Editor's note: Bob Peterson, attorney, longtime Indiana State Senator and prominent voice for Fulton County affairs, gave a keynote speech in the 2003 ceremonies kicking off Rochester's 150th birthday celebration. His remarks:
Mr. Mayor, Fellow Citizens, Ladies and Gentlemen, as we gather today for this significant event in the history of Rochester, those of us who are natives, or who are adopted sons and daughters of the community, with our roots deep in the soils of Northern Indiana, think of Rochester having been here forever. When matched against the time of recorded history, 4 to 5 thousand years, it has been brief - 175 years. Thus, we are all the decedents of immigrants and pioneers.
Following the Revolutionary War the country looked West to the vast unknown area known as the Old Northwest. An area of timberlands, grasslands and great lakes. In 1787, two years before we became a constitutional national government, The Continental Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance to develop the five states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. Remarkably, the five state territory included only approximately 55,000 Indians and 2,000 French hunters and trappers, or the population of Kokomo.
Little is known of this historic Northwest Ordinance except it helped to lay the ground work for our United States Constitution. It did two marvelous things. Among the irrevocable principals, the Ordinance was a commitment against slavery and a commitment of public money to education, the first such public commitment to education.
The document is now history. Pioneers began to flow West through the Cumberland Gap, down the Ohio River. We became a state in 1816, but pioneers had not yet come to this area.
When we speak of immigrants and pioneers, they had one thing in common. They were generally without money or land. They came West and then North through Indiana for free or cheap land and opportunity. Those who had the land or money remained where they were. All of us are the benefactors of that pioneering spirit.
By the time Rochester became an infant community, people were pouring out of Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. Although the origin of our name is not an absolutely known, Jack Overmyer has stated in one of his excellent articles a man who came from Ithaca, New York, may have given it the name of Rochester. Ironically, there are 10 communities in the close vicinity of Rochester that are named after county seat towns in New York.
At this time, I would like to pay particular tribute to two people, who more than many others have researched, called our attention to, and emphasized our history. Jack Overmyer has written extensively about the people, the locations, buildings, and history of this community. Shirley Willard, as long time President of the Fulton County Historical Society, has also written extensively, aggressively pursued preservation of our buildings and artifacts, and reminded us that while we live in the present and look forward to the future, we should not forget the past.
Rochester is a beautiful community and well as historic. The proximity of the lake, the Michigan Road and our geology make us unique. Tim Eiseninger, local forester, will tell you how we sit on the western edge of the upland timber soils and the eastern edge of the great grass prairie. We are a community of beautiful building, such as the Courthouse, in whose shadow we stand today, churches, homes and farms. We are in an area of good schools and stable progressive government. The Mayor and I were speaking recently how we are an area of active political parties, but after the election is over, we come together for the betterment of the community. We have had good leaders, and have been free of corruption.
More than our buildings and landscape, the heart and sole of our community are the people who have lived here, were born here and educated here. Some have remained to establish greatness here, some have gone on to greatness elsewhere, leaving a legacy, of which we can all be proud and take inspiration.
There are those who migrated here and left an enduring mark. I am thinking particularly of Henry Barnhart. Jack Overmyer advises me he came here from Cass County, purchased a newspaper and developed the ground work for the excellent daily newspaper we enjoy today. He helped to establish the Rochester Telephone Company and went on to become a long time Congressman in the old 13th District.
And then there was Clyde Lyle who came here as a young coach and as a coach and a teacher left an indelible mark on this community. Anyone who came into his presence could not but be impressed by his dignity, his honesty, and his character.
Helen House Outcelt, a Rochester graduate, pioneered in aviation at Rochester and left an indelible mark at the Rochester airport, which today permits us to have an airport second to none for a city our size.
History goes on with native sons. I think particularly of Otis Bowen, a native of the county, born in Richland Township, former Speaker of the House, two-term Governor, and Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Another native son was Hugh Barnhart, son of Henry Barnhart. He took the newspaper and telephone company of his father to new heights. He was a confidant and advisor to three State governors and served as head of three separate departments of State agencies. He was a great benefactor of the community and the football field, appropriately named Barnhart Field is a result of his generosity.
Paul Emery, born in Rochester, director of the Purdue bands for 49 years and conceived the idea of marching and forming letters on a football field.
Elmo Lincolnhelt went to Hollywood, became known as Elmo Lincoln, and was the first Tarzan in the silent screen. Floyd Matice, local attorney, was a member of the FBI, and was appointed to the Defense Counsel at the International War Crimes Trial in Tokyo. He also became the first student, while at the University of Michigan, to broadcast a football game over the radio.
There were the Three Jesters, three Rochester high school boys, Fritz Bastow, George Howard, and John Ravencroft, who performed for over 30 years in Cincinnati and Chicago radio stations and with the famous Paul Whiteman orchestra.
Oliver Powell, local horse breeder, trained and drove harness horses to national fame, winning countless races on the grand circuit and established six world records.
Carol Mitchell, a graduate of Rochester High School and Indiana University, became Miss Indiana and was first runner-up to Miss America. She was a popular entertainer with her chalk drawings and marionettes.
The McMann Family became quite successful in this area by reason of Otto McMann, of the McMann Construction Company, and his brothers who went to California and established a furniture chain.
Dr. Wynnfield Shafer established Woodlawn Hospital and Rochester Normal College.
More recently I think of Tom Rose and Tom Ravencroft, who started working at the local Dean Milk Plant, and then went to the very top as executives of the Dean Food Company.
By naming some of our notable sons and daughters of the community I overlook others, and for this I apologize. Many distinguished teachers, engineers, doctors, ministers, and athletes have their roots in Rochester. We should look back from time to time and say we are proud of them. They made a difference.
One group, and the most important group of Fulton County sons, never had the opportunity to be great, or even have a family, or live to an old age. A memorial to them stands on the South lawn of the courthouse. Stop and read their names sometime. They are the real heroes of this community.
Yes, the heart and soul of this community are the people of the community, who are descendants of a pioneering spirit which prevails today.