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A Hoosier Homecoming

A Hoosier Homecoming
A Hoosier Homecoming
Ronald W. Simpson, an O'Bannon law partner for many years, said Frank O'Bannon, like Jimmy Stewart in the movie, had 'a wonderful life.'square in Corydon. (Photo by Randy West)

‘I am convinced that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.’
‘ Playwright George Bernard Shaw

Beneath a bright blue sky which turned overcast Sunday, an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 folks in the Town of Corydon, County of Harrison and State of Indiana, celebrated the life of the Honorable Gov. Frank L. O’Bannon, a statesman whose privilege it was to do for the community whatever he could.
Tributes to O’Bannon flowed for more than an hour, in prayer, song and speeches by close friends and colleagues who gathered at the Hurley D. Conrad Memorial Bandstand on the First State Capitol grounds in Corydon. Former First Lady Judy O’Bannon was flanked by her children, grandchildren, relatives, friends and colleagues.
O’Bannon died Saturday, Sept. 13, 2003, of complications from a massive stroke suffered five days earlier in Chicago. He was attending a trade conference.
A similar celebration was held Friday on the west steps of the Statehouse in Indianapolis, where O’Bannon gave his first inaugural address seven years ago. That service was more formal (see story and photos, page A6) than the homey program Sunday afternoon, at the bandstand where O’Bannon first announced his intention to seek the governor’s seat in 1998.
Now, Judy O’Bannon’s wish is for her husband to be remembered with joy, said Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources director John Goss, who oversaw planning for the celebration in Corydon.
One thousand white folding chairs were set up on the lawn, and all but a few were filled. A scattered crowd filled most of the rest of the courtyard.
The service included the powerful voices of Angela Brown, a New York Metropolitan Opera star, who sang ‘Amazing Grace,’ and Mel Carraway, superintendent of the Indiana State Police, who did a rousing rendition of the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’ Both brought smiles to O’Bannon’s family plus a ‘Wow’ from Judy O’Bannon.
Gov. O’Bannon’s friend, Mike Gery, welcomed the crowd to ‘the celebration of the remarkable Frank O. Bannon.
‘We are grateful that quiet leadership and respect for others are effective in government,’ Gery said. ‘We know we are better off for having known him.’
The Titanics Barbershop Quartet from Evansville sang ‘Danny Boy,’ and the O’Bannons’ pastor in Corydon, the Rev. Esther Wilson, recited the ‘Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi,’ which, she said, inspired O’Bannon and reflects his spirit. Christine Pendleton, a family friend, offered ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’
Psalm 23 was read by sixth grader Katie Pitts in English; Asencion Romero, a fifth grader, read the Hispanic version. Both are students at Corydon Intermediate School.
Earlier, Pitts said she wanted to read the Scripture because, ‘I am one of Judy’s friends, and I have always been her friend. She’s always kind to me. I’m returning the favor.’
Harrison County’s esteemed historian, J. Frederick Griffin, 88, of Corydon, could not pass up the opportunity at the microphone to share a bit of local history.
He said: ‘I am grateful to have known Frank for his entire life and to cherish him as my friend.’
O’Bannon’s roots run deep here. ‘His great-great-grandfather, Col. Jacob Ferree, was killed in July 1863 in the Battle of Corydon, the only Civil War battle to be fought in Indiana.’
Griffin said Gov. Joseph Kernan, during the memorial service Friday in Indianapolis, correctly defined the word Hoosier as ‘Frank O’Bannon.’
The O’Bannons have long been an influence, a role model for others, Griffin said. ‘Frank and Judy, as a team, have done much for Indiana,’ he added.
O’Bannon’s former law partner, Ronald W. Simpson, said, ‘For nine years ‘ until (O’Bannon’s) election as lieutenant governor in 1988 ‘ we worked side by side, and he was my mentor.
‘He was always positive and optimistic. He never seemed to worry about anything, but worked steadily and with a confident spirit to solve any problem. I learned that from Frank, to be patient and not worry about things and to persevere,’ Simpson said.
‘I recall Frank saying that he was never sure when someone came to the office to see him, whether they were there to see him as their state senator, or as the owner of the newspaper, or as a friend or neighbor, or as a client,’ Simpson recalled. ‘We joked about how, because of that uncertainty, he would never send anyone a bill.’
The law firm rode out the recession then. Simpson said, ‘He knew that economic cycles were just that ‘ cycles. Good times and hard times ‘ they come and go.
‘Hard times not only make us appreciate the good times, they make us work harder and smarter, and cause us to rely on a power greater than our own.’
Simpson likened O’Bannon’s life to that of George Bailey in the classic movie, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’
‘But unlike George Bailey, Frank knew he had a wonderful life, and that his life had meaning and purpose,’ Simpson said. ‘And he valued and appreciated the many friends he and Judy made throughout this state and nation.
‘At the end of the movie, the entire community of Bedford Falls came together to show their love and support for George Bailey. So, too, today, the people of this community, and this county and state, and beyond, gather together here on the grounds of Indiana’s first state capitol to show their respect, love and admiration for Frank O’Bannon.’
Gov. Joe Kernan of South Bend said one of the ‘most memorable’ moments of his life occurred on a trade trip to Eastern Europe with the O’Bannons in 1990. ‘We went to Auschwitz. We visited a courtyard where some 20,000, mostly Russian soldiers, had been executed.
‘Frank and Judy placed a wreath there,’ Kernan said. ‘It was a reminder to me that if we permit bigotry, prejudice and hatred, that is where it can lead us ‘ into the abyss of the Holocaust.
‘In diversity there is strength, and if we use it properly, there is nothing better.’
The Wesley United Methodist Chancel Choir from Jeffersonville had the crowd on its feet, swaying, tapping and clapping to ‘The Presence of the Lord Is Here.’ Later, choir director Donna Davis, in a wonderful unifying moment, urged everyone to join hands and tell the persons around them that they are important and that they need each other to survive.
The program concluded with Indiana State Police Trooper Marcia Dodge presenting Judy O’Bannon with a black leather, gold-embossed Bible from FOP Lodge 171, a reminder that O’Bannon had puts hundreds of police officers on the streets throughout Indiana.
Then, the Marlin brothers played ‘Back Home Again in Indiana,’ followed by some Dixieland-style music as everyone mingled for conversation, handshakes and hugs. Several people said it was the kind of day that Frank O’Bannon would have liked.

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