Bicentennial bison arrives in Jennings County

NORTH VERNON — Jennings County is the first county in the state to have life-sized Bicentennial Bison in-place, decorated and even named — but the Jennings County United Way is not stopping there.

The first fiberglass statute, officially named Jonathan Jennings Bison, was introduced to the public March 11 during an open house at the Jennings County United Way Office Building on State Street in North Vernon.

“We were among the first to order our bison and I believe ours was the first one delivered and I know it is the first one to be decorated and displayed,” Jennings County Director Cheri Massey said.

In honor of Indiana’s year-long bicentennial celebration, the Indiana Association of United Ways is encouraging the 92 United Way County Offices across the state to participate in what is being called the statewide bison-tennial Public Art Project.

The Bison-tennial Public Art Project is designed to create a way that each county can highlight its own history and culture and also with other participating counties at certain programmed events, Massey said

The Indiana Association of United Ways decided to feature a statue of a bison in the art project because a bison appears in the Indiana State Seal.

Fiberglass artist Patrick Keough of Nebraska was contracted to design a life-sized statue of a bison and create a mold so that each county could purchase its own statue. The bison statues are each made of fiberglass, weigh less than 100 pounds and are delivered in their original plain white color. Once purchased, each county is encouraged to paint and decorate their statue with symbols that represent their own county.

The Jennings County Bicentennial Commission, St. Vincent Jennings Hospital and the Jennings County United Way County Way Office joined forces to raise money to purchase a bison statue for Jennings County.

“St. Vincent is involved in several community projects, but this one is especially fun, I hope people will get involved and share the fun,” St. Vincent Jennings Hospital Administrator Carl Risk said.

Jennings County High School Art Teacher Karen Chilman volunteered the 26 members of the high school’s National Art Honor Society to paint and decorate the bison. “The first day we had the bison was a snow day so several kids showed up at my house to get started. It was a good community service project and we had some good times, “ Chilman said.

“We wanted him to look like a real buffalo, so we painted him brown all over. Then, on a blue background, on one side of his back we painted symbols of our county now and, on the other side, we painted things from history,” freshman artist Abigal DeCamp said.

In addition to hosting an open house to officially introduce Jonathan Jennings Bison to the public, the Jennings County United Way also hosted a bison coloring contest and a contest to name the bison.

Pointing to the bison in the middle of the room, Jennings County United Way Vice President Beth Burnett said, “He’ll stay here in the office most of the time but he will appear at special events too. I am sure you will see him at the Day of Caring in April and there will be many other events as we go along.”