Elliott Receives Sagamore During His 2,392nd Optimists Meeting

In this file photo provided by the Times-Union, John Elliott, right, is pictured with Rob Bishop (left) and Dave Wolkins during a Warsaw Breakfast Optimist meeting in 2019 when he was awarded the Sagamore of the Wabash. Photo by David Slone.

Wednesday was a bittersweet day for longtime Warsaw resident John Elliott.

It was his 75th birthday and State Rep. Dave Wolkins presented him with the Sagamore of the Wabash, but it also was his last Warsaw Breakfast Optimist Club meeting.

After 46 years of perfect attendance with the Optimist Club – or about 2,392 meetings, according to Elliott –  he and his wife Elaine are moving to Anderson, N.C., to be closer to their children and grandchildren.

The Sagamore of the Wabash is the highest honor which the governor of Indiana bestows. It is a personal tribute usually given to those who have rendered a distinguished service to the state or governor.

After the Optimist singers sang “Happy Birthday” to Elliott and other Optimists with birthdays, they sang The Ohio University school song for Elliott. Elliott is an alumnus of Ohio. Wolkins then took the podium to present the award to Elliott.

Wolkins said he met Elliott a little over 50 years ago and they’ve had a pretty good friendship since then.

“John has done a tremendous amount for this community that even I was surprised at,” Wolkins said.

He said most people are aware of Elliott’s involvement with the Baker Youth Club and Indiana Right to Life.

“Jeff Plank, he was a Democrat city councilman and John took the risk of going out and actually walking up to the courthouse with Jeff Plank when he switched from Democrat to Republican to run as mayor,” Wolkins recalled.

Plank served as Warsaw mayor from January 1984 to April 1997.

Back in 2005, when Mitch Daniels was running in the primary for Indiana governor, Wolkins said Daniels only lost two counties in the state – Kosciusko and Elkhart.

“Guess who was the campaign chairman of Mitch’s opponent? It was John,” Wolkins said. “I don’t think in any campaign (John’s) ever gotten involved in, actually worked in, I don’t think he’s ever lost one of them. So he’s a good guy to have on your side.”

Over the years, Warsaw has been “very blessed” to have a number of bands come here and perform, like the Marine, Penn State, Oklahoma and Ohio State bands, Wolkins said. “John was the guy who took it upon himself to get that done,” he said.

Elliott has sponsored and/or hosted many of the teams that have come to Winona Lake for the Grace College basketball tournament.

“A lot of you didn’t know it, but John was a very accomplished referee in soccer. In fact, he was actually in charge of placing all the soccer referees in the state of Indiana for a period of time,” Wolkins said.

He said when he did his homework on Elliott’s involvements, he was shocked at how big the list was.

“Most of the time, the resume has a few lines on it of the different community activities and stuff that the honoree has been in,” Wolkins said. “It took several pages of different organizations that John has either been a leader, a director or gotten behind and it was very impressive. Most of the time, John has been behind the scenes.”

He then presented Elliott with only the second Sagamore award he’s ever given as a state representative. He can nominate up to two people a year.

“In my 31 years, this is only the second one I’ve gave so it gives you an idea of how much I’ve appreciated this guy,” Wolkins said, choking up.

After accepting the award, and a standing ovation from the Optimists, Elliott said, “This community has been great to me. I’ve enjoyed it. I’m going to miss everybody, but we keep getting calls from my 3-year-old granddaughter that says, ‘Papa, Grandma, we’re over to your house, now when are you going to get there so we can have a tea party?’ So I will miss you all, but I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time with Rosie and Ruby, who is to be born here on Sept. 4.”

He mentioned two of his sons and their families, Dan and Ben, who already live in North Carolina.

“So, it’s been a great career. Great memories. Thank you,” the former vice president and trust officer with 1st Source Bank said.

A number of months ago, Optimist Mickey Smethers told President Rob Bishop that he was making something for Elliott and he wanted it to be a gift from the club.

“He shared it with me last week, and I think it is truly spectacular,” Bishop said before Smethers presented Elliott with the hand-carved cane. Smethers told Elliott the cane “started out as a piece of 2 by 12” and is made of black walnut. It has the Optimist pin embedded in it, and took Smethers about 45 hours to make.

One by one, Optimists took turns to say a few words to or about Elliott.

Trace Hansen noted the Club has 12 members currently that Elliott brought in. From those members, they brought in eight more. “So right now there’s 20 members in this Club that are directly from John,” Hansen said.

Marv Miller called him a “wonderful, awesome” person who is “super-involved” in the community.

Retired Grace College basketball coach Jim Kessler said, “I think I can speak for Grace College and on their behalf, and certainly for men’s basketball at Grace College. It would not be the same without John and Elaine. His three boys played for me. I?don’t have a national championship at the school without his son. I don’t know how many ‘W’s’ they’ve been associated with. His impact on the school and support of the college has been terrific.”

Dr. Pam Galloway thanked Elliott for being her sponsor for the Optimist Club. “I think although it’s a sad day for us because it’s John’s last day, I think we should be very happy for John and Elaine because they’re moving on to a great phase of their life.”

Warsaw Community High School boys basketball coach Doug Ogle said he met Elliott when he came to Warsaw in 1985 and Elliott’s oldest son Brian was on his first basketball coach at Warsaw Middle School. Ogle’s wife, Melissa, also began working for Elliott in the trust department at the bank at that time.

“The relationship between Melissa and I and John and Elaine has been 35 years now almost, and I so much appreciated their friendship and unwavering support of Tiger basketball,” Ogle said.

He said he also was glad to see Elaine there at the Optimist Club because of her support of John and his community involvement. John and Elaine celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in March.

Martin Becker spoke about Elliott’s “big footprint” on the community as far as athletics, Grace College, WCHS and music organizations.

Dr. Steve Hollar said, “Albeit, there are two days you can’t control, and that be yesterday and tomorrow, John Elliott is a today kind of guy.”

Jeff Owens thanked Elliott for his support, while Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer said he respected Elliott’s viewpoints and appreciated his support. Retired WCHS Principal Jennifer Lucht noted that no one has done more for the community and Warsaw Schools than Elliott. John Teevan, Kent Adams and Ott Schroeder also praised Elliott for all he’s done for the community.

After the Optimist Club meeting, Elliott recalled Neal Carlson hired him at First National Bank, and that Bob Boley brought him into the Optimist Club in 1973.

“Both were tremendous roles models for me. Both were Men of the Year,” Elliott said.

He said it was his parents who taught him to “do for others” at a very early age. “It’s pretty easy to help others,” he said. “What happened here today, I won’t forget that.”