Gary Meyer doesn’t like to talk about awards he’s received over his 40-year-career at Schneck Medical Center in Seymour.

He’s honored, he said, but in truth they just sit on shelves or hang on the wall.

Meyer would rather you ask him about his children’s accomplishments and granddaughters’ many activities or how his favorite professional baseball teams, the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs, look this season.

If it were up to him, no one would even know of his latest accolade — the prestigious Sagamore of the Wabash award, which he received this month.

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The Sagamore is the highest civilian honor awarded to men and women in Indiana for contributions and dedication to community and state. It is awarded by the governor and has been bestowed on astronauts, presidents, ambassadors, artists, musicians, politicians and other citizens who have gone above and beyond in their service.

There’s no record of the total number of Sagamores presented, as governors keep their own accounts.

The award was created during the term of Gov. Ralph Gates, who served from 1945 to 1949. Each governor since has presented the awards in his own way. It has been said one governor even wore a full Indian headdress as he announced the recipients.

The term “Sagamore” was used by the American Indian tribes of the northeastern United States to describe a lesser chief or a great man among the tribe to whom the true chief would look for wisdom and advice.

It’s fitting for Meyer, who chooses to bring attention not on himself but to patient-focused initiatives, the accomplishments of doctors and staff and how the hospital is responding to a growing and changing community.

And if it benefits the community and those who live here, then you can bet Meyer is involved in some way.

To retire next month

Originally from Holland, southwest of Jasper in Dubois County, Meyer has been with Schneck since 1975 when he took an externship in health administration. The following year he was promoted to assistant administrator of professional services and then subsequently to executive director of community services, senior vice president of operations and executive vice president/chief operating officer. He was named president and chief executive officer in 2001.

He is retiring April 3, at which time, Warren Forgey, Schneck’s vice president and chief administrative and operations chief, will take over.

Before receiving the Sagamore of the Wabash, Meyer said he didn’t really know much about it.

“I’m humbled by what it is and what it stands for,” he said. “It was a total surprise.”

He was nominated for the award by Forgey and state District 69 Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour.

“Meyer is a passionate advocate for health care,” Forgey said. “He has led a culture of innovation, improvement and proactive collaboration.”

Due to Meyer’s leadership and vision, the hospital has grown into one of the largest and most respected health care providers in the region, Forgey added.

In 2012, Schneck received one of the nation’s highest honor for quality and organizational performance excellence — the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

Meyer said he is proud of that because of what it says about the hospital as a whole, not just one person.

“The success of this hospital is due to everyone that’s here,” he said. “It’s not mine. I’m just blessed with the opportunity to lead it.”

Broad civic involvement

Lucas said earning a Sagamore of the Wabash is no small achievement.

“This award is reserved only for those whose commitments and contributions have brought extraordinary positive change to their communities,” he said. “Gary Meyer has not only met these unwritten expectations but has greatly exceeded them.

“Gary’s career has tremendously benefited the local hospital and the thousands of lives that were made better throughout his decades of service to his local community and those fortunate enough to have worked with him,” Lucas added. “It is my great honor and privilege to know and have worked with a man that has done so much for so many, yet remains as humble as he is.”

His engagement as a health care leader extends beyond Schneck. He has been heavily involved in the community, serving as a member and on the boards of numerous organizations.

Those include Jackson County Industrial Development Corp., Jackson County United Way, the Community Foundation of Jackson County, the Jackson County Education Coalition, Boys and Girls Club of Seymour and the Lions Club. He’s also an active member at Zion Lutheran Church.

“My life has always been to give back to whatever I do,” Meyer said. “I’ve been blessed with so many opportunities and think I should be giving back to my community, my church, back to the hospital or whatever it might be. To help others if I can in any way.”

‘Make a difference’

But it doesn’t take a hospital CEO or any other title to bring about positive change in a community, he added.

“You can make a difference, no matter how involved you are,” he said. “You don’t need to be on the board, or president of the board. Just get involved in the community, and the community will benefit from that involvement. Everyone should be involved. Don’t sit back and wait for something to happen.”

The public is invited to a community open house from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. April 3 in honor of Meyer’s retirement from the hospital. The event will be in the Schneck Auditorium, just inside the visitor entrance at the hospital.

The open house will feature a video of Meyer’s service to the hospital and community over the years, and refreshments will be provided.

“Gary has been a major supporter and volunteer in our community, so we thought it was fitting to invite the public to wish him well in retirement,” said Rick Smith, chairman of the hospital’s board of trustees.

Meyer said the board of trustees is responsible for much of his community involvement and success.

“It’s one of the things they wanted me to do when I came here, get involved in the community,” he said. “I’ve been allowed to do that, to find out what the community needs, get feedback from my involvement so that we can improve our services.”

Schneck may never offer organ transplants, brain surgery or other tertiary care services, Meyer said, but that’s OK.

“It’s about working with the community and deciding what we can do in this size facility,” he said. “We want to do what we have the ability to do here and to do it very well.”

If you go

What: Community open house in honor of Gary Meyer’s retirement from Schneck Medical Center

Where: Schneck auditorium, just inside the visitor entrance

When: 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. April 3

Public is invited. A video of Meyer’s service to the hospital and community will be shown, and refreshments will be provided.

Gary Meyer

Who: Gary Meyer

Home: Seymour, originally from Holland in Dubois County

Job: President and CEO of Schneck Medical Center in Seymour; retiring April 3 after 40 years of service to the hospital

Community involvement: Jackson County Industrial Development Corp., Jackson County United Way, Community Foundation of Jackson County, Jackson County Education Coalition, Boys and Girls Club of Seymour and Lions Club. He’s also an active member at Zion Lutheran Church.

Family: Wife of 35 years, Jane, passed away in 2013; two children, Megan Blomenburg and Matthew Meyer; two granddaughters, 7-year-old Ava and 2-year-old Ella.

Quote: “You can make a difference, no matter how involved you are. You don’t need to be on the board or president of the board. Just get involved in the community, and the community will benefit from that involvement.”

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.