COLUMBIA CITY — One took a train to Old Settlers Day and the other one remembers a dazzling light show.
Talbert “Pit” Pittenger and Elmer Heinley were honored Friday for being this year’s Old Settlers Day Citizens. Normally the ceremony takes place on Thursday, the traditional Old Settlers Day, but due to the heat the men met up with the OSD officers at the air-conditioned Thomas R. Marshall Museum Friday afternoon.
Pittenger was named the Longest Continuous Resident who registered for Old Settles Day on Thursday. He is 93 years old and hails from Union Township.
Heinley was named the Oldest Citizen and, at 97, resides in Columbia Township.
Pittenger will be 94 on July 18. He was born in 1918. He has been married to Doris Schrader Fenker Pittenger for eight good years, he said.
After serving in the United States Navy for 31 months he worked as a supervisor at International Harvester.
“I played basketball for them for 38 years. That’s how I got my job there,” said Pittenger.
“I worked at IH for 38-½ years and come Jan. 1 I will be retired for 38 years,” he said. He was supervisor for 25 years at IH. Pittenger’s dad retired from IH and his son worked there.
His favorite memory of Old Settlers Day is jumping on the train at Coesse to come to the festival.
“There were between 40 to 50 people at the depot and we all paid 10 cents to come to the festival. My favorite event was the free movie at the Columbia Theater,” said Pittenger.
He also enjoyed selling tickets for the American Legion when they gave away cars.
“I never won a car but I did win $500 at the Eagles Lodge,” he said.
Growing up in Coesse, he graduated from the high school there. He had some college and then joined the Navy.
He has a daughter, Rita (Bart) Toomey, of Gainesville, Ga., and he lost his son, Roger, in 1988.
Pittenger is blessed with seven grandchildren.
He claims Doris’ children as his own as well. They are Dennis (Kathy) Fenker, Sharon (Dwight) Alexander, Karen (Jerry) Wigent and Shirley and the late Neal Law – and they are all from Columbia City. Doris has 12 grandchildren and 32 great-grandchildren.
As the Oldest Citizen, Elmer Heinley is full of great stories about OSD and life in general in Whitley County.
His favorite memories are hearing the voice of Milt Lorber as the master of ceremonies during the one-day fair and calling it “America’s Greatest One Day Celebration.”
“Everything stopped in Whitley County on Old Settlers Day,” said Heinley.
“There was entertainment at the bandstand on the Courthouse Square. My favorite event was watching a woman hang from a cable by her teeth from the Provident Trust Company (formerly east of STAR Bank) and cabled up to the Courthouse. She had light bulbs all over her body. It was sure a pretty sight and she did it in the evening. The aerial acts, those were always the highlight,” said Heinley.
He fondly remembers taking his beloved wife of 75 years, Helen, on the Ferris Wheel and Merry Go Round. Helen died in 2010.
Heinley is still active and is the oldest and first honorary member of the Columbia City Rotary Club. He has been past president and loves to sing at the meetings.
He has farmed all of his life and still lives at the family homestead west of Columbia City. He has lived at that farm for 95 years.
“That farm was bought for $1.50 an acre during President Chester Arthur’s administration. He was our 21st president becoming that after the assassination of President James A. Garfield,” said Heinley.
He served 45 years in the Columbia Township Fire Department, 20 years as captain.
Heinley has always been active in the community especially in county planning.
“I helped set up the Whitley County Plan Commission and was vice president of the building corporation for Columbia City High School,” he said.
He was an agriculture advisor for Vice President Dan Quayle, Congressmen Dan Coats and Mark Souder.
Heinley was treasurer of the Republican Central Committee in Whitley County.
Governor Otis Bowen named him a Sagamore of the Wabash, Indiana’s top citizen honor.
“But my pride and joy is the framed private invitation to President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. I’m so proud of my relationship to that great man,” said Heinley.
His faith is very important to him and he has taught Sunday School for 50 years at Eberhard Lutheran Church. He also served on the council there.
Heinley is blessed with one daughter, Sandra Holler, of Muncie. He has two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Both men received an engraved plaque from OSD Officers Toban Chapman, Glenn Snapp, Kay Fleck and John Meier.