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Indiana Senate honors state's oldest former legislator

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Teacher, lawyer, businessman, farmer, statesman – Elmer Hoehn has held many titles in his life. In 1945, Clark County voters elected him to serve in the Indiana Legislature. He served two terms as state representative before becoming an oil and gas expert – first at the state level as the director of the Indiana Natural Resources Division of Oil and Gas, and later for the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

This month, Hoehn, now 95, returned to the building where his political career began to make remarks at an event in his honor.

hoehn With his son, grandson, and friend behind him, Elmer Hoehn makes remarks at a Senate presentation in his honor on April 7. Hoehn, 95, is Indiana’s oldest former legislator. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

On April 7, Sen. Jim Smith, R-Charlestown, introduced Senate Resolution 74, honoring Hoehn for his life’s work. Smith talked about Hoehn’s role as federal administrator of the U.S. Oil Import Administration. He said President Johnson publicly praised Hoehn for his work in getting oil to England and France during Egypt’s 1967 blockade of the Suez Canal. Smith mentioned many other highlights from Hoehn’s long career before the 45 senators present voted to adopt the resolution. Surrounded by his family and friends, Hoehn spoke at the podium.

“I’m very happy and pleased to be here, “Hoehn said. Reflecting on his time in the Legislature, he told the Senate, “It was one of the great experiences of my life.”

Indiana Sen. Richard D. Young, D-Milltown, told the Senate he had known Hoehn for years, as the two had worked together on projects in Southern Indiana.

“I think we could recognize him for community involvement,” Young said, adding that he had been previously unaware of all of Hoehn’s earlier accomplishments.

Sen. Richard Bray, R-Martinsville, said, “Listening to his lifelong achievements … it’s a history lesson for all of us.”

Before the ceremony began, Hoehn, standing in the hall outside the Senate chambers, talked about how different the Statehouse looks now, compared to six decades ago. He said back then, lawmakers worried they might be crushed by falling chandeliers that dangled precariously from frayed cables.

“There was a great big chunk of plaster that came loose and fell on the floor,” Hoehn recalled. By 1948, the state had fixed the faulty wiring and many other neglected areas of the Statehouse as part of a massive remodeling project.

Hoehn’s friend, Clark Circuit Court Judge Daniel Moore, came to the Statehouse for the presentation. Moore said he invites Hoehn to serve as bailiff in his courtroom, and that Hoehn drives to the courthouse and listens to cases, some that last up to three days.

Moore said Smith approached him with the idea of honoring Hoehn. “And I became the go-between – the organizer – and I’m happy to do it,” he said.

Hoehn earned his Master of Business Administration degree from Northwestern University in 1937 and his law degree from University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law in 1940. He is a member of the Indiana and Kentucky bars, and is a former member of the District of Columbia Bar, where he kept a law office for 22 years.

Hoehn was a charter member of the Ohio River Greenway Commission and a benefactor of the George Rogers Clark homestead cabin. He and his wife, Frances, were chief benefactors of the Clark Memorial Hospital Interfaith Centre. Frances died last year at the age of 100.•

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  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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