Honoring Our Elkhart History

We are adding names to our meeting rooms at Osolo, Dunlap, Pierre Moran and Cleveland branches. Here’s a little bit on each person we’ve included on our list. (Note: Not every legendary Elkhart resident is listed here. We had to edit, we had to leave out those still creating their legacy, and we had to leave room for you to tell us who you think deserves these honors.)

Herbert & Ruth Tolson – Herbert was director of Elkhart’s Booker T. Washington Center. With his wife, Ruth, the couple served the African American community and left an enduring legacy.  

Helen Beardsley – The first woman elected to the Elkhart School Board, Helen was an active supporter in women’s rights and founded the Elkhart branch of the Women’s Franchise League (later the League of Women Voters) in 1913. 

Havilah Beardsley – Simply put, he was the founder of the city of Elkhart. 

E. Hill Turnock – Look around, and you will find this architect’s style on many of the city’s memorable buildings: City Hall, the Masonic Temple, the Presbyterian Church, the YMCA building, and the Water Works. 

Charles Gordone – Charles was the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama. See more of his story in this video feature. 

Chief Pierre Moran – A powerful voice among the Potawatomi, he sought peace in the St. Joseph Valley when others wanted war.

Samuel Simonton – A farmer by trade, Samuel became active in politics and served as county judge and Justice of the Peace. 

C.G. Conn – Inventor. Publisher. Congressman. He was one of a kind, but his lasting legacy remains in the musical instrument industry.  

Carl D. Greenleaf – The successor to Conn, Carl began the National School Band Movement and started national competitions in the 1920s.

Dr. Franklin Miles – In 1884, a specialist in the treatment of eye and ear disorders founded a company here that innovated in the medical treatment field for nearly 100 years under his name. 

Kelby Love – A lover of nature and an artist with a voice, a number of Kelby’s works remain on buildings around Elkhart. See more of his story in this video feature. 

Ben Barnes – The first Black man elected to county office, Ben meant everything to Elkhart and Elkhart meant everything to him. He was a published author, a mentor of youth, and true public servant. Read more about Ben Barnes in The Truth in Our History. 

Janice Dean – Janice mentored young writers at Memorial High School for decades, and won numerous professional awards for her work. She also earned the distinction of being the longest-ever serving member of Library Board of Trustees. Read more about Janice Dean.  

Levar Johnson – By the time of his retirement, Levar had been a role model for thousands of students. He was a teacher and principal, director of the local No Child Left Behind efforts, and a 16-year member of the Library Board of Trustees. 

Ross and Esther Martin – Ross directed his family’s business, NIBCO, and various community organizations. Esther engaged in various philanthropic causes and helped put together the funding for the Downtown library. Together, they founded the Martin Foundation that continues to benefit education and the arts locally. Read more about Ross Martin.  

Emma Barrett Molloy – A journalist and public lecturer, Emma was a noted evangelist for the temperance movement and a women’s rights advocate in the late 1880s. She was the first female newspaper editor locally, overseeing the Elkhart Observer from 1867-76.

Helen and Alfred Free – Helen and Al placed Miles Laboratories at the forefront of diagnostic medicine with the development of test strips. Read more about Helen and Al Free.

Max and Elizabeth Walker – Max and Elizabeth’s commitment to Elkhart is demonstrated in their gifts to the city (a park on the northeast side) and the library (the land where the Osolo Branch is located). Max was a former president of Elkhart Rotary Club, as well.

Paul Thomas – MSNBC has called him “Elkhart’s historian, cheerleader and ambassador-at-large.” Many remember Paul Thomas Shoes, his advocacy for downtown, and his work on the city council. But Paul will be the first to tell you he remembers more than you.