GREENFIELD — They were born years before women cast their first ballots. Raised during an era marked by the fight for women’s suffrage.
Now, nearly a century later, they’re still performing their civic duty — one so many women fought for them to have.
Three Hancock County women were honored Wednesday afternoon by local and state officials for their longtime commitment to electing their representatives.
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Mary Weir, 108, Loraine Atherton, 104, and Irene Beeson, 101, were presented the Distinguished Hoosier Award, one of the highest state awards a citizen can receive. The award is bestowed by only the governor.
The women represent the county’s oldest active voters, each having cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election, according to voter records, said Hancock County Clerk Marcia Moore, who arranged Wednesday’s ceremony.
Weir, Beeson and Atherton — who received her award at the assisted living facility where she resides — have been faithful to the democratic process, Moore said. Even after their 100th birthdays, they still cast ballots, demonstrated patriotism and made their voices heard.
Beeson said she’s honored to have received the accolade Wednesday. It’s her duty to show up on Election Day and pick candidates to represent her.
“Sometimes, I voted for somebody I wish I hadn’t,” she laughed.
Wednesday, Moore and the county’s state representatives took time to thank the women for their dedication, honoring them during a short ceremony at the Hancock County Courthouse Annex. Family and friends and the county’s party chairs gathered to celebrate alongside them.
State Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, and Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, presented the women Distinguished Hoosier Awards, an honor reserved for Hoosiers who have made positive impacts on their community and state.
Those award-winners reflect the best of the State of Indiana, Cherry said as he handed out the awards.
The women also were presented certificates from the Indiana Secretary of State Office, which oversees the election process.
Moore began planning this week’s ceremony weeks ago after meeting Beeson at a local event.
When she met the 101-year-old and learned she had voted in last year’s presidential election, Moore thought certain the woman had to be Hancock County’s oldest voter.
That many years, watching presidents come and go, seeing history unfold as offices change hands, deserved some sort of recognition, Moore decided, wondering how she might honor Beeson.
After the event, she searched voter records to confirm her suspicions the centenarian was the county’s longest-tenured voter. To her surprise, she found Beeson in good company. Weir and Atherton, who also voted in the most recent election, had been on the rolls even longer.
Moore was blown away by finding people who had voted even longer, she said. They could have stopped voting years ago, decided it was too much of a hassle. But they didn’t, and for that, they should be recognized, she said.
She contacted the state secretary’s office and local lawmakers, planning a short reception that included sweets and refreshments.
Wednesday, before honoring the women, she rattled off events that happened the year each of the women were born, demonstrating just how much happens in 100 years.
In 1909, the year Weir was born, President Howard Taft, the United State’s 27th president, was sworn into office. That same year, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened.
Four years later, when Atherton was born, the first women’s suffrage parade took place in Washington, D.C.
In 1916, the year of Beeson’s birth, the car manufacturer BMW was founded in Germany.
The changes the women have seen in their lifetime — especially changes in voting laws that granted women the right to vote — have to be tremendous, Crider said.
Checking those boxes every few years has probably meant more to them than women in the generations that followed, making them active, dedicated voters, he said.
Beeson said as long as she’s able, she’ll continue casting ballots.
“It’s quite a privilege,” Beeson said.
The women had never met before Wednesday’s event, though excited family members encouraged them during the ceremony to talk about the things they had in common.
Weir’s granddaughter, Paige Hunt, kept Weir in the loop throughout the event, repeating things on occasion to the woman whose hearing isn’t what it used to be.
She let Grandma know how proud they all were of her, how the award, with its shiny seal and blue stars, came straight from the governor.
“Oh, my goodness!” came the delighted response.
Hunt also introduced her grandmother to Beeson, pointing out that for once Weir wasn’t the only 100-year-old in the room.
Beeson beamed at her new friend.
“We’re just tough old gals, aren’t we?”