Heeke honored for active role in Celestine


Tom Heeke, right, is the first, second-generation recipient of the Celestine Park Distinguished Service Award. His father, Leonard, left, received the first award in 1993. Photo courtesy Tony Buechler

CELESTINE — Eight years ago, a powerful tornado tore through Tom Heeke’s Celestine home, peeling back the roof, twisting the structure and rendering it uninhabitable.

It was a day of great loss for him and many others across the town. Herald archives recount how broken telephone poles were strewn across the area, which was also littered with debris ripped from houses.

But when he thinks back on it, Tom remembers the good that followed.

“That day, that morning, I couldn’t tell you how many people came to our house,” he said, reflecting on the help he received. “You just kind of open up, and they were there. And by the end of the day, they had my house completely cleaned out.”

Tom, 55, was honored with the Celestine Park Distinguished Service Award on Sunday. He spoke Monday in his office at Kimball International about how he was humbled and appreciative to receive the recognition. And he also talked about how happy he is to be part of the close-knit Celestine community.

His father, Leonard, received the park’s first distinguished service award in 1993. Dad attended the latest award breakfast and presentation on Sunday, making the recognition that much more meaningful to his son. Tom is the first second-generation recipient of the honor.

“I always said to myself, no matter what community I ended up in, I was going to be involved,” he said. “Because I saw what my dad did and how that helped the community. I’m just fortunate enough to be able to do it in the same community that my dad did.”

Leonard set a strong example for him as a child, and his involvement in and founding of Celestine community groups and activities always resonated with Tom.

The distinguished service recognition is awarded annually by a committee of five Celestine Park members. That panel chooses one winner from community-nominated candidates whose service has made an impact on the town.

“When you look at Tom, he’s a seasoned volunteer active in nearly every organization or major fundraiser that’s in town,” said Brad Schroering, award committee chairperson. “Even though he may not have a dedicated position in some of those organizations, he definitely plays an active role in every one in town.”

Tom is a Celestine native. He moved back to the town in the early 1990s after graduating from the University of Southern Indiana and working in Evansville for a few years.

His community involvement began at St. Celestine Parish, which is now part of St. Isidore Parish. During his time with the church, he served as a lector, sat on various councils and co-chaired the committee that led the building of the St. Celestine Parish Center.

He is also a longtime member of the Celestine Community Club. Leading up to Celestine’s 175th birthday, Tom served on the leadership team that organized the town’s 2018 Streetfest celebration.

He explained that his long history of volunteerism stems from his desire to do his share of work to keep the small community vibrant.

“If you don’t have people that get involved and foster collaboration, then really our small communities go away,” he said.

Tom lives in Celestine with his wife, Bernadette, and daughter, Kendyl. The Heekes also have two grown children: Koryn Parson of Evansville and Colin Heeke of Nashville, Tennessee.

More on DuboisCountyHerald.com