Hardwick of Indianapolis (standing, middle) and Duane Hodgin of Richmond (standing, right), co-authors of “World War II: Duty, Honor, Country: The Memories of Those Who Were There”, an anthology of interviews with more than 80 Hoosiers, including Lefty Huntzinger, who died six months after this guest appearance on “Hoosier History Live”.

**Image 2: For this “Scottish Heritage in Indiana” show on “Hoosier History Live” in 2015, host Nelson Price (left) was joined by guests Carson Smith (seated), past president of the Scottish Heritage Society of Indianapolis, and Lee Cloe (right), a charter member of the chapter. Since his guest appearance, Lee Cloe has passed away; the Scottish show was among a rotating series about ethnic immigration and heritage in the state.

Posted in Indiana History |

More on a Leading History Light: Fulton County’s Shirley Willard

Fulton County Museum. Photo © Phil Whitmer

Fulton County’s Shirley Willard, recognized by Hawthorne as a Leading Light in Indiana History Today and part of the Hawthorne family, has written several books.

In 1974 she published Fulton County Folks vol. 1 and in 1981 Fulton County Folks vol. 2. In 2003, she and Susan Campbell co-authored the Potawatomi Trail of Death – 1838 Removal from Indiana to Kansas which reprints Father Petit’s Trail of Death Letters and other articles, indexed by Susan Campbell, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. This book also includes family histories by Potawatomi who had ancestors on the Trail of Death, muster rolls, and histories of General John Tipton, William Polke, and St. Philippine Duchesne.

In 2010 Shirley authored Rochester, a pictorial history containing over 220 photos, published by Arcadia Publishing. Photos were from Fulton County Museum and Rochester Sentinel.

She continues as Fulton County Historian, appointed by Indiana Historical Society and continues to write a weekly history column for the Rochester Sentinel.

In 2019 Shirley retired from volunteer editor of two newsletters: “Potawatomi Trail of Death Association” (2005-2018), and “Fulton County Folk Finder (1982-2018)”. She had edited the Indian Awareness Center Newsletter from 1982-2004 when it was replaced by the Potawatomi Trail of Death Association newsletter, which she edited until 2018. She wrote articles for the website, which is owned and paid for by the Potawatomi Trail of Death Association.

Shirley spearheaded the planning and erection of over 80 historical markers for the Potawatomi Trail of Death. The last historical marker she helped with was for Mas-saw, a Potawatomi chieftess at Lake Bruce. The marker was erected in 2020.

In 2021 Shirley is publishing her fifth book, Fulton County, Indiana – The Luckiest County in the World. It is a history of Fulton County that begins with the excavation of mastodon bones and covers nearly everything up to today.

Shirley Willard and Tom Krasean of the indiana Historical Society

Shirley was the recipient of the Eli Lilly Lifetime Achievement Award from the Indiana Historical Society in 2017. In 2019 Shirley was named a Golden Hoosier by the state of Indiana, the Indiana Historical Society and American Association of Retired Persons, the highest honor the state of Indiana awards. She has been a staunch friend of the efforts of Hawthorne Publishing to publish interesting and important stories about the past in the state of Indiana, providing researching help for many projects and featuring our authors at the Fulton County Historical Society to tell their stories and share their books.

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Focus on Leading Lights in Indiana History Today: Hawthorne Recognizes Colleagues

Shirley Willard, Rochester, Indiana, is known from Indiana to Kansas for her work with the Potawatomi Indians, preserving their history and genealogy and honoring them with Trail of Death historical markers. She served as Fulton County Historical Society president for 30 years, 1971-2001. Shirley founded the Trail of Courage Living History Festival in 1976 as a Bicentennial project to honor the Potawatomi because northern Indiana was Potawatomi Territory when Indiana became a state in 1816.  She founded the Indian Awareness Center, as a branch of the Fulton County Historical Society, in 1982. Through this organization and as president of Fulton County Historical Society, this Fulton County resident led the efforts, and succeeded, in getting the 1838 forced removal of the Potawatomi declared the Trail of Death Regional Historic Trail in 1993-94. This was accomplished by getting resolutions passed by the state legislatures of Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas.

Shirley called dozens of people in the 26 counties from Indiana to Kansas and invited people to sponsor historical markers, so now there are over 80 markers. This probably makes the Trail of Death the best marked historic trail in the U.S. that was paid for by volunteers. In 1988, she contacted members of the Citizen Band Potawatomi of Oklahoma, most of whom have ancestors who signed treaties in Indiana in the 1830s. She and Citizen Band members organized the Trail of Death Commemorative Caravan to travel the original route, 660 miles from Twin Lakes, near Plymouth, Indiana, to Osawatomie, Kansas. The caravan traveled in 1988, 1993, 1998, 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2018. It acknowledged every campsite as recorded in the Trail of Death diary, stopping at many to give greetings and ceremonies to those gathered to meet them. They held special dedication ceremonies for each new marker. All markers were paid for by interested persons and organizations, such as county historical societies, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, youth groups, and some by Potawatomi families and tribal councils. No tax money was used.

Born in Morocco, Indiana, in 1936 to Charles and Maye (Nicewander) Ogle, Shirley (Ogle) Willard and her family (three brothers: John Charles “Sonny”, Paul, and Richard “Dick”) moved to Rochester in 1941. She has resided on a farm near Rochester ever since. Shirley graduated from Rochester High School in 1955, and Manchester College in 1959 with a BA in English, History and Spanish. She earned her MA in English from Ball State University in 1966 and then received a grant to attend Virginia State Teachers School at Petersburg for six weeks the summer of 1962, attending summer school in Guadalajara, Mexico, summer of 1963.

Shirley Willard taught high school (Rock Creek at Bluffton, Kewanna, North Miami, and subbed at Akron, Caston and Rochester) for 14 years and took students to Mexico several times.

She helped organize the Fulton County Historical Society in 1963 and served as its first secretary. As FCHS president 1971-2001, she spearheaded building the new Fulton County Museum in 1987, moving a Round Barn to the museum grounds in 1990, moving and restoring old buildings to make Loyal, a Living History Village beginning in 1992, a total of 14 buildings.

She has served as Fulton County Historian, appointed by Indiana Historical Society, since 1982. She has a special interest in round barns and has helped keep track of them, having established a National Center for Round Barn Information at the Fulton County Museum.

Shirley is now President Emerita of the Fulton County Historical Society, having retired on her 65th birthday, Sept. 28, 2001. She continues actively to work with history and preservation, giving speeches, writing history for newspapers and magazines, and volunteering at the museum.

Next: Shirley Willard’s written contributions to Indiana history.

The book Lords of the Rivers by Nancy Niblack Baxter was written with the cooperation on Fulton County residents and Shirley Willard.

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