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,” says Marsh Davis, president of Indiana Landmarks. “She’s been uniquely effective in messaging and using her position to reach people.”
O’Bannon was introduced to preservation when she and husband Frank moved to Corydon in 1957 and fixed up their third-floor apartment in the nineteenth-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 – the 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 the 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 nonprofit 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 September 12.
Mindi Woolman, Indiana Landmarks, 317-639-4534, firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Williamson Prize:
In naming this individual award, Indiana Landmarks honors the impactful career of J. Reid Williamson, Jr., president of Indiana Landmarks from 1973 to 2005. A change agent for the organization and the state, Reid Williamson advanced the preservation movement by stressing the importance of local preservation organizations and by using restoration as a tool to revitalize entire neighborhoods and towns. Under his leadership, Indiana Landmarks created regional offices to serve the entire state, and grew in membership, staff and endowment. The Williamson Prize includes a $1,000 cash award and the Williamson Prize sculpture by Evansville artist John McNaughton.
Indiana Landmarks revitalizes communities, reconnects us to our heritage, and saves meaningful places. With nine offices located throughout the state, Indiana Landmarks helps people rescue endangered landmarks and restore historic neighborhoods and downtowns. People who join Indiana Landmarks receive its bimonthly magazine, Indiana Preservation. For more information on the not-for-profit organization, call 317-639-4534, 800-450-4534, or visit www.indianalandmarks.org.
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