Civic League founders recall organization's early days

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Greencastle Civic League started with two trains of thought: practicality and beautification.

That's the story from Kathy Jones and Barb Lane, two of the women who co-founded the organization 30 years ago.

Jones was looking to do something practical, namely placing trashcans in downtown Greencastle.

Lane was looking to do something beautiful, as in planting flowers around the city.

As the first president and vice president of the league, respectively, Jones and Lane were able to see both accomplished. In the last 30 years, they have seen so much more.

From the beginning, though, it has been about finding people who wanted to make the city a better place to live.

"We had been listening to people complaining about what was not being done around Greencastle," Lane said. "Those were the people we recruited.

"Basically, put your money where your mouth is."

Both Jones and Lane were recent transplants to Putnam County in 1984 -- Jones in 1983 and Lane in 1980 -- and both brought with them ideas about how an organization like the Civic League could be started.

The guides in founding the organization were the bylaws of the Indianapolis Children's Museum Guild and of the Civic League of Bryan, Ohio, where Jones had lived previously.

As for membership, the group sought to find members from across the community.

"We really tapped into a broad spectrum of people who could see the future of Greencastle," Jones said.

In doing so, they took on a number of projects of different natures along the way.

The Civic League was the first group locally to "adopt-a-highway," cleaning and beautifying Veterans Memorial Highway on the city's south side.

The group planted trees along U.S. 231 from the viaduct on the city's north side, through downtown and south on Bloomington Street. The plantings also stretched east along Washington Street to the intersection of Washington Street and Indianapolis Road.

"We are a working organization, which they (the current members) have continued," Jones said.

In 1986, after a fire at the Opera House on the square, the group conducted a chili supper and related events that raised $10,000 toward the purchase of an aerial truck for the Greencastle Fire Department.

The list of accomplishments for the Civic League, both in the early days and currently, goes on and on.

"And now, of course, they've taken other projects on," Jones said.

Today, some of the most visible signs of the Civic League around the community include the ParkFest summer concert series, the Emerald Palace playground in Robe-Ann Park, Clean City Week (now Tox-Away Day) and the Lights of Love Christmas ceremony each December at the Putnam County Courthouse.

Reflecting on the first Lights of Love ceremony, Lane considered the evidence of just how many years it has been.

"We planted those little trees on the north side of the courthouse that now have to be 45 feet tall," Lane said with eyes wide.

With the group celebrating its 30th year this past week with Civic League Week, the earliest members had a chance to reflect on three decades of service.

One item of note is there has not been a single male member in 30 years.

"Nowhere in our bylaws does it say they have to be a woman," Jones said, "but what man would want to do that much work?"

While she and Lane shared a laugh, Lane also got serious again.

"The current members are doing a really good job now," she said.

For these accomplishments, Jones credits the members (both past and present) as well as the Greencastle community at large.

"In this community, you can be as involved as you want to be," Jones said. "The community is very welcoming to new projects. I don't think it's a place that says, 'No, you can't do that.'"

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