For Holmes, community involvement is a family heritage

Mary Emma Holmes (right), the 2009 Samuel L. Jones Pioneer Award winner, wipes away a tear as 2008 winner Joyce Sorg (left) reads a tribute to Holmes during the award breakfast Thursday, July 2, at the Knight Bergman Center in Warren.
Mary Emma Holmes (right), the 2009 Samuel L. Jones Pioneer Award winner, wipes away a tear as 2008 winner Joyce Sorg (left) reads a tribute to Holmes during the award breakfast Thursday, July 2, at the Knight Bergman Center in Warren. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Mary Emma Holmes, the newest Samuel L. Jones Pioneer Award winner, says she got it from her mother.

"She was very civic-minded," Holmes said as she accepted her award during a breakfast Thursday, July 2, at the Knight Bergman Center in Warren. "Mother's ability to be civic-minded has worn off on her family."

The family included a brother, who was selected for a similar honor in his adopted home-town of Plainfield, IL, she says, but died before it could be presented - prompting Holmes to joke that she was glad she was still alive to receive hers.

This was the 21st year the award has been presented in conjunction with the Salamonie Summer Festival. Each year, past recipients of the award select a new honoree who has worked for "the overall betterment of the greater Warren community."

This year, though, the group of past Pioneer Award winners decided to institute a new honor, a community service award. That honor was bestowed on the Salamonie Active Men, more commonly known as the SAMs.

"We've decided to give them a special award this year," said Cynthia Smyth-Wartzok, the 2006 Samuel Jones award winner, who served as master of ceremonies for the breakfast. "For all the work they've done, not just this year, but for years and years and years."

The community service award brought with it some immediate benefits - SAM members got to be first in line at the breakfast buffet, immediately after the head table.

Holmes happened to be seated at the table that was last to be sent through the breakfast line, but she was to be first in the Salamonie Summer Festival parade on Friday evening, July 3. The Pioneer Award winner traditionally serves as grand marshal of the parade.

Holmes, a native and lifelong resident of Warren who recently moved to Heritage Pointe, has dedicated herself to collecting and preserving the history of the community, notes 2008 award winner Joyce Sorg.

Her work has enabled several Warren-area farmers and businesses to qualify for the 100-year recognition certificates awarded through the state's Hoosier Homestead and Centennial Businesses Awards programs.
She helped organize the Warren Historical Society, wrote a history column for the Warren newspaper and taped interviews with local residents about their lives growing up in Warren.

"You have spent many hours working in the Salamonie Valley Museum," Sorg read as she recounted Holmes' community activities. "When it was decided there was a need for an air conditioner in the museum, you took on the job of designing a Warren and Jefferson high school alumni graduating book, having copies made and selling them to raise enough money to pay for the air conditioner and having it installed."

Holmes has also compiled articles about Warren's history for the Warren Public Library, including compiling and indexing newspaper articles in a notebook.

"That notebook and your ‘A Day or Two Ago' columns are filled with a wealth of knowledge for people interested in Warren history," Sorg said.

Holmes is a member of the Solid Rock Church in Warren and the United Methodist Women, and is an associate member of Sigma Phi Gamma.

"Thank you, Mary Emma, for all the little things you do to make this ‘Small Town with a Big Heart' a better place to live in and a better community," Sorg said in presenting the award.

"I couldn't stand here and say that I did this without the help of this community," Holmes said. "I had a lot of help."

When the museum first opened, she said, skeptics told her that nobody would come just to see "a bunch of pictures."

"Well, people stand in there by the hour looking at those pictures," Holmes said, adding that the museum has grown through the years to include more than "just pictures."

She ended with a pitch to get more business for the museum.
"Please visit the museum," she told her audience. "I'll be there."

Another organization that's always there is the SAMs, says 1992 award winner Rosemary Zeller. The SAMs got involved in the Salamonie Summer Festival 28 years ago, she said, sponsoring the festival's first "Family Feud" game. Through the years, the SAMs have added many other events to the festival, even setting off the fireworks for more than a dozen years. This year, the SAMs are sponsoring their 19th annual festival car cruise-In.

"All the while sponsoring events, this group is known by all involved with the Salamonie Summer Festival as the world's greatest clean-up crew," Zeller said.

SAMs members sweep streets and pick up trash every morning of the festival and help set up and tear down tables, chairs, bleachers, picnic tables and stages. When the old stage became too rickety to use, the SAMs held fundraisers to purchase a new stage.

"Trying to put into words how much the festival depends on these guys is almost impossible," Zeller said. "Their dedication to our community and the pride that they show for this great little town through their service sets them apart and speaks highly of their characters."

SAMs members Kevin Decker, Mike Daugherty, Jeff Douglas, Adam Douglas, Lee Smith and Jeff Daugherty represented their organization at the breakfast.

The Samuel L. Jones Pioneer Breakfast served as the official kick-off of the Salamonie Summer Festival. Festival activities continued through Sunday, July 5.