SHEPARD: A good year for Indiana’s future

January 14, 2017

We often greet one another in the first few weeks of a new calendar by offering a breezy, “Happy New Year.” I am in favor of breeziness in greetings, but I also contend that there are solid grounds to think of the time ahead as a moment of opportunity, a chance to build on recent Indiana success.

The basis for this claim became clearer to me as the state wrapped up its bicentennial over the last few months.

It’s a human habit, of course, to use birthdays and anniversaries for simple celebration. And the commemoration of our statehood included events that served largely as parties. Having parties seemed altogether right for the occasion of an anniversary like 200.

More important for the long run, this anniversary also featured a host of gatherings and projects that focused on serious contemplation about where we are and where we could aspire to be headed.

Karen Pence caught the spirit of these discussions when she asked, “How did we get here, who do we emulate, and why?” And David Kinard, president of central Indiana’s Mormon congregations, extended this thought when he described why people of his faith find Indiana a good place: “No wonder Mormons feel so at home in this state where things that are virtuous, lovely, of good report and praiseworthy, as well as people who are honest, true, chaste, benevolent and virtuous, are in high supply.”

These aspirational statements stand on legitimate, measurable grounds. Tim Ethridge, editor of the Evansville Courier & Press, finished the year by writing about “the city’s rebirth.” The fact of Evansville’s progress, and that of southwestern Indiana more generally, was visible even from a distance, Ethridge said, quoting a Fort Wayne editor, “Your city has come a long way.”

Ethridge made special mention of regional business and not-for-profit entities that are part of this progress, and he described why great leadership will sustain it. “I believe my friend from Fort Wayne will continue to see us proper,” he wrote, titling his own column, “Maintaining our momentum.”

That’s the same word K.P. Singh used at one of the bicentennial wrap-up gatherings: “We have to seize our collective momentum and build upon our widening crossroads.” It is a point one might plausibly make about much of Indiana. When 60 percent of Indianapolis voters say yes to a tax for upgrading public transportation, you know “something’s happening.”

The conversations prompted by the bicentennial have even produced a road map. The Bicentennial Visioning Project, led by Sue Ellspermann and Lee Hamilton, has generated solid ideas about building our future, an effort now to be advanced by the Sagamore Institute.

“Advanced” is the key word there. There are reasons we can advance. I say it’s all right to think of 2017 as a year when we make new resolutions and build on genuine momentum.

In making that happen, we can benefit from an aspect of Indiana lifted up by professor Douglas Hurt, an emeritus member of the Purdue University history faculty. Hurt said there’s a “cohesion” about Indiana. People tend to know and trust one another. They often support one another’s efforts. There is a civility that makes us collectively stronger. If you don’t believe we’re different in this respect, just consider the courtesy with which Eric Holcomb and John Gregg treated each other, and compare it to the national contest.

“Stand up and stand forward,” said another of the bicentennial’s messengers. I don’t think it’s at all sappy to believe we can do that for the benefit of 6-1/2 million people.•

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