The Herald Bulletin

January 1, 2014

2013 Difference Makers


The Herald Bulletin

---- — When selecting the 2013 Community Person of the Year Award, The Herald Bulletin’s editorial board chose a handful of other nominees to recognize for their contributions to the Madison County area.

Stephon Blackwell

Anderson’s cost-cutting measures over the last few years seemed like they would threaten the maintenance of attractive city parks, one of the hallmarks of a thriving community.

In August, Stephon Blackwell — who had served previously for Mayor Kevin Smith’s administration — was named parks superintendent. His selection was a wise choice; he has enhanced Geater Center programs by partnering with others groups.

Though he was told the Geater Center had neither boxing equipment nor trainers, Blackwell found a way to start a boxing program, a sorely needed activity for youth. The Crumes Boxing Club — named for 1947 Indiana Golden Gloves champ Wendell Crumes — is a labor of love for Blackwell.

Also, under Blackwell’s leadership, a local youth football league has been a leader nationally in adopting the new safety standards set by USA Football in its Heads Up Football program.

Jim Brown

Following CEO Jim Brown’s leadership in recent United Way annual campaigns, Hoosier Park Racing & Casino has become the corporate leader in local community involvement. The casino pitches in generously with resources to help local organizations and people in need.

Hoosier Park had faced a tough battle in 2010 as its corporate owner, Centaur, turned to bankruptcy due mostly to a $500 million licensing fee owed to the state of Indiana. Assets were $580 million and liabilities were $680 million. The numbers were staggering.

But the filing for Chapter 11 never affected Hoosier Park’s day-to-day operation. Brown led his team through a bankruptcy that was resolved in 2011.

This year, Centaur took ownership of the Shelbyville racino, itself in bankruptcy. Also in 2013, Hoosier Park underwent major renovations, including the addition of a larger stage for entertainment. And new facilities are proposed for jockeys and trainers.

Behind the scenes, Brown and Hoosier Park have also been active in retraining retired racehorses.

Kevin Hummel and Elliott Swallows

Second Chance to Get It Right

Kevin Hummel has turned his life around. Sam Hanna, Elwood’s chief police, can attest to that change.

Some 14 years ago, Hummel was in a motorcycle gang that stole from Madison County residents. After he was sentenced to prison time, Hummel asked Hanna what he could do to regain his freedom and raise his two sons.

He went for his GED and participated in programs to better himself, Hanna recalled.

Elliott Swallows had also struggled with the law over the years.

Joining forces, Swallows and Hummel led the organization known as Second Chance to Get it Right to help others in 2013. They helped raise money to improve local parks, donated school supplies and collected more than 2,500 toys to assist Operation Love. In 2013, Hummel joined Hanna and Indianapolis Colts Chaplain Ken Johnson in presenting convocations to high school and middle school students.

Mary Jo Lee

It is no easy task to operate, day in and day out, a shelter to help women and children in crisis. But Mary Jo Lee, executive director at Alternatives Inc., and her staff maintain dignity and optimism with the women who come into the shelter.

Not solely a place to hide from abusive spouses, Alternatives works to educate its clients about domestic violence and how to break the cycle and seek stability. Each year is challenging for Alternatives as it seeks funding to keep its programs going – particularly during the federal sequester and a shift in state priorities.

Much of a shelter’s success relies on respect it receives from local law enforcement agencies, and all in this county trust Lee. Together they have successfully urged Ricker’s convenience stores to establish Safe Havens where victims can call for help.

Kleenco workers wear T-shirts calling for an end to domestic violence. And Alternatives is participating in the No More national program to reduce domestic violence.

Rudy Pyle

After graduating from Anderson University, Rudy Pyle began a master’s program in public policy at the prestigious College of William and Mary. He came back to Indiana to serve as a state trooper and began studying law.

Pyle worked his way through the prosecutor’s office and was appointed judge of Madison Circuit Court in 2009. There, he presided over major felony trials, directed the installation of wireless Internet access, promoted the increased use of technology, produced TV commercials promoting jury service, and was an advocate of problem-solving courts.

He was appointed to the Indiana Court of Appeals by Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2012. An innovative judge and dignified Hoosier, this year he received a distinguished alumni award from Anderson University.

Rob Sparks

Agree with the plan to build a reservoir in Anderson — or not — but most agree that Rob Sparks is a tireless promoter of the project.

As director of the Madison County Corporation for Economic Development, he found a novel way to change the face of Anderson by proposing to sell its water to Indianapolis by proposing the 2,100-acre, $450 million (at least) project.

Besides presenting the plan to various town and city bodies, which approved the concept, he obtained funding from the state for a critical assessment of the environmental and economical impacts the Mounds Lake reservoir would have on this community.

Sparks had the drive to seek a renewed vision for community spirit.