Hoosier heritage came blazing through Delaware County Sept. 27.
The Indiana Bicentennial Torch Relay is a celebration similar to that of the Olympics. The torch relay will visit all 92 Indiana counties, and Sept. 27 was Delaware County’s turn to carry the tradition.
Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler was the first of 24 torchbearers on the county’s route. In a caravan of police vehicles and media vans, Tyler walked with three of his grandchildren.
“Being a torchbearer is such an honor. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Tyler said.
Tyler said he hoped he was nominated based off of his investment in the Muncie and Delaware County communities.
“I’m so proud of our state, our history and our culture of being Hoosiers and it just means something very special for my community to have chosen me to be one of the torchbearers,” Tyler said.
Stan Sollars, a telecommunications professor at Ball State, was the torchbearer who ran the bicentennial torch down Neely and McKinley avenues.
As a cancer survivor, Sollars ran to represent both Ball State and cancer patients who are and were fighting the disease.
“Oh, it was wonderful … it was great to see all the people turning out to celebrate the state’s history and look to the future and wonderful community activity, and we have the best weather I think of any of the routes so far,” Sollars said.
While carrying the torch, Sollars was supported by fans holding up signs and pictures of his face, cheering him along his route.
“We ran it definitely faster today [than in previous practices]. It was just the boost you get from the crowd, I guess,” Sollars said. “Can’t give them extra credit but I saw quite a few of my graduate students as well as undergrads out, so that was a hoot.”
Robert “Eli” Riggin carried the bicentennial torch posthumously for Rea Riggin, his great-great-grandfather. Rea Riggin started Riggin's Dairy in Muncie in 1911. Instead of running, Eli Riggin carried the torch in the family’s milk wagon, built in Indianapolis in 1929.
“My grandfather was nominated because he did many many amazing things in Delaware County,” Riggin said. “During the Great Depression, he let men work off their grocery bills to feed their families. Since there wasn’t money going around, he said, ‘Come out and milk some cows. Come out and work.’”
Riggin was chosen to carry the torch for his great-great-grandfather because he is the last Riggin grandson.
“It really is nothing but a gift that was given to me,” Riggin said. “It’s such a sense of pride in my community.”
Jack Williamson carried the torch for half a mile while walking and riding in a car. Williamson is an amputee; he lost his right foot in a lawnmower accident when he was four years old. Because of this, Williamson and his family started Jack’s Laughs, a service that sends toys in a “laugh bag” to hospitalized children across the nation.
“[The relay] is really life changing because it’s rare for it to happen,” Williamson said. “It’s the birthday of Indiana.”
Amanda Erk, Williamson’s mother, said their family started Jack’s Laughs 11 months ago and has sent 35 laugh bags to children in need of a good laugh.
“The parents, they hear their child laugh and they sometimes felt like they wouldn’t hear it again, and the child gets to have fun when they think that they might not get to have fun again,” Erk said.
The torch relay concluded at noon on Sept. 27. Torch relays throughout the state will continue into October and end with Marion County on Oct. 15.