Legacy of helping others

Adrian Minnick was highly successful throughout the first 65 years of his life. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II and, according to family members, was the youngest person to be promoted to the rank of major. Later, as a lieutenant colonel, he served on the staff of the legendary Gen. Omar Bradley and was involved in the planning for the D-Day invasion.

Following his discharge, he settled in Columbus and accepted a position with the Noblitt Sparks company. Later, after it had been renamed Arvin Industries, he rose through the executive ranks, retiring in 1980 as vice president of administration.

He was successful at many roles, but I suspect he would take an equal amount of pride in the one he played in retirement — that of a little old man who couldn’t read.

Make no mistake, Adrian could read and write, but to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of children who went through Bartholomew County schools he played the role of a sad old man who missed out on so much in life because he couldn’t read.

He played to the hilt the part of a gifted toy maker who received from his fans hundreds of letters, none of which he could read. When his wife had to leave home for several days, she left behind a written shopping list for staples such as spaghetti, rolled oats and sugar, but unable to decipher those written words, he purchased wax paper, salt and soap flakes.

The children, second- and fourth-graders and special needs students, thought so highly of his performances that he continued appearing before them for more than 20 years. The little old man who couldn’t read was but one of many steps Adrian took throughout his retirement years to contribute to the betterment of the community in which he lived.

He died at the age of 100 on Jan. 22 at Our Hospice of South Central Indiana inpatient facility. He had been slowed by his advancing years, but for more than two decades he was one of the most active volunteers in the history of this community.

He began playing his role of the little old man who couldn’t read in 1981, the year after he retired, through the Reading is Fundamental program sponsored by Columbus Service League.

“My daughter talked to my neighbor,” he recalled in a 1985 interview. “She told her I’d be glad to help with the (reading) program because I’m such a big ham.” On a more serious note he added that “we always liked to work with our children, and I enjoy working with other kids.”

The urge to stay involved took Adrian in a variety of different directions. At about the same time he began work in the RIF program, he also started giving tours as part of the Columbus Area Visitors Center. Part of his success stemmed from his interest in local architecture — “I don’t think I’ve ever guided a tour without learning more than I taught” — but a lot had to do with his easygoing personality.

He never tired of taking on new challenges that took him far afield from what he had done in his working career. When the newly formed Volunteers in Medicine opened the doors of its clinic in 1996, Adrian was on hand to help low-income clients obtain free services.

Sometimes he called on the skills he had adopted in his earlier years to help others. While he was guiding tours for the Visitors Center and playing the little old man who couldn’t read in the early 1980s, he was also preparing taxes free of charge for local residents.

Volunteerism became a way of life in the Minnick family. His daughter, Sandra Oliverio, was selected as The Republic’s 2006 Woman of the Year in great part for her volunteer work as a senior project mentor for Columbus East High School students and as chairwoman for the scholarship committee of the local Purdue University Alumni.

In her acceptance speech, she credited her family for the involvement, citing Adrian’s role as well as that of his wife and her mother, Helen, who was Sandra’s Girl Scout leader, Sunday school teacher and 4-H leader.

Adrian’s involvement did not go unnoticed in the community. He received a number of awards for his retirement activities, including the Friend of Education award presented to him by the Columbus Educators Association and the Samaritan of the Year honor bestowed by the Kiwanis Clubs of Columbus.

But I think he got the most fun out of a compliment paid to him in 2002, the year he decided to give up his role of the little old man who couldn’t read. It was provided by the mother of a student at Parkside Elementary School who approached him while he was setting up props for his performance. She asked what he was doing, and when told about the preparations for the skit, she said, “You mean that little old man can’t read yet? He couldn’t read when I was in school.”

Adrian Minnick left behind some lasting memories. That was just one of them.

Harry McCawley is the former associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached at harry@therepublic.com.