Many Hoosiers remember Judy O’Bannon as Indiana’s First Lady. But the impact she’s had on the state reaches far beyond her time in the governor’s mansion. O’Bannon has been one of Indiana’s most vocal advocates of historic preservation for nearly six decades and as Around Indiana reporter Mary-Rachel Redman discovered, she is just as passionate about small town life, civic engagement and Hoosier pride.
“People don’t realize the gifts of living in a small town. I think this is a key time to bring awareness to that. Folks who have worked out of their homes have had an eye opener about what they can do from anywhere,” shared O’Bannon from her home in Corydon.
She lives in an 1866 log barn that her husband, former Indiana Governor Frank O’Bannon, helped restore and convert into a modern living space. It is there where her passion for historic preservation is on display.
“I like old things people have touched against them. And they left their fingerprints when they did what I call their dance of life.”
While that passion for history continues to resonate from O’Bannon’s voice, she also speaks fervently about communities providing amenities and resources right now to retain young residents and workers.
“Within that community, to make sure that you have things people want to hang around for too,” said O’Bannon. “If you don’t have intellectual stimulation and opportunity to grow, who wants to stay behind for that if they’re a college graduate and ready to go with a new degree. We have to make sure that those things that create lifestyles or quality of life are in our small communities.”
After more than a century, the O’Bannon family still owns the local newspaper, the Corydon Democrat. Judy O’Bannon believes that people in small towns need their own local news source.
“I also believe that it is the messenger, the facilitator for people to know what’s going on in their community. How can you connect [when] you find out what family’s house burned and needs help. You’re not going to read that in the Wall Street Journal.”