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Indiana Bicentennial torchbearers chosen to represent Elkhart County

ELKHART — Twenty-eight local residents will represent Elkhart County as torchbearers during the Indiana Bicentennial Torch Relay in October. 

Ninety-six people were nominated multiple times over, said Sonya Nash, director of destination services for the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Many, if not most, were unaware that they were even being considered,” she said. “Competition was tough, if you can imagine, as only 28 of the 96 were selected.”

The 28 torchbearers represent one of the five pillars of Elkhart County’s vibrancy — arts and culture, strong economy, social services, education and youth and community advocacy.

Five of torchbearers spoke on behalf of their fellow representatives to explain each of the pillars and why they are so vital to Elkhart County in front of the Premier Arts Quilt Garden at the intersection of Main and Marion streets in Elkhart.


Arts and Culture

Jane Burns spoke about how arts and creativity have made Elkhart County a top destination for visitors and a way of life for residents. 

“We have Bristol, Elkhart, Goshen, Nappanee, Wakarusa,” she said. “Each of these communities contributing in their own special way in making the quality of life in Elkhart County rise to levels that make neighboring areas envious of our many events and activities.”

Torchbearers in this category are:

  • Jane Burns of Elkhart is a founding trustee of the Midwest Museum of American Art. She was the director from 1978 until her retirement in 2015.
  • Gale Martin of Elkhart has been a professor of French at Goshen College, St. Mary’s College and Indiana University-South Bend.



Greg Fore spoke about the various businesses and industries that continue to thrive in Elkhart County. Since Elkhart was founded in 1830, the entrepreneurial spirit has been passed on from generation to generation, he said.

“From the paper mills and railroads, to the music instrument industry and the over-the-counter drug companies, cabinet builders, craftsmen, dairy farmers and onto the mobile home manufactured housing and the RV industry, our community has been led by those who developed and nurtured manufacturing and business,” he said.

Torchbearers in this category are:

  • Gregg Fore of Middlebury is the president of Dicor Corporation and serves on many community boards.
  • Dr. Robert Abel of Wakarusa is a World War II veteran and has practiced medicine in his community and Nappanee for more than 60 years. He is a long-standing leader and supporter of the Elkhart County 4-H Fair.
  • Craig Blough of Goshen is a third generation dairy farmer, 4-H volunteer and a dairy equipment manufacturer
  • Lori Snyder of Elkhart has been an active real estate broker for more than 20 years, is a past president of the Elkhart County Board of Realtors and is an active participant on the Elkhart County Plan Commission
  • Truman Weaver of Goshen is a fifth generation dairy farmer, a current member of the American Guernsey Association and previously the national director on the board for the American Guernsey Association


Social Services

Gale Gerber spoke on behalf of the largest group of representatives of Elkhart County. These are those who serve in the military, help the less fortunate, volunteer their time at churches, festivals and fairs and are role models for others.

  • Gale Gerber of Nappanee  is Nappanee’s utilties manager and an active member of Elkhart County 4-H Fair Board
  • Jim Bare of Goshen had a long career at Miles/Bayer in research and compliance and served as president of several Kiwanis Clubs
  • Sandra Bontrager of Elkhart has operated SPA Women’s Ministry Homes in Elkhart for 17 years
  • Joe Gold of Elkhart is a Korean War veteran and was the marketing manager for Goshen Iron & Metal
  • Sam Grewe of Middlebury is a student at NorthRidge High School and a member of USA Paralympic National Team
  • Samantha Kruse of Goshen is the communication connections coordinator and director of Mission25 Ministry at New Life Church
  • Mark Mikel of Wakarusa is the executive director of the Family Christian Development Center in Nappanee but volunteers, serves and coaches at many events and committees
  • Dale Shetler of Goshen is currently the command sergeant major of the 81st Troop Command and has served in the active Army, Army Reserve and National Guard for more than 30 years
  • Don Smucker of Middlebury is the retired owner, manager and pharmacist of Smucker Drugs
  • Jim Smith of Goshen is the retired manager of the Education Division of the Elkhart County Health Department and a U.S. Air Force veteran
  • Sarah Stump of Nappanee serves as Miss Elkhart County and is a graduate of NorthWood High School


Education and Youth

Joanna King spoke about how the county’s education and youth are vital to the future of Elkhart County. 

“I do this for the kids in my neighborhood and your neighborhood,” she said. “I do this because it I believe it truly just takes one voice, one teacher, one child, one parent.”

Torchbearers in this category are:

  • Joanna King of Middlebury is owner of several businesses in Elkhart County
  • Nancy Hannah of Elkhart is biology teacher and mentor at Northridge High School and a Science Olympiad coach
  • Kirt Hunsberger is the assistant director of human resources for Elkhart County government and worked for the Indiana Department of Child Services until 2012
  • Judith Mantyla of Goshen is a teacher, coach and advisor at Northridde Middle School


Community Advocacy

Vince Turner spoke about how the representatives in the category go above and beyond their duty to serve their residents whether it be as a volunteer or an elected official.

“After I lost my bid for public office eight years ago, I pressed the reset button on my own life,” he said. “(It allowed me) to be the encourager for my teammates.”

Torchbearers in this category are:

  • Vince Turner of Goshen is the vice present/regional manager at MutualBank and is the former director at Bashor Children’s Home
  • Mary Ann Esenbeiss of Bristol served and volunteered for many committes and organizations including the Mini 4-H and the Elkhart County Extension Homemakers
  • Margaret “Peg” Hoffer of Nappanee has served on many boards including the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Elkhart County Redevelopment Commission
  • Larry Thompson of Nappanee served as mayor of Nappanee for 20 years and is a licensed funeral director
  • Jeff Troxel of Wakarusa is a retired detective lieutenant from the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department and is the town manager for Wakarusa
  • Bret Weddell of Goshen is a doctor of optometry, a Goshen City councilman and a member of the Goshen Rotary Club


The Elkhart County Torch Relay will begin at Mybrook Dairy Farm, 57822 C.R. 43, in Middlebury with a ceremony at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 4. The public is invited to attend. The ceremony will include a breakfast and a celebration of Elkhart County’s historical contributions to dairy farming.

“Hoosiers will symbolically pass the torch connecting generations to connect our future in a once in a lifetime experience,” Nash said. “Patterned after the Olympic Torch Relay, Indiana’s version will cover a 2,300 mile journey across the state, traveling through 92 counties over a five-week period, averaging 72 miles per day.”

The torch will travel 52 miles from Middlebury, Elkhart, Goshen, Wakarusa and Nappanee. The relay will end at Amish Acres, 1600 W. Market St., in Nappanee, at 2:30 p.m.

Elkhart County residents are encouraged to line the roads and cheer on their torchbearers, Elkhart County Bicentennial co-coordinator Laura Coyne said.

“On the journey through Elkhart County, the torch relay will pass through places representative the beautiful and amazing resources of natural and manmade of this place we call home,” Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder said.

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