Rock ’n’ roll artist John Mellencamp has brought a lot of national attention to his hometown of Seymour since making it big on the music scene in 1982.
He also has helped raise millions of dollars for family farmers through 30 years of the annual Farm Aid concert.
A state representative now wants to honor Mellencamp, 64, locally in a visible and lasting way.
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District 66 Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Austin, superintendent of Crothersville Community School Corp., has authored a resolution urging the Indiana Department of Transportation to rename the 16-mile portion of Interstate 65 from Exit 34 near Austin to Exit 50 in Seymour as “John Mellencamp Way.”
“John Mellencamp is truly ‘the people’s performer,’” Goodin said in a news release. “His body of work and his actions on behalf of mankind have brought positive attention to Indiana. I believe that naming a portion of the highway in his honor is a fitting tribute for his many successes.”
The proposal moved out of the House committee on roads and transportation Wednesday with a vote of 13-0. It now moves to the House floor for more discussion.
“John Mellencamp’s music resonates with so many people, regardless of culture or background,” Goodin said. “His loyalty to the state of Indiana is undeniable. Not only is his band predominantly made up of Hoosier musicians, but his music reflects the heart and soul of this state.”
There is precedent, as the state took a similar action in 1999 when a 20-mile stretch of I-65 in Indianapolis was renamed Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds Highway for the singer, songwriter and producer who hails from the state capital.
Although he currently lives in Bloomington, Mellencamp was born and raised in Seymour. Some of his biggest hit songs describe that history, including “Jack and Diane,” “Pink Houses” and “Small Town.”
He has received numerous awards and honors throughout his career, including a Grammy, and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.
When it comes to giving back, Mellencamp has supported Indiana University, donating money for the John Mellencamp Pavilion, an indoor athletics training facility on the Bloomington campus. He also owns the house and property that is used as Southern Indiana Center for the Arts in Seymour.
He has been an active and vocal supporter of the Democratic party and together with Willie Nelson and Neil Young helped organize the first Farm Aid concert in 1985 to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to help raise funds to keep farm families on their land.
The idea to locally honor Mellencamp’s achievements and contributions isn’t new.
In 2008, there was discussion brought about by members of Mellencamp’s graduating class from Seymour High School, the Class of 1970, to rename Community Drive, which runs in front of the school, after their classmate.
A local artist and a downtown music store owner proposed painting a Mellencamp mural on the side of the business in downtown Seymour in 2013.
Neither idea has happened.
Some people think it would be good for the state to honor Mellencamp, while others disagree.
Julie Toborg-Calandro of Seymour said it shouldn’t matter what people’s personal opinions may be. She said she believes Mellencamp deserves the recognition.
“I’m always asked if I’m from the same town as John,” she said. “He’s more than paid his dues. Besides Gov. Whitcomb, the Reno Brothers and the Seymour Recycling debacle, what are we known for? John Mellencamp.”
Kay Schwade of Seymour said she would rather see state legislators focus their efforts on doing something “positive and meaningful” for the district.
“Is what we name a roadway at the top of the priorities for our district?” she asked. “Is it more important than education, health care, employment, wages, financial stability?”
Seymour resident Cindy Galbraith said the community and state should be proud of Mellencamp.
“I think just growing up here and making it big is enough,” she said. “I wish our town could just be proud of his accomplishments. James Dean was from Indiana, and they have a whole festival named in his honor.”