Olinger remembered for her ‘passion for the community’


HUNTINGBURG — Judy Olinger had a deep passion for history and preserving historic buildings.


She also had a passion for beautifying and serving the community. She did that until the last day she was on earth.

Olinger, 78, a well-known landscape architect, died Wednesday.

“She was so dear to me,” said Phyllis Menke of Huntingburg. The two worked together to restore and preserve Old Town Hall in Huntingburg.

“We fought the battle of preserving things in Huntingburg for a long time,” Menke said. “We were also plant freaks, so we had a lot in common.

“I lost my best friend.”

A native of Huntingburg, Judy (Nahler) Olinger was a 1957 graduate of Huntingburg High School and 1987 graduate of Purdue University. She married the late Norb Olinger on New Year’s Eve 1958 and they had two children: Kent and Laura.

Olinger and Menke worked with then-Mayor Connie Nass to get Old Town on the National register of Historic Places, making it the first building in Dubois County to be put on the register.

“She had a great passion for the community,” Nass said. “She did a lot of good things for our community.”

Now, they didn’t agree all the time. But as time went on, they became good friends. They even sang together in Salem United Church of Christ’s church choir.

“She mailed me a letter not too long ago,” Nass said. “It was such a beautiful letter, something I will treasure.”

The Old Town Hall work and the desire to make sure the building remained a fixture in the city led to the creation of the Huntingburg Foundation, the county’s first community foundation, in the 1970s.

Olinger was instrumental in getting the city’s downtown onto the National Register of Historic Places, including the completion of the application and the beautification and restoration to the streets’ original look. And she could be seen on any given day working in the area.

“She would get up in [a] bucket truck and paint bricks and touch up painting. She got dirty doing the work,” said Huntingburg resident Christine Prior, who has worked with Olinger through different organizations, including the Huntingburg Chamber of Commerce and Huntingburg Foundation. “And she knew a lot about the buildings, and how they needed to be preserved to make sure they were historically correct. She knew when buildings were constructed, the materials used, the foundation, everything.”

She was also knowledgeable on other historic buildings throughout the county, Prior said. “People would call her and she would be able to provide all kinds of details and information,” Prior said. “She was a great adviser on historic buildings.”

“Her knowledge, especially of downtown Huntingburg, is going to sorely missed,” Prior said.

Olinger served as consultant with Huntingburg’s Stellar Cities Project. And the design she created in past years for a park to be located behind Old Town was the basis for the new Market Street Park.

“We were going to dedicate the fountain at Market Street Park. But she didn’t like that fountain. She called it a ‘leaky pot,’” Menke said, with a laugh. “We met in the morning a lot for coffee. And she’d start fussing about that leaky pot, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it was going to be dedicated to her, in her honor for everything she’s done for Huntingburg.

“But I think she will be smiling when we dedicate it.”

Over the years, Olinger served in different organizations. She was an executive director of the Huntingburg Chamber of Commerce, a past-president of the Huntingburg Foundation, a member of Patoka 2000 and a contributing member of Historic Southern Indiana and Historic Landmarks of Indiana.

She also served as a leader of various Girl Scout troops and Cub Scout packs, president of the Southridge High School Band Boosters, and a past member of the Huntingburg Music Club, Huntingburg Study Club and the county’s Celebration Singers. At Salem, she served on the church council, buildings and grounds committee, and was a member and director of church choirs.

As part of the church’s grounds committee, Olinger designed the flowerbed on the west side of the church to mirror the nearby stained glass window. “There were many times I’d drive past Salem, and she was there fiddling with the flowers,” Prior said, “to make sure they were perfect.”

In 2011, she earned Purdue’s School of Landscape Architecture’s Distinguished Alumnae Award, and in 2007 the Huntingburg Chamber’s Golden Leaf Award.

Mayor Denny Spinner fully appreciated Olinger’s dedication. “There’s no one who has more of a passion for the community and for her church,” he said. “Everything we’re doing now, in our downtown, was built on the vision Judy had for our community.”

Spinner recalled seeing Olinger driving down Fourth Street when the waterline installation project was going on. The street had been made into a one-way street, and Olinger was driving the wrong way.

“I called her up to let her know,” Spinner said. “She said, ‘I’ve been driving on this street longer than you have been alive,’” which made Spinner chuckle.

Olinger was a past member of the Huntingburg Board of Zoning Appeals. And most recently, she was a member of the Dubois County Park Board, along with Prior. She was just as involved with that countywide board as she was in Huntingburg organizations.

“When she got involved in something, she wanted to know all the details about it, so that she could make a good decision. She never sat on a board and did nothing,” Prior said. “I can’t say I always agreed with her. But I always knew her input was from her heart. It wasn’t for personal gain. It was for the community.”

All agreed that she was very forthcoming when it came to historic preservation.

“Sometimes she said things that people didn’t want to hear,” Prior said. “But what she brought forth was what needed to considered, whether people wanted to hear it or not.

“If she didn’t speak up, Old Town Hall could be gone,” Prior said. “That is not a building you can replace.”

“She set the example of what it means to be committed to your community,” Spinner said. “I hope others see that and also become devoted to the community. She left a legacy, and made a wonderful impact on our community.”

A memorial service for Olinger was held this morning at Salem United Church of Christ.

More on DuboisCountyHerald.com