GREENFIELD — Skip Kuker wasn’t suspicious until he was led down the hallway to the conference room bursting with his friends, family and peers.
It was then he realized he’d been hoodwinked.
The director of the county’s economic development council was shocked and touched to realize he was being honored with the Sagamore of the Wabash, the state’s highest honor, given by the governor to people with a lifetime of excellent service to the state. Rep. Bob Cherry and Sen. Mike Crider joined Kuker’s family and colleagues to honor Kuker’s efforts to further economic development in Hancock County despite battling Stage 4 throat cancer.
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Kuker wasn’t the only one in for such a surprise Wednesday morning. Just a few hours later, well-wishers gathered to celebrate the accomplishments of another county resident: Tyner Pond Farm owner Chris Baggott received the same award at a separate gathering.
‘He inspires many’
Kuker wiped his eyes as Cherry presented him with the award naming him a “Sagamore” — an honorary chieftain — of the state of Indiana.
It was a fitting place for Kuker to accept such an honor. He stood, surrounded by friends and colleagues — as well as nurses and doctors — at the Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center, where he has received cancer treatment since his diagnosis in 2012.
It’s been inside these walls that those who have gotten to know Kuker have been amazed at all he’s managed to do in his five-year tenure as director of the HEDC — fought through the pain and exhaustion that come with cancer treatments to nourish the county’s workforce, including bringing some 440 jobs to the county with the largest development in years, BeijingWest Industries, an auto-parts manufacture plant slated for completion by 2021.
Cherry said in his work as a state representative, when people discover his district encompasses Greenfield, countless times, they’ve asked him if he knows Kuker. Kuker’s recognition in the business community is a testament to his hard work, which the state recognized on Wednesday with the award, Cherry said.
The crowd gave Kuker a standing ovation as he accepted the certificate, and then a hug from his daughter, Jordan.
“This is a big, big deal for me,” Kuker said. “I was fabulously surprised, I can’t believe it. (The Sagamore of the Wabash) is the highest honor bestowed on an Indiana citizen, and I get to be that citizen.”
Kuker joked he wished he’d worn a suit — but he’d thought he was heading to a run-of-the-mill meeting.
The surprise reception was a great tribute to a man who has endeavored to bring hundreds of jobs to Greenfield and Hancock County, said Greenfield Mayor Chuck Fewell.
Kuker’s strength while fighting cancer has encouraged friends and colleagues, said Greenfield City Council member Dan Riley, who introduced Kuker during the surprise announcement.
“He’s a wonderful asset to this community and an example for anyone going through an illness,” Riley said. “He inspires many of us.”
‘An extraordinary entrepreneur’
Rep. Luke Messer delivered the award on the governor’s behalf to the downtown Indianapolis headquarters of ClusterTruck, Baggott’s kitchen on wheels that deploys cars and bicycles alike to delivers food to people at businesses and offices in the downtown area.
Baggott is the owner of several Hancock County businesses, including Griggsby’s Station, the Mug and Tyner Pond Farm, which delivers meat and produce to consumers and restaurants around the state. He and wife Amy Baggott bought Tyner Pond Farm in 2010 and began selling meat and eggs from the farm the next year, she said.
Baggott has been at the forefront of many local conversations aimed at bringing county residents opportunities for healthy eating and living. Last year, Baggott aided with planning the Hancock Flat-50, a bike ride through Hancock County that brought hundreds of cyclists to Greenfield.
Messer praised Baggott’s entrepreneurial spirit and the innovations he’s had a hand in over the years.
The co-founder of marketing technology companies ExactTarget and Compendium Software is an extraordinary business, Messer said in the upper office of ClusterTruck, where the walls are emblazoned with the business’s signature winged food truck, and a big-screen TV analyzes customers and wait times.
“This means a lot to me,” Baggott said. “I appreciate it very much. I’m very surprised and pleased.”
He was nearly speechless, which wife Amy Baggott joked was unusual for her chatty husband.
She is thrilled for her husband and co-owner, she said; receiving such an honor from the state is a dream come true for him.
ClusterTruck’s chief marketing officer, Travis Hall, said the award was well-deserved.
“I am super excited to be on his team and part of this adventure,” Hall said.
The Sagamore of the Wabash award is the highest honor bestowed upon an Indiana citizen from the governor, which names them an honorary member of the governor’s staff.
- Created during the 1945-1949 term of Gov. Ralph Gates
- “Sagamore” was a term used by American Indian tribes in the northeastern U.S. to designate a lesser chief
- Former recipients: Presidents, astronauts, ambassadors, artists and musicians, politicians and ordinary citizens
Source: Jeffrey Graf, Herman B. Wells Library, Indiana University – Bloomington; provided by the office of Rep. Luke Messer.