Hugh Barnhart · 1986
Mr. Barnhart was the last survivor of a family whose members had been prominent in Rochester and Fulton County affairs continuously for almost a century. His father, Henry A. Barnhart, was publisher of The Sentinel from 1886 to 1908 and then served five terms in the U.S. Congress. His brother, Dean L., also was publisher of The Sentinel from 1913-19.
Hugh Barnhart began his professional career with the family’s newspaper, succeeding his brother as editor and publisher in 1919 upon his return from U.S. Army service in World War I. He yielded the role of publisher in 1962, but continued to be involved in The Sentinel’s operation until the sale of his remaining interest in 1976.
While directing the city’s daily newspaper, he launched a parallel career in 1934 when he became president of the Rochester Telephone company upon the death of his father, who had been one of the firm’s founders in 1896.
In the ensuing 42 years until his retirement in 1976, Mr. Barnhart presided over the continued modernization and growth of this independent utility, also gaining state and national prominence among telephone industry leaders.
He served as president of the United States Independent Telephone Association in 1958-59, later receiving the association’s Distinguished Service Award and in 1982 was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Independent Telephone Pioneer Association. In 1959, he was named “Telephone Man of the Year” by the Indiana Telephone Association. He remained as a director of the local telephone company until December, 1981.
Inheriting his father’s interest in the Democratic party, Mr. Barnhart also pursued a political career that took a different but equally distinguished path.
At his death, he remained the only man in Indiana politics to have served as director of three separate state governmental departments: Indiana Highway Commission (1931-33), Indiana Excise Department (1937-41) and Indiana Conservation Department (1941-45). In addition, he was the Democrats’ nominee for U.S. Congress in 1936 but lost a close Second District race to Republican Charles Halleck.
Despite his involvement in state and national offices, Mr. Barnhart’s lifelong interest and involvement in the progress of his own community never diminished. And in 1972 this culminated when he and his wife donated $100,000 to Rochester Community Schools for the construction of the new high school athletic field that now bears their name.
On the local scene, he was first commander of the Rochester American Legion Post, first president of the Rochester Kiwanis club, was president of the Rochester Chamber of Commerce and of the Rochester country club, which became an Elks lodge. He was a member and trustee of the First Baptist church, and a 50-year-old member of the Masonic lodge and Royal Arch.
Mr. Barnhart also was a life director and former vice president of the Indiana State Chamber of Commerce and also served as a director of Public Service Indiana from 1944-69. He was called to Washington in 1955 for six months’ duty with the U.S. Department of Commerce as a businessman consultant in the field of communications.
Among his local achievements, in all of which he took major roles of leadership, were the location in the city of the U.S. fish hatcheries, of Cole Brothers circus winter quarters and of Topps Garment company, all during the 1930s, and of the Sealed Power Corporation plant in 1948.
Until his latter years, he was an avid golfer. With his wife, Martha, he traveled frequently throughout the United States and Europe. In addition, he retained a lively interest in local history and contributed many articles to The Sentinel and for the Fulton County Historical Society from his vivid recollections of earlier people and events.
Born Hugh Arthur Barnhart on July 14, 1892, at the family home at 1118 Main Street, he was the son of Henry A. and Louretta Leffel Barnhart. His marriage was June 25, 1928, in the First Baptist church here to Martha Anspaugh of Angola, who had come to the city as an elementary school teacher. The couple had no children.
He attended both grade and high school here, quite early showing an athletic ability that was to earn him considerable renown. He was a member of the first Rochester high school basketball and baseball teams of 1907-08 and was the hardwood squad’s leading scorer throughout his career.
He was graduated as president of the senior class of RHS in 1911, the year of the first state high school basketball tournament. Teams were invited to participate that year on the basis of their season records and Rochester was among them. RHS wanted to include Barnhart on its tournament team, although he finished his studies at mid-year and had entered the University of Notre Dame. Other schools objected, however, and he was ruled ineligible. It was the first of the many eligibility controversies in the history of the IHSAA tourney and one in which Mr. Barnhart found much humor in recounting. Without its high scorer, RHS lost its opening tourney game to New Albany, 19-18.
