Received a call and email the other day from the sister of Woody Church, a 1962 graduate of Ashland High School who in December was awarded one of Indiana’s highest honors.
Church received the Sagamore of the Wabash Award, the highest honor the governor of Indiana can bestow upon a citizen.
Church, who is a Kentucky colonel and took some ribbing from friends that being a colonel had him outranking the governor of Indiana, started a not-for-profit ministry called Rod & Staff he oversaw for 16 years and that helped hundreds, if not thousands.
“This (award) says something about God’s favor,” Church said.
Church, who began his career in ministry as an assistant pastor at First Methodist, spent 38 years in ministry positions in Indiana.
Church said the Sagamore award hadn’t been given much in the last eight years. Gov. Mike Pence reinstated it and Church was the first one to be nominated and accepted.
The award was created during the term of Gov. Ralph Gates, who served from 1945 to 1949. Gates was going to a meeting in Louisville with officials from Ohio and Kentucky. Aides to the governor discovered the governor of Kentucky was preparing Kentucky colonel certificates for Gates and Ohio Sen. Robert A. Taft. The Hoosiers decided Indiana should have an appropriate award to give in return.
Each governor since Gates has presented the certificates in his own way.
The term “sagamore” was used by the Native American tribes of the northeastern United States to describe a lesser chief or a great man among the tribe to whom the true chief would look for wisdom and advice.
The award is a personal tribute usually given to those who have rendered a distinguished service to the state or to the governor. Astronauts, presidents, ambassadors, artists, musicians, politicians and ordinary people have received the award.
In Church’s Rod & Staff ministry, he used everyday people to help church members in counseling situations. “We took people through all kinds of difficulty,” he said.
His staff was trained and volunteered to assist others.
“We took people who had the desire to help. We had housewives, husbands, doctors, lawyers. We taught them how to use Scripture to solve problems. Everybody got help and got it for free.”
Church retired from Rod & Staff, which is still active. He is a Vietnam veteran who ran a M*A*S*H unit there. He went to UK and graduated from Eastern Kentucky. Church has a doctorate from Asbury College.
Church’s life was devoted to ministry as a pastor and the leader of Rod & Staff.
His sister, Garnet Gordon, lives in Beaver Creek, Ohio, and wanted to make sure everybody in Ashland knew her brother had received the prestigious Indiana award.
After all, that’s what good sisters do.
Church is married to the former Nancy Franklin. She is one of the older sisters of Joe Franklin, the young Ashlander who was killed in a car accident in 1967 on the day the Ashland Tomcats won the state football championship. Joe was a junior at Ashland and a promising high school basketball player.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at (606) 326-2648.