By Eric Stearley
Thursday morning, Wabash County YMCA CEO Clint Kugler and Wabash City Schools Superintendent Jason Callahan met with Lieutenant Governor Sue Ellspermann, Treasurer Richard Mourdock, the Indiana Education Savings Authority Board, and representatives from the Commission on Higher Education to share the success of the Wabash County Promise. During the meeting, Kugler and Callahan were honored with the “Sagamore of the Wabash” award on behalf of Governor Mike Pence.
“It was totally unexpected,” said Kugler. “I’m so honored to have the leadership of our state recognize the potential and power of what Wabash County has been able to do in such a short period of time.”
“I definitely wasn’t expecting such an award or recognition for something that, at the end of the day, just seemed like we were doing our jobs,” agreed Callahan. “I think he and I both felt very humbled. I think we’re both motivated in the same way. We see this more as an opportunity to further the cause, instead of seeing it as the end of this initiative.”
The “Sagamore of the Wabash,” created by Governor Ralph Gates in the 1940s, is an award given to Hoosiers who have “rendered a distinguished service to the state or to the governor,” according the state of Indiana’s website. Only the governor has the authority to give the award. It is the governor’s second-highest honor, only surpassed by the Sachem Award, given to one citizen each year. In the past, it has been given to presidents, astronauts, volunteers, veterans, educators, entertainers and entrepreneurs.
The term “sagamore” is derived from Algonquian languages spoken by Native Americans along the Atlantic coast and Great Lakes. It was used to refer to a great man in the tribe to whom the true chief would look for wisdom and advice.
Appropriately, the Promise initiative, presented to state officials by Kugler and Callahan, is being looked at as a model for other counties and communities across the state.
Aimed at getting more of our county’s youth to achieve a college education, the Wabash County Promise successfully increased the number of college savings accounts among K-3 students ten-fold. In addition, local, state, and national partners collaborated on the project, resulting in matching gift contributions to students’ savings accounts. The Promise has worked to start the conversation about college with our youngest students, raising expectations and instilling a sense of hope for the future in each child.
Prior to the award, Lieutenant Governor Sue Ellspermann commended Wabash County for what is being done, adding that she was moved by the impact on young people and their success. Following the award, Treasurer Richard Mourdock told Kugler that in all his years in politics, this was the first time he had ever nominated anyone for the award. Mourdock added that he was deeply moved at the Walk Into My Future event, reflecting on how many people contributed to its success.
“We were honored as co-founders, and we worked on it early on together,” Kugler said of his experience working with Callahan, “but since that point, so many people have added to it, and there are so many components, that if individuals had not bought the vision and refined it and improved it, we would not be here today with the success and the vision that lies before us. We accepted this award on behalf of everybody who said ‘we want to invest in these kids, we want to improve Wabash County by investing in our youth.’”
“This doesn’t happen without other people believing in the vision: superintendents, building principles, teachers and families,” said Callahan. “This happens because we have a mayor, city council and a county council that have worked together well and paved a road of collaboration and cooperation in this county. If we continue to collaborate and cooperate, great things can happen, and this is just evidence of that. It’s an incredible recognition of the Wabash County Promise and what we’re doing in Wabash County.”
For extended coverage of the Wabash County Promise and the Walk Into My Future event, check out the special insert in this week’s edition of The Paper.