O’Bannon honored for decades of preservation leadership
In recognition of more than 50 years of personal involvement and public advocacy, Judy O’Bannon is the recipient of Indiana Landmarks’ 2020 Williamson Prize for outstanding leadership in historic preservation.
For five decades, the former first lady of Indiana has been a relatable leader, hands-on preservationist and vocal champion for the value of historic places. She helped launch the Indiana Main Street program, played an instrumental role in saving individual meaningful structures, engaged countless Hoosiers in preservation efforts and produced an award-winning TV series demonstrating the impact preservation can have on communities.
“Judy O’Bannon has been a powerful advocate and ally, really humanizing historic preservation and bringing it down to a personal level,” said Marsh Davis, president of Indiana Landmarks. “She’s been uniquely effective in messaging and using her position to reach people.”
Judy was introduced to preservation when she and husband Frank moved to Corydon in 1957 and fixed up their third-floor apartment in the 19th-century building that housed The Corydon Democrat, a newspaper owned by the O’Bannon family for 108 years.
Not long after, Judy met Reid Williamson, then-president of Indiana Landmarks for whom the Williamson Prize is named, and together they helped launch the Indiana Main Street program, which touts historic preservation as an important ingredient in revitalizing downtowns. Judy also helped found the Indiana Main Street Council and chaired it for a decade.
She continued to show her passion for preservation after Frank was elected Indiana’s lieutenant governor in 1989, when the O’Bannons purchased and continued renovation of a late Victorian house in Indianapolis’s Old Northside neighborhood. Attending services at Central Avenue United Methodist Church just blocks away from their home, Judy stepped up when the dwindling congregation struggled to maintain its house of worship and led the charge that spawned the Old Centrum, a hub for non-profit agencies that was housed there for many years. She helped save the building again in 2008, supporting Indiana Landmarks’ plan to restore the church as its headquarters and helping engage Bill and Gayle Cook of Bloomington in efforts to restore the structure.
Judy also served as a media force for historic preservation, participating in three notable programs for Indianapolis PBS station WFYI: the documentary Transformation, which chronicled the Old Centrum’s conversion to the Indiana Landmarks Center; the Emmy award-winning series Community Building Communities; and Second Chances: What Can Happen When a Barn Lives Again, a documentary that drew on her own experiences to showcase barns adapted to new uses.
Even as Indiana’s first lady, Judy made her mark on historic properties. Hosting guests at the Governor’s Residence on Meridian Street in the late ’90s, she helped raise $900,000 in private donations to make the landmark residence accessible to all. As a result of her experience, Indiana Landmarks tapped her expertise for a task force studying how to make the organization’s landmark properties more accessible.
Judy will be honored as part of Indiana Landmarks’ virtual annual meeting on Sept. 12.