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Frank O’Bannon remembered at institute

    BLOOMINGTON — Two of Indiana’s most beloved governors of recent times have been honored by having institutes named for them — Otis Bowen by Ball State and Frank O’Bannon by Bloomington Ivy Tech. The Bowen Institute has been around for a number of years while the O’Bannon Institute is a relative newcomer, started in 2004 following the governor’s death in 2003. Bowen, of course, still is very much alive and living in northern Indiana.

    This year’s O’Bannon Institute, sponsored by Ivy Tech’s Center for Civic Engagement, is scheduled for April 23-25. (More about its personalities later.)

    I was especially drawn to attend last year’s institute — which is free to the public — because of the attendance of former Sen. George McGovern as the major participant of the “O’Bannon Conversation” and the chance to talk even briefly with him.

    Old-timers will recall McGovern’s presidential bid in 1972 when he was crushed by Richard Nixon. While Democrats at the time called his race a disaster, later commentators, including Washington columnist David Broder, say the long-term benefits in guaranteeing representation of women and minorities have made possible today’s candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It happened, says Broder, because McGovern — as did Barry Goldwater for the Republicans eight years earlier — stuck to principles and identified with causes larger than himself, in McGovern’s case, namely peace and party reform. This, in turn, attracted young and committed followers.

    I have been a fan of McGovern’s since his “Food for Peace” days in the 1960s. I had not recently talked with him, so after his entertaining “conversation” at the Bloomington institute, I was happy to wait in a short line to have autographs signed and chat.

    I had a photograph of him and me taken in 1972 which he signed for me after a brief exchange about where it had been taken. Then I gave him the title page of a book written by his wife, Eleanor, who had recently passed away. He paused for a moment before he wrote “with love to this wonderful author, George McGovern.”

    The institute itself each year focuses on some broad public question. Last year it was “stepping beyond citizenship.” This year it is “national issues, local impact.”

    The institute begins this year with an “engagement awards presentation” Wednesday, April 23, and a campuswide volunteer service program the following day. That evening, April 24, Sam Donaldson, for 40 years an ABC news broadcaster and White House correspondent, is the guest of honor and speaker at the annual dinner — that one will cost you; see “If You Go” box.

    The major part of the institute is Friday, April 25, with day-long panels and discussions on health care, education and the environment.

    The “conversation” this year will be with Paul Begala, political consultant and former adviser to President Bill Clinton. He may be even better known as a former co-host of the TV political show, “Crossfire.”

    A highlight of each Bloomington institute is the appearance of Judy O’Bannon, former Indiana first lady and a well-known Hoosier figure in her own right. Last year she welcomed institute participants and, I would guess, will do so again this time.

    Such events aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, of course. However, if you like to see personalities — even though Indiana has had a number in recent days given the presidential primary — and hear issues thoughtfully discussed, this is a good one.