He did not return to Notre Dame after one semester, but enrolled instead at Indiana University. There he was a member of both football and basketball teams. He was graduated in 1915 with a degree in economics. At I.U., he was president of his senior class, member of the Indiana University Union Board and of Delta Tau Delta social fraternity.
Mr. Barnhart retained a lifelong interest in Indiana University alumni affairs and later was honored by the university with its Distinguished Alumni Service Award, a 50-year I-Man Award, and with the Z.G. Clevenger Award, highest honor bestowed on living I-Men.
After graduation from I.U., he worked in the advertising department of Holcomb and Hoke Manufacturing company in Indianapolis until the outbreak of World War I. He then volunteered at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis on May 15, 1917, and after training was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the regular U.S. Army on Aug. 15. He served with the 82nd Field Artillery until his discharge June 15, 1919, as a first lieutenant, also having been regimental adjutant. For the ensuing 10 years, he was a captain in the Army Reserve Corps.
Following his return to Rochester in 1919 as publisher of The Sentinel, Mr. Barnhart in 1924 effected a consolidation of two local daily newspapers to form, with the late Floyd (Pete) Van Trump as co-publisher, The News-Sentinel. The paper continued under this name until 1961, when its original title was resumed under the joint ownership of Mr. Barnhart and Jack K. Overmyer, the present owner and publisher.
Mr. Barnhart’s activity in state government over the years involved more than service as head of three different departments.
His appointments to state positions came under four different governors: Harry Leslie, Paul McNutt, Clifford Townsend and Henry Schricker. He served on the General Pulaski Commission in 1929, was a member of the Indiana Delegation of Council of State Governments from 1939-43, the Indiana Economic Council 1941-45, Indiana Stream Pollution Control Board 1941-45, State Soil Conservation Committee 1941-45, “Little Hoover” Commission on government reorganization 1955-56 and Advisory Committee to Indiana University 1950-52.
In addition, he had been president of the Indiana Democratic Editorial Association, was vice president of the Indiana Circus Corporation, a director of both the Independent Telephone Pioneer Association and of Transcontinental Motor Inns Inc. of Fort Wayne, and a lifetime honorary director of the Indiana Telephone Association.
Besides his other local activities and offices, he also was a member of the Izaak Walton League, Odd Fellows lodge, Moose and Elks Society and president of the Rochester Community School Building Corporation.
He also belonged to the Indianapolis Athletic Club, Sigma Delta Chi professional journalism fraternity, Indianapolis Press Club, Hoosier State Press and Inland Daily Press associations; Indiana Society of Chicago, Indiana Historical Society, Indiana Audubon Society and Indiana Museum Society.
Mr. Barnhart had been honored by his local peers with the Chamber of Commerce’s Community Service Award and by Indiana Governor Harold Handley as a “Sagamore of the Wabash” for his service to the state.
Mr. and Mrs. Barnhart resided at their lakeshore home on Country Club Drive at Lake Manitou. He long was interested in the continuing vitality of the lake and its surrounding community and had been active many years as a director in the Lake Manitou Association.
He pursued a hobby of bird watching from his lake home, including the keeping of yearly records of the migration of martins. He kept readers of The Sentinel informed of his unusual sightings under the pseudonym of “The Manitou Birdwatcher.”
Barnhart died at 8 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 16, at Woodlawn Hospital. He was 93 years of age. He is survived by his wife, Martha, at home, and by three nieces: Mrs. John (Mary Louise) Novotny, Goshen; Mrs. Robert (Jane) Tillet, Osceola, and Mrs. John (Isabelle) Burchfield, Denver, Colo. Preceding in death were a sister, Mrs. Glendolyn T. Bailey of Peru, in 1976, and the brother, Dean L. Barnhart, on Nov. 11, 1977.