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Hoosier Bright Spots

As bad as 2021 was, a few locals renewed Phil Gulley's faith in humanity.
An illustration of a man looking out the window to the night's sky

Illustration by Ryan Snook

to an end, it seems appropriate to pause and discern if life in the United States is getting better or if I should jump headfirst into a woodchipper and end things now. Growing up in America, I felt fortunate to live in the greatest nation in the world, but lately, I’ve been checking housing prices in Costa Rica and Norway and wondering if they have fried chicken and motorcycles. What they don’t have is the United States Congress, a definite plus. But they also don’t have my granddaughter, which means my wife and I will likely be staying right here in good old Indiana, where the candlelights are gleaming on the banks of the Wabash far away and all that stuff.

Being a Christian, I hesitate to use the word “stupid” when referring to a fellow human and child of God, so “half-wit” will have to suffice for those people who screamed at school board members for requiring our children to wear masks so they wouldn’t die. Or the people who said COVID was a hoax, or the ones who drank bleach, or slurped down horse dewormer, or sipped paint stripper rather than get vaccinated. While the half-wits got the lion’s share of attention in 2021, I’m pleased to report there were plenty of Hoosiers who exhibited common sense and decency this year. Let me share a few examples.

We’ll start with Doug Boles, the president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, who had the intelligence to recognize a pandemic when he saw one and scaled back the Greatest Spectacle in Racing to keep the racegoers safe even as some of them ridiculed him for caring more about their lives than they did. Doug and I grew up down the street from one another in Danville. Because
of the difference in our ages, we don’t know one another well, but I know a class act when I see one, and Doug has done our hometown proud.

Then there’s Charlie Richardson, a bright, kind man heading up the Rethink Coalition, a group of Hoosiers hoping to redesign an interstate system that decimated Black communities back in the ’60s and ’70s. Most folks Charlie’s age have tottered off to Florida to play golf, but this Bedford-born man is staying put to help right a historic wrong. May his tribe increase.

There’s a woman in Avon named Laura Essex. Trained in the sciences, she developed an interest in pollinators and is now preaching the gospel of sustainability and native plants, inspiring homeowners across the country through her website Her goal is to replace the gas-swilling, air-polluting, peace-shattering lawn mower with indigenous plants, native grasses, and flowers, so our Indiana skies can once again be filled with bees and butterflies.

Since we’re discussing young people leading the way, I’d be remiss not to mention Allissa Impink, the manager of community engagement and K–12 advocacy at UNCF Indiana. In addition to that work, she sits on just about every board that’s doing anything innovative in Indy. I kid you not, this woman is everywhere—serving groups such as Adelante Schools and Enriched Schools—all while raising three daughters with her husband, Matt.

This past year saw the loss of a leading light in our city’s spiritual landscape: David Owen, the former pastor of several United Methodist churches in Indianapolis and longtime leader of St. Luke’s singles ministry. While Jerry Falwell was going on and on about family values, Owen was ministering to a group of folks largely ignored by the institutional church, many of whom found their life’s mate because of the quiet, thoughtful man who marched to Selma with Martin Luther King Jr., wrote books, told stories, and painted pictures. A congregant described Owen as “an exquisite human being, one of God’s best.”

I share these names to remind you that not every Hoosier is plotting an insurrection or screaming at healthcare experts or following the Kardashians. Far more folks wake up each morning and go forth in the world determined to improve it. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet thousands of them over the years and hope to meet thousands more before I die. This month, I thought I’d tell you about five of them, our very own Hoosier candlelights, gleaming brightly in these darkened times. 

Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor, author, and humorist. "Back Home Again" chronicles his views on life in Indiana.

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