More than 200 family and friends gathered Sunday afternoon at a small church near Hayden to celebrate and remember the life of a person that many have come to call a true Indiana hero.
That man, Edgar D. Whitcomb, the state’s 43rd governor, died Thursday at his home in Rome in Perry County along the Ohio River. He was 98.
The service for Whitcomb was conducted at Hayden United Methodist Church on the outskirts of the little town of about 550 people where he grew up, attended school, hunted and fished and did the other things boys do.
Pastor Tom Judd led the service for Whitcomb that began with an old-fashioned hymn sing.
Judd, who attended the church with Whitcomb at times, said the former governor would want his family and friends to take pride in everything they do.
“He was proud to be from Hayden,” Judd said. “He was a Hayden Haymaker. He had pride in that. He exuded that confidence.”
Judd said the lessons Whitcomb received at Hayden High School set the foundation for him to graduate from law school at Indiana University and go on to become secretary of state and later governor.
“He was proud of his family,” Judd said. “The times I was around him he didn’t want to talk about the war, sailing or anything else. He wanted to share about all of his kids and all of his grandkids. He was proud of you and the rest of us heard about it.
“He was proud to be from Indiana and serve our state. He was proud to be an American and serve his country. But most importantly, he was proud to be a Christian. He was not embarrassed by it at all. He served God for 98 years.”
Judd said Whitcomb also would recommend every one set goals and stick to them, be generous and have love in their life.
“Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do it,” Judd said. “Set those high goals and then work for it.”
Whitcomb gave a lot to make Hayden Historical Museum possible and to the churches he attended in Hayden and Rome.
Judd said Whitcomb also had the chance to work on his “bucket list” by sailing around the world later in life.
Whitcomb’s son, John Whitcomb, said after the service that he would like people to remember his father as an honest man.
“It didn’t matter if you didn’t have great gain in the world or didn’t get it right,” he said.
Whitcomb said his Dad and mom, former First Lady Pat Whitcomb, always treated everyone the same.
“It didn’t matter if you were a janitor or the President,” he said. “They gave everyone the same attention.”
Mike Pence, the state’s 50th governor, and First Lady Karen Pence attended the celebration of life, and the governor spoke about Whitcomb’s accomplishments.
“As the 50th governor of the state of Indiana, it is an inexpressible privilege for me spend a few moments to pay a debt of honor to the 43rd governor of the state of Indiana,” Mike Pence said.
He said Whitcomb lived an extraordinary life that included his capture, not once but twice, during World War I and his later calling to political life at the governor from 1969 to 1973.
Pence said faith helps with the grieving and people should celebrate Whitcomb’s life.
“Because heroes give us hope,” he said.
After the service, the governor spoke briefly about his personal relationship with his predecessor.
“I don’t ever remember him not giving me advice,” Pence said.
“He was a principled, thinking statesman I had the privilege to become friends with him over the last 10 years,” Pence said. “He was a man that was every bit as engaged and interested in public life in his 90s as I expect he was when his political career first began. He gave us lots of encouragement and lots of advice. We will always cherish his support.”
Linda Foster of North Vernon said she grew up next to the Whitcomb’s in Hayden and knew the governor.
“I came because there are such a wonderful family and he had done so many awesome things,” she said. “He had been through so much and used it get where he did.”
Pence said there will be a statewide service for Whitcomb on Friday in the Capitol Rotunda at Indianapolis. As of Sunday afternoon, the time of that service had not been set.