Brownstown woman receives lifetime achievement award from Indiana Historical Society


When it comes to history in Indiana, few have preserved and promoted it like Dianne Johnson Cartmel.

Tonight, the Brownstown resident will be recognized for a long list of accomplishments at the annual Founders Day Awards in Indianapolis.

Cartmel will be receiving the Eli Lilly Lifetime Achievement Award from the Indiana Historical Society along with Indianapolis’ Alan January and Fort Wayne’s Curt Witcher.

According to a news release release from the historical society, the award is presented annually to an individual who has made extraordinary contributions to the field of history.

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Locally, Cartmel has left a lasting impact on the history of Jackson County.

She has served as an adviser for the Jackson County History Center in Brownstown for years and was a leader in the creation of the Joe E. Robertson Genealogical Library.

Shortly after the merger of the Jackson County Historical Society and Jackson County Genealogical Society, Cartmel contacted two local businesses to finance and build the genealogical library.

“She’s just good at what she does,” history center volunteer Dorothy Richards said. “She doesn’t want the history of Jackson County lost. She is a very generous person. I don’t think there’s anything she wouldn’t do.”

Cartmel also played a role in establishing and organizing the Pioneer Society to recognize families with Jackson County roots dating back to the state’s founding in 1816.

Each year, Cartmel along with her husband, Jerry, host the annual dinner that serves as the largest fundraiser of the year for the history center.

“She has been instrumental in educating numerous business people in our community about the JCHC and everything we do for our community and to preserve history,” history center President Bill Day wrote in a letter of support for Cartmel’s nomination. “Without Dianne’s continual efforts and support of our organization, we would not have developed into the thriving and integral member of our community that we are today.”

Cartmel also helped found the Southern Indiana Center for the Arts and Seymour Heritage Foundation.

“She’s just a kind, loving person. She always has been,” history center volunteer Margo Brewer said. “I was floored by her résumé when I was gathering up all this information. Gloria (Cross) picked up the card that had the information of what awards we could apply for. I read through it and asked who we should nominate, and (Gloria) immediately said, ‘Dianne Cartmel.'”

Dan Davis, president and chief executive officer of the Community Foundation of Jackson County, also wrote in support of Cartmel.

“She was instrumental in the Seymour Heritage Foundation work rescuing the former Seymour Farmers Club, a historic downtown structure that for the past nearly 35 years has served as home of the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Travis Carter home, considered to be one of the city’s first residential buildings that also housed its first post office,” Davis wrote.

Cartmel grew up in Indianapolis before moving to Jackson County in 1960.

She was a 1954 graduate of Shortridge High School and a 1958 graduate of Indiana University.

She served as secretary for the National Convention of Home Economics in 1958, the same year she married Jerry Patterson Cartmel.

Cartmel is a former teacher in the Indianapolis and Seymour school systems and also was a part owner and manager of an office supply business.

While she’s not a native, her parents and grandparents grew up in the area. Cartmel said she would spend her summers visiting family in Jackson County.

“I grew up in a family that loved history,” Cartmel said. “I have always been connected with it. I think it is so important that people know what is happening and what the background is. You see how different things have affected people’s lives and show children that there is a past in their lives.”

At the state level, Cartmel has been a part of numerous important projects.

She served on the Indiana Historical Society board of trustees for almost two decades.

Former historical society board member Thomas Krasean worked with Cartmel and wrote she was a true spokesperson on behalf of the work they were doing for the state’s local historical organizations.

He said she served as a board member for 19 years, including two years as board chairwoman. During that time, she also served as a volunteer for the field services division by speaking to a number of local societies in southern Indiana.

“She carried this enthusiasm everywhere she went,” Krasean wrote. “She invited me to speak to her Jackson County Historical Society several times over the years, giving me an opportunity to acquaint her members with the program and services of the Indiana Historical Society.”

Cartmel was involved in the building of the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center in downtown Indianapolis and the restructuring and modernization of board leadership.

