SHELBYVILLE — Congressman-elect Luke Messer uses a quirky old Jimmy Durante song to describe life before heading to Washington, D.C., with his family.
“Did you ever have the feeling that you wanted to go, and then you had the feeling you wanted to stay?”
While he doesn’t tickle the ivories or sing like Durante, Messer definitely knows the feeling.
The Shelbyville Republican will be sworn into federal office Thursday. With a slight smile and his wife Jennifer by his side, Messer, 43, said his family of five has been adjusting to the reality of a major life change since his Nov. 6 election victory.
His eyes have been set on Capitol Hill for years, and Messer said the move will be both exciting and difficult as they make a new home in D.C. while trying to maintain roots in Shelbyville.
Messer has a list of committees to serve on and has been named freshman class president for the GOP. Through it all, Messer is vowing to stand up for conservative values in an era that he says is characterized by “crippling debt.”
The 6th District is the state’s largest geographic district and includes Hancock County. Messer has been to the nation’s capitol several times since the Nov. 6 election to set up his office and get acquainted with his new post for at least the next two years.
“This is very bittersweet,” Messer said. “We’re excited about the opportunity to serve the nation, but we’ll miss the state.”
The Messers have three children: Emma, 9, Ava, 8, and Hudson, 5. They also have two West Highland White Terriers and one Shih Tzu, so planning a move has been busy – especially over the holidays.
They’ll maintain their Shelbyville home – a historic English Tudor – but also have a home in Virginia 25 minutes from the capitol. Luke Messer calls the new home a “Brady Bunch-era ranch;” keeping the family together was important to both him and Jennifer.
“We definitely knew we wanted to stay together,” Jennifer said. “It is In the early 1960s Wilson had a growing family to support and was in need of extra cash to supplement his farming income so he became a Surge Dairy equipment dealer.
His conversations with farmers revealed a glaring need: someone to market farm properties.
The fledgling real estate business was keyed primarily toward homes.
“At that time and for many years, there were more sellers than buyers (of farm property),” explained Roy Wilson. “Farms had to be marketed, had to be advertised to find buyers willing to buy. He realized farmers could use the help.”
And so Leon set up shop in his home on CR 100S that he was able to purchase because his in-laws were willing to co-sign. Wife Minnie was always at his side doing whatever was needed to help. There was no one else offering the service, and the business took off.
“In the beginning he did mostly farms, then from there began to sell homes,” Roy recalled. “He worked very hard as a kid and he worked very hard at the business. Growing up during that time, we really didn’t know when to expect him home. He was working when he could find farmers.”
There was a limit to Minnie’s patience in that regard, though.
“I remember he showed a house on Christmas Day. Mom was not very happy,” Roy recalled with a laugh. “He worked hard and tried to treat people by the golden rule.”
So did Minnie.
“They were a great team,” said Roy, which meant they could, and did, help people in need whenever they could.
“He used to, back before banking regulations got crazy, when he sold inexpensive homes to people without much money, he would pledge his commission to the down payment to help them buy it,” recalled Roy.
Leon’s kindness, honesty and altruism drew people and clients to him like bees to clover.
Sons Roy and Roger loved and admired him so much that after they had their Purdue diplomas in hand they returned home to join him in the business.
“He never asked us to join,” Roy said. “He never said, ‘I want you to come home and go to work.’ It’s what we decided to do. In my case, what I had seen as a kid of the business I liked. I wanted to work around he and my mother.”
In 1967, Wilson built a new, larger home next door to the older homestead so he could expand the business. In 1972, he moved the office to North State Street across from Hancock Memorial Hospital. At the time, this was the north side of Greenfield.
Eventually, Roy and Roger took over the business and joined Century 21.
Over the years, the Wilsons have through the Hancock County Foundation supported SHARES, a favorite of Minnie, who died in 2003, and Hancock Regional Hospital. They donated farm property to the hospital to help build the first intensive care unit, according to Roy.
In later years, Leon regretted never having a hobby, Roy said, so after retirement he funneled that zeal toward mowing 17 acres at the CR 100S homestead.
And he enjoyed coffee and the company of friends several times a week at McDonald’s. It was a couples event. The women sat on one side of the restaurant and the men on the other, according to friend Max Carlton.
“It’s a nice fellowship,” he chuckled.
Carlton had come to admire Leon through his friendship with his parents. Carlton was not at all surprised to find that Leon had a rock star-type of status at McDonald’s. People were always stopping to talk to him.
“He was always honest in business, and that’s the reason Leon got that stature in the community,” said Carlton. “He is the Mr. Realtor of this county.”
He recalled the time he wanted to build a house in a woods on a property owned by Wilson. Wilson told him the property flooded in spring and guided him toward a plot on higher ground.
“It’s just the way he was. He was always straightforward with folks and that’s why they like him. He was just a nice guy. Even (him) at 84 and me 65 I enjoyed his company. He’d get the biggest kick out of little kids, enjoyed how they are.
“I have nothing but high regard for Leon,” Carlton said. “He’s in a better place now.”