Ailing ex-Indy mayor Hudnut reflects on city he loves

Former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut with his dog, Frosty. (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — He is a legend in Indianapolis. Bill Hudnut served four terms as mayor of Indianapolis from 1976 to 1992. Instrumental in everything from bringing the Indianapolis Colts to town to expanding the city’s economy and cultural base, Hudnut is now facing a new battle. Doctors diagnosed the now Chevy Chase, Maryland resident with incurable heart disease and throat cancer. At 82, Hudnut isn’t letting the diagnosis doctors gave him damper his spirits.

Patty Spitler, a longtime WISH personality who is now host of Boomer TV that airs on WISH, drove to Hudnut’s Maryland home to reflect on how much Indianapolis remains a part of his heart — his failing heart.

  • RECRUITING THE INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Back in the 1980s the city of Indianapolis had big league aspirations to bring an NFL team to Naptown. Hudnut helped make that happen by building the Hoosier Dome at a time when the Colts were still in Baltimore. In 1984, Hudnut says he never was more choked up than on that day when he walked into the Hoosier Dome with Colts owner Bob Irsay and they were greeted by