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Following the flame: Torch passes through Howard County


It was day twenty four of the Indiana Bicentennial Torch Relay on its 3,200-mile journey across the state. The torch relay is the most far-reaching event of the Indiana Bicentennial celebration and will touch all 92 Indiana counties. On Wednesday, Oct. 6, festivities were held in Fulton, Miami, and Howard counties.

In Howard County, the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance spearheaded torch relay and community celebration planning efforts.  

A once-in-a-lifetime event is how Rochester Mayor Ted Denton described the statue torch relay at the opening ceremony at the Fulton County Courthouse.

"This torch represents passing on our history, our present and our thoughts and dreams for the future," said Mayor Denton.

Fourth-graders from three schools attend the kickoff, along with many residents of the city. After the choir sang and a high school band performed, former Circuit Judge Doug Morton started the leg of the relay.

Students gathered at Rochester High School to cheer on Cross Country runner and torchbearer, Adrianna Dague, Charles Schwenk, a teacher, and Jana Vance the superintendent.

Students from Columbia Elementary were bussed to the location where their principal, Jason Snyder carried the torch. He then drove an antique car for Fellow torchbearer Shirley Willard.

There were 14 relay members who will carry it through Rochester to U.S. 31 where it will make its way to Miami County.

In Miami County, the torch made its way to the Nickel Plate Trail, where the first of 20 torchbearers either rode or walked with the torch along the trail, which encompasses an old railroad line.

The torch was carried to Peru where the Peru High School Tigers marching band entertained the crowd at the courthouse square by playing the state song.

One torchbearer was Dr. Dan Roberts. He was honored to represent Brigadier General Hiram Iddings Bearss. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Spanish American War and received the Medal of Honor.

Mark Weaver flew in from Connecticut to be a torchbearer in honor of his dad, Robert Weaver. Weaver was an artist and one of the founders of the Peru Amateur Circus and Circus City Festival.

“It had to be done,” said Mark. “It was such an honor to do this for him in the city he loved.”

Mark handed the torch off to Miami County Prosecutor Bruce Embrey, who rode in an antique circus wagon from the International Circus Hall of Fame.

Brian Buchanan, Chief of the Miami Nation of Indiana was a torchbearer. He grew up in Speedway.

"The torch to myself, and I believe I speak for many Miami, is a form of unity for the state and the relationship to the tribe, said Chief Buchanan. “It helps to solidify that relationship."

Mike Kuepper, President of the Nickel Plate Trail ran the torch back to the trail.

Kamon Blong, a circus performer rode a unicycle on the trail then handed the torch off to his grandfather Miles Straley, who is retired from Grissom Airforce Base.

One of the final torchbearers was Kori Brown. Kori was diagnosed with a blood disease as a child and saw firsthand the financial and emotional stress put on families as they sought treatment for their child. She founded the irok Foundation in 2009. The irok Foundation often helps pay a family’s bills after their child has been given a terminal diagnosis.

The torch entered Howard County via the Nickel Plate Trail. Bob Gollner and Jeff Griffin took the torch for the first leg of the relay in a 1922 Haynes Tourister. Elwood Haynes invented America’s first commercial gas-powered automobile. Howard County is known for making automobiles, General Motors and Chrysler both have plants. State Rep. Mike Karickhoff rode in a 2016 Dodge Ram by the Kokomo Automotive Museum. He carried the torch in honor of Monroe Seiberling. Another State Rep. carried the torch. Heath VanNatter was a substitute torchbearer for George Kingston.

People gathered on both sides of the street near Wallace Elementary School for fifth-grader Jack Double, who carried the torch in honor of Elwood Haynes.

"We are excited for him," said Charley Hinkle, Jack's principal and nominator. "This is a great event."

Hinkle also said he nominated Jack because he's active at school. He plays the violin, piano and he's in the choir.

Jack's mom walked on the sidewalk next to him as he passed the flame to David Emry.

Northwestern Elementary School Noah Knights carried the torch for Norman Birdwell, the creator of Clifford the Big Red Dog series.

More crowds gathered as the torch made its way in front of the Seiberling Mansion, Kokomo Senior Center and the Elwood Haynes Museum.

At Highland Park, Kokomo firefighter Tiffany Massey dedicated her run/walk to fallen Howard County Sheriff Deputy Carl Koontz.

About 200 students congregated at Indiana University Kokomo to cheer on Susan Sciame-Giesecke, the university’s chancellor. Kingston Cougar, the school’s mascot walked next to her.

“It’s an honor for the torch to come to the university,” said Sciame-Giesecke. “For the torch to come through campus it reaffirms the commitment to higher education.”

She handed off to Kokomo City Councilman Robert Hayes. He was a substitute torchbearer for Henry Waggoner, who was the first African-American on the Kokomo Police Department. Hayes told stories of Waggoner while waiting for his turn to take the torch.

Torchbearer Gradyn Rogers was unable to take part in today’s relay. After 10 years in remission, Gradyn is back in the hospital undergoing chemotherapy. Organizers said he’s proudly wearing his torchbearer hat and that’s giving him hope.

The celebration was underway at the Kokomo Courthouse Square when the torch arrived.

Charlie Sparks, who serves as president of the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance said, “We care a lot about our past and future. I'm reminded how lucky I am to call Indiana and Howard County my home. The torch shines a light on each county as it passes through.”

All the Howard County torchbearers were honored with medals.

On Oct. 15, the torch will be used to illuminate an everlasting light for Indiana that will serve as an homage to the state’s first 200 years and an inspiration for generations of Hoosiers to come. The everlasting light will be part of the new Bicentennial Plaza on the west side of the Statehouse.