“Dianne’s vision and leadership helped tackle tough issues, such as CEO succession and the dramatic expansion of professional staff, as well as the widening of the trustee’s role in fundraising,” wrote John A. Herbst, former president and CEO of the Indiana Historical Society. “Dianne’s calm, sensible judgment helped the institution leave the shadows and become a more visible and effective organization to the city and state.”

Cartmel has been involved with numerous civic organizations, such as the Governor’s Task Force for Museums and Memorials, Historic Southern Indiana and the Indiana Protection and Advocacy Service, to name a few.

Former Indiana Gov. Matt Welsh reached out to Cartmel to get started on the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis.

“Gov. Welsh called me to serve on the regional council for the Indiana State Museum,” Cartmel said. “That evolved into the governor wanting to look at how the museum functions in the state of Indiana. I went on a task force with other people, and then (Welsh) kept asking me to be on other boards.”

Cartmel served on the board of trustees of the Indiana State Museum and Hook’s Discovery and Learning Center.

“I was (in) on the beginning of building the Indiana State Museum and the Indiana Historical Society. I was on that board of those,” she said. “I became chairman of the trustees (historical society) after it was completed. It has reached out to many people in a hands-on way with history. We’re capturing the imagination of people that thought they didn’t like history, and now, they love it.”

During her career, Cartmel also has been awarded the Sagamore of the Wabash and was named a torchbearer for the Indiana Bicentennial Torch Relay.

Cartmel credits all of the people she has worked with for her success.

“It takes many, many volunteers to make an organization successful,” she said. “An organization is not one person.”

While she has spent much of her life preserving history, Cartmel has cemented herself a legacy in it, too.

“She has done so much for so many … so many things we don’t even know about,” said Gloria Cross, vice president of the Jackson County History Center. “She is always willing to do anything. Nothing is beneath her, and I think that’s important. It’s the way with people, too.”

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About Founders Day

Dianne Cartmel is one of 13 individuals and organizations being honored during the Indiana Historical Society’s 2019 Founders Day Awards tonight at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center, 450 W. Ohio St., Indianapolis.

The annual event, presented by Hirtle, Callaghan and Co., celebrates the accomplishments of historians, teachers, writers and businesses from around the state, as well as the work of IHS.

About the Indiana Historical Society

Since 1830, the Indiana Historical Society has been “Indiana’s Storyteller,” connecting people to the past by collecting, preserving and sharing the state’s history.

A private nonprofit membership organization, IHS maintains the nation’s premier research library and archives on the history of Indiana and the Old Northwest and presents a unique set of visitor experiences called the Indiana Experience.

IHS also provides support and assistance to local museums and historical groups; publishes books and periodicals; sponsors teacher workshops; produces and hosts art exhibitions, museum theater and outside performance groups; and provides youth, adult and family programs.

IHS is a Smithsonian Affiliate and a member of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.

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Dianne Cartmel, recipient of the Indiana Historical Society’s 2019 Eli Lilly Lifetime Achievement Award, boasts an impressive résumé.

State and national civic organizations and awards

Governor’s Task Force for Museums and Memorials 1982-83

Past president of the Indiana State Museum Society

Director of the Indiana State Museum Endowment

Indiana State Museum board of trustees, serving as co-chairwoman

Indiana Historical Society board of trustees

Hook’s Learning and Discovery Center board of trustees

Commissioner for the Indiana Protection and Advocacy Service 1983-89

Southern Indiana Advisory Council for Developmentally Disabled, vice chairwoman

Historic Southern Indiana advisory committee

National Commemorative Association for WWII advisory committee

Indiana National Guard Family Readiness state chairwoman

National advisory committee for family programs of the National Guard

Legion of Hoosier Heroines, Military Department of Indiana

Awarded Sagamore of the Wabash for distinguished service to the state of Indiana


Gamma Phi chapter Kappa Kappa Kappa, past president

Seymour Heritage Foundation, founder and past president

Woman’s Council for Seymour Boys Club, past president

Girl Scout leader

Jackson County History Center, adviser

All Thumbs Garden Club, past president

Indianapolis Symphony Women’s Committee of Jackson County

Southern Indiana Center for the Arts, founding member and board adviser

Jackson County History Center, membership and fundraising committees

Seymour Boys and Girls Club of America Service Award


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