JASPER — One of the state’s highest honors came to the humble Tom Kellams of Jasper over the weekend, as he was surrounded by family and close friends to accept the Distinguished Hoosier Award bestowed by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb.
The state nod to Kellams was the result of friend and fellow community volunteer Elyne Strauss providing State Representative Shane Lindauer with his lengthy resume of community involvement for nomination. Solely granted at the discretion of the governor, the award pays homage to Hoosiers who have uniquely brought admiration and respect to Indiana through both character and accomplishments.
“I’ve been writing my life history, I’ve got a long way to go yet, but they kind of surprised me here with this award from the governor,” Kellams told The Herald Thursday. “I told them, ‘I don’t know that I deserve this award more than anybody else.’ One person can’t just do everything themselves, it took a lot of people in the community to be involved in the projects I worked on. They said it takes somebody to get something started and I guess that’s what I did. I really appreciate the award and a big bouquet of flowers. So I’m a Distinguished Hoosier, I have a big plaque that says I am.”
A local historian of Dubois County, Kellams and wife, Esther, donated an extensive personal library of genealogical family history to the Dubois County Genealogical Library inside of the Dubois County Museum. He is a founding member of the museum and the Ireland Historical Society and a charter member of the Ireland Lions Club. He has served as a board member of the Dubois County Historical Society, Dubois County Genealogical Society, the advisory board of St. Charles Health Campus and the Greater Jasper School Corporation board.
Professionally Kellams was the co-owner of Kellams Farm Services, founded Kellams Equipment Sales, and was a partner in Quality Welding, Inc. and Specialized Show Feeds.
“I couldn’t sit still. I told someone on Saturday, I guess I was just somebody who couldn’t say ‘no.’ We had our own businesses, my wife and I,” he noted. “We started several businesses over many, many years. I donated a lot of time.”
During his time on the Greater Jasper School Board, Kellams was involved in consolidating local schools into the district.
“A lot of stuff was more or less donation work, you don’t always get paid for everything you do, but if you enjoy it, it means a whole lot,” he added. “It took a lot of work, a lot of people and a lot of people to donate both financially and by doing the work. It just worked out real well. I didn’t do this stuff to get an award, I just did stuff because I enjoyed doing it.”
He orchestrated a variety of community efforts, including the donation of the Alexander Schoolhouse to the Riverwalk in Jasper and established three staple features at the Dubois County Museum. A village display, a unique presentation of taxidermy work in a wildlife room, and providing space for the county’s genealogical library where more than 8,000 local names have been recorded.
“The museum is now known as the largest county museum in the State of Indiana. There are three projects there I really enjoyed doing. A lot of the antique item were being taken out of the area or being destroyed,” Kellams explained. “The younger generation didn’t seem to care about a lot of those things, so we got that started. I told the board to give me a room, I want to put a village in there. I wanted about 6,000 square feet, so my wife, daughter and I designed a late 1800 and 1900 village with about 17 rooms to show what a village may have looked back in that time. There’s brick streets in there and everything.”
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