Ladies wrapping up bison-tennial journeyMay 23, 2019
By CANDY NEAL
In 2016, a quad of friends set out on what could be seen as an epic bicentennial journey.
They decided to visit every county in the state to see the decorated bicentennial bison the counties had for Indiana’s 200th celebration.
Almost three years later, their task is just about complete. The challenge has taken them to some charming communities and sites.
“Indiana is a beautiful place,” said Marge Popp of Haysville. “Everywhere you go, there is something to see.”
Popp and Judy Hemmerlein of Haysville started the mission as they followed the bicentennial torch in the fall of 2016. Their friends Carolyn Ruckriegel of Haysville and Linda Mason of Jasper joined in soon after.
They will complete their journey next month, by visiting the last six counties in the northwest corner of the state. They have seen 54 fiberglass bison in the last three years.
As part of the state’s 200th anniversary, fiberglass bison were sold for $1,100 each. Many governments, businesses and private individuals bought them.
Two official bison were purchased for Dubois County. When the ladies saw them in September 2016, one that was painted like the German flag sat near German American Boulevard near the Patoka River area. The other, which had scenery on it, was located on Vincennes University’s campus. Today, a brown bison purchased by a business can be seen on Newton Street near 36th Street. The ladies aren’t sure where the other two went.
“I’d sure like to know where they are,” Popp said.
Many bison in different communities were decorated with scenes from the community or with the state flag. Some counties chose to keep their bison a neutral brown or beige color.
Finding some of the bison sculptures proved to be a challenge in itself.
“Some places didn’t know where their bison was,” Mason said. “We had to look around a lot.”
But when they mentioned what they were doing, local people were eager to help. For instance the mayor of Mount Vernon, in Posey County, got on the phone and found out where the bison was, and then led the ladies to it.
“He was so nice to us,” Hemmerlein said.
“We’ve met a lot of wonderful people,” Mason said.
On their journey, they found out that Noble had the most bicentennial bison statues: 13.
“They had eight large ones and five little ones,” Ruckriegel said. “We didn’t see all the little ones, because they were inside of different buildings. Sometimes we’d get to the town too late and things were already closed.”
And they found that not all counties participated in the bicentennial art project.
“Not all counties got a bison,” Popp explained.
Some places had other themed designs — like the giraffes they saw in Fountain County in September 2017, the lions in Rush County in October 2017, the roosters in Franklin County in Mach 2017 the elks and heart sculptures in Elkhart County, and the Garfield the cat statues they saw this month in Grant County. They also saw the “Unconditional Surrender” statues in Hamilton County in May 2017. The statues look like the famous “V-J Day in Times Square” photo, which depicts a U.S. Navy sailor kissing a stranger in Times Square in August 1945.
Despite not finding bison everywhere, they found unique sites in each county: interesting statues, historical buildings and eateries. “We made sure to visit every candy store and ice cream store we could find,” Ruckriegel said.
As part of their journey, they’ve gone to community festivals, attended concerts, stayed in different hotels and bed and breakfasts, checked out historic courthouses, visited parks and college campuses. They’ve made the most of their visits.
“We decide what counties we’re going to, and Marge looks up information about the county,” Mason said. “We don’t know where we’re going, so we rely on GPS.”
“And we’ve had a lot of detours,” Hemmerlein added. “There’s been construction, GPS doesn’t know where to go ... we’ve had to turn around a time or two. The GPS would send us around the block, and around the block.”
While looking for bison, the ladies also looked for and found former Carnegie libraries. These buildings were funded by Andrew Carnegie; he had more than 2,000 built across the United States between 1883 and 1929. So as they searched for bison, they searched for Carnegie libraries. Some they found are still libraries and some have different uses. One structure, in Steuben County, is now housed inside a newer library.
“They built the new library around it,” Popp said. “You can see the wall of the old library inside.”
They took plenty of photographs of their journey, and Popp has been documenting each visit as scrapbook pages. So far, she has three big scrapbooks full of their adventures.
They encourage others to visit some of the many counties in the state, whether it’s a day trip, an overnight stay or multi-day adventure.
“There is a lot to see in Indiana,” Ruckriegel said.
And while they know there are different communities they want to visit again, they realize that this adventure is about to come to an end.
But that just means that a new adventure awaits.
“This has been a lot of fun,” Popp said.
“I guess we’ll have to find something else to do now,” Hemmerlein said.
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