HANCOCK COUNTY — Against a rural backdrop, with rolling hills and the sounds of a tractor breaking through the silence, they celebrated.

Doctors and lawyers, police officers and business owners, they shared one commonality: membership in an organization aimed at bettering this place they call home.

As Leadership Hancock County marks its 20th anniversary, graduates and community members gathered this week to commemorate the organization’s successes over the last two decades while looking to the future, pondering what contributions the program will have in the years to come.

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Leadership Hancock County is a nonprofit that calls residents to brainstorm options for tackling community issues and learning leadership skills. The organization was formed in the 1990s with the mission to inspire residents to foster the traits needed to take on positions of power within the community.

The picnic-style anniversary party Tuesday on the lawn at Tyner Pond Farm highlighted the hard work of the 363 participants who have graduated from the program since its inception.

While they come from all walks, their dedication to the community and commitment to brighten its culture for generations unites them, said Paula Jarrett, a hostess and emcee for the evening.

“The thread that ties up together is Leadership Hancock County,” said Jarrett, the area director for United Way of Central Indiana.

Each year, program leaders divide the year’s class into groups, which are then assigned to work on projects that address an area of need in Hancock County,

Often, these projects benefit an area nonprofit; topics addressed in the 2015 leadership class included a hunt for property to build a new facility for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hancock County and a laying the ground work for a major fundraising event for Leaders in Navigating Knowledge (LINK).

As the groups meet for their projects, they are also taken on tours around the county of business, government buildings and more, designed to give them a better understanding of what makes Hancock County tick, organizers said.

Throughout Tuesday’s celebration, graduates of the program shared memories of the year they participated, laughed about the challenges their project presented and discussed how involvement in the program made them better.

“I’ve had friendships come of this,” said Keely Butrum, a graduate of the program. “The benefits of being part of this are just endless.”

Jarrett facilitated a discussion with Tom Seng and Bobby Keen, two men credited as the founding fathers of Leadership Hancock County. Seng was the CEO of Central Indiana Power, and Keen held the same title at Hancock Regional Hospital when the leadership program started; both men have since retired.

Seng and Keen told those gathered the story of how Leadership Hancock County was created and shared their hopes for the organization’s future. As they chatted and answered questions, a photograph sat between them of a bright-smiling Nancy King, the woman who organization leaders say was the driving force the gave momentum to the program that has kept in running for so many years.

King died in 2010, but organizers said they wanted to ensure she was part of the evening.

A handful of members of the class of 1996 — the program’s first graduating class – attended the celebration, including the Rev. Donald Watson, a former a pastor at Eaton United Methodist Church, who participated in the program to sure up his leadership skills and learn more about the county he was serving.

Leadership Hancock County was Watson’s second brush with such a program; he participated in Leadership Montgomery County while living in Crawfordsville, he said.

He doesn’t remember the details of the project his group worked on all those years ago, a few more important things stuck with him — leadership lessons and the friends he made while learning them.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.