Columbus is no stranger to torch relays. I seriously doubt anyone has kept a running tally on the number of times a torch has been passed from hand to hand within our city limits, but Columbus has been on the route of a number of torch relays in recent memory.
The shortest on record would probably have been the May 19, 1987, relay that ended with Dr. John Rodway, president of the Columbus Rotary Club at the time, passing a lighted torch to a mascot for the White River Park State Games on the steps of City Hall. The relay had begun a few minutes earlier at Bartholomew County Hospital.
Most likely the biggest on record would have been the run through the city of the torch that was used to start the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. People were lining the streets along the route locally to cheer on their neighbors who had been selected for the honor of carrying and passing on the torch that eventually wound up in the hands of Muhammad Ali, who lit the Olympic flame.
And then there was the torch for the 2001 World Police and Fire Games. It had been passed all over the state in advance of the event that pitted emergency responders against each other, but in Columbus it was limited to a lap around Fair Oaks Mall.
It was short, but it was impressive for those who watched 13 Columbus police officers and firefighters jog for two miles chanting in military style the cadence “All my life I’ve wanted to be a hard core member of the ERT.” Sights and sounds like that tend to stick in a lot of memories.
There is no word on whether anyone will be chanting during the next notable torch relay in Columbus, but I can guarantee that the participants will be getting a lot of attention along the route.
Columbus and Bartholomew County will be joining the rest of the state in celebrating Indiana’s bicentennial next month. One of the principal celebrations will be a statewide relay in which a lighted torch will be carried through each of the 92 counties.
Bartholomew County’s turn comes Sept. 18 beginning in Hope and culminating later in the day on the plaza of the Bartholomew County Public Library. Unlike traditional relays, however, this one will not be on foot.
“We’ve got a schedule to keep,” said Lynn Lucas, retired director of the Columbus Area Visitors Center and organizer of the local leg of the bicentennial observance. “It would be nice if we could have runners passing on the torch, but that could be tough to do given some of our ‘runners.’”
The participants were chosen by nomination, with more attention paid to their contributions to the community rather than their ability to run a mile in less than 10 minutes. Besides, a number of the participants are of an age that running is at best a distant memory.
The senior participant in the local leg of the relay would be Merrill Clouse of Hope, a World War II veteran who owned and operated Clouse’s Market on the Hope Town Square. He is well into his 90s. Also in the 90-year-old category would be Gene Gurthet, former longtime director of the Columbus Boys Club.
In a bow to age and the schedule, the torch will be carried, not by runners, but by riders. Normally, it would be pretty boring to watch a torch whiz down a road or street held out some car window, but Lynn and her organizing committee have given the event a generous share of variety.
The riders will be transported by a blend of conveyances. Some of the transportation will be a recognition of the participant. For instance, Paul Ashbrook, organizer of the highly successful Hope Ride, will be mounted on a bike for his leg of the relay.
Then there’s sentiment. Don and Dody Harvey will be tooling along in the 1933 Plymouth automobile he once drove as a youth and later restored.
I’m not sure who will be aboard, but one of the more unusual conveyances for the relay will be an airplane, pulled somewhere along the route by some form of ground transportation.
Emotion also will play into the relay. Several of the participants will be carrying the torch in honor of individuals who are no longer with us.
Columbus attorney Pete King, a member of the local Rotary Club, will be paying tribute to the late Bob Stewart, three-term mayor of Columbus and a dedicated Rotarian.
Bud Herron, a Hope native and former publisher of The Republic, will be “running” in honor of the late Larry Simpson, former publisher of the Hope Star-Journal and an enthusiastic supporter of the town.
The late Susanna Jones, former Bartholomew County historian, will be represented by her daughter, Beth Newman, and Jim Lowney will be saluting his late wife, Vickie Lowney, a highly respected staffer at Columbus Regional Hospital.
I’m sure that the Bicentennial Torch Relay will go down as one of many that Bartholomew County has hosted over the years. Owing to the participants and their means of carrying the torch, I would bet that it will be one of the most memorable.
Harry McCawley is the former associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached at email@example.com.