HANCOCK COUNTY — For the first time in 50 years, Ora Callahan won’t be present when Hancock County 4-H’ers receive a Callahan 4-H Award, and that’s a pretty big deal.
Ora Vernal Callahan died Feb. 5 in Greenfield at the age of 86, leaving behind a legacy of support and service to young farmers and youth locally, throughout Indiana and across the nation, said Lyndon Callahan, one of Ora’s five children.
Though Ora is gone, the award will continue to be given in his name. No surprise there.
“It was just kind of in his heart,” the younger Callahan said. “He was in 4-H when he was a kid, then he taught (vocational-agriculture) at Mt. Comfort High School, then worked at the Farm Bureau in (public relations), so he was always involved with young farmers and kids. It just became his life’s passion,” Callahan said.
In 1963, Ora handed out the first six Ora V. Callahan Awards, recognizing 4-H boys and girls for leadership, citizenship and achievement.
Every year, Ora, accompanied by Shirley, his wife of 62 years as of last September, would personally hand out the awards to local kids, who upon receiving it would have just reached one of the summits of recognition in the local 4-H program.
“It was very, very important,” said 10-year 4-H’er and longtime local 4-H leader Linda Petty. “For a 4-H’er, that was the ultimate. That’s why they passed it out last.”
“It meant a lot to him that the recipients felt that way,” Callahan said.
For Ora, it seemed, he had what he needed. The issue was helping others.
“He was the typical young farm guy that grew up during the Depression where you learned to cherish what you had. He was humble and never blew his own horn,” Lyndon Callahan said.
It’s the small things that give a glimpse of the man, like how little can be found actually written about him despite years of front-line service to the area’s farmers.
And a baseball cap he never relinquished.
When he was a kid, Ora made it to the 4-H National Conference, “and he still had the hat they gave him to wear back then,” said Sarah Burke, Hancock County Extension director.
“He was a lifelong 4-H supporter not only in Hancock County but in Indiana,” Burke said. “We’re very appreciative of his efforts to promote and develop the young people and their leadership skills in Hancock County.”
In addition to Ora’s local and regional impact, Lyndon Callahan said his father touched lives of young people all over the country through his involvement with the Inter-American Institute of Cooperation on Agriculture’s annual trips during which local kids would interact with others at various major universities.
Petty remembered just such a trip during her high school junior year, when Ora led the local delegation to Ohio State University.
She aced a national test on cooperatives, which earned her high praise from Ora.
“You always have very fond memories about people who care about you.” Petty said.
However, to Ora, one galling aspect of that particular trip might have been the location itself, because deep down to the very core, there was only one school: Purdue.
“He was one of the strongest Purdue backers out there,” said Walter Waitt, who worked with Ora on the Hancock County Fair board during the early 1970s.
Though he made a career and a life of serving and supporting others, he never lost sight of what was really important, his son said.
“He was a fantastic father to us,” Callahan said. “He was always at our school and sports events. He never took anything away from the family.”
There will be a celebration of Ora’s life at 10 a.m. Saturday at Vineyard Community Church – Mt. Comfort, 1672 N. CR 600W, where the family would not be surprised to see a large gathering, something Ora probably would have found puzzling and more than a little embarrassing.
“I think it would shock him that everyone was making such a big deal about him,” Callahan said.