ANDERSON — One hundred years ago, the gleaming blue pedestrian bridge that sits over the White River between Edgewater and Athletic parks was across the state helping travelers traverse another body of water.

Conceived in 1903, Hibbs Bridge originally crossed Coal Creek in Fountain County on the far west side of the state. After restoration, relocation and re-installation, the bridge now goes by a new name: the John F. Kennedy Bridge of Character, or Kennedy Crossing. Its dedication Saturday helped Anderson celebrate 10 years of its Character Counts program.

The opening of the new bridge, from which banners depicting Character Counts’ six pillars hung, was only part of Saturday’s festivities, during which Anderson children were honored for participating in the Character Counts program.

“We’re here to celebrate character, and we’re here to celebrate our community,” said Mayor Kris Ockomon as he and other Anderson officials and natives joined in cutting a long polka-dot ribbon that stretched across the bridge’s entrance.

Anderson Redevelopment Commissioner Joe Royer, along with resident Don Bates, a descendent of Chief Anderson; Anderson Community Schools superintendent Mikella Lowe; and Character Counts Madison County founder Don Peslis, also helped with the ribbon-cutting.

Before the dedication, throngs of students from Anderson and other county schools marched from Athletic Park, across Eisenhower Bridge and to Kennedy Crossing, much in the way a parade through town 10 years ago first brought Character Counts first to the county.

“It was 10 years ago today that we crossed (Eisenhower Bridge),” Peslis said.

Anderson resident Karen Downham brought her granddaughters Madison and Ashlyn to see the new bridge and watch their friend Tyler walk in the parade.

“I think it’s beautiful,” said Downham, who plans to bring her granddaughters to the parks and pedestrian bridge more often. “It’s a nice place to ride a bike and exercise.”

After the dedication, hundreds of community members made their way across the pedestrian bridge for the first time to Edgewater Park, where a Character Counts festival was waiting, complete with blow-up slides and activities, games, free food and entertainment. Rock band Daydream on Autopilot and country singer and Pendleton native Casey Jamerson performed, while Elwood Olympian Mary Beth Dunnichay signed autographs and answered questions.

Vonda Saylor brought her two children, both Forest Hills Elementary students, to the festival to celebrate the difference Character Counts has made for her children and their school.

“It inspires them, gives them a chance to have a challenge,” Saylor said. “It just starts with one person helping another person and spreads.”

The whole event had a big impact on little Hannah Banks.

“This is once in a lifetime,” she told Saylor.

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Character Counts

— Started in 1992 in Aspen, Colo. to develop a common language of core ethical values regardless of religious, political and socioeconomic differences

— Six Pillars of Character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, citizenship

— In Anderson, Character Counts is modeled in schools and at the Center for Character Development at Anderson University, designed as a resource center for parents, teachers and community leaders.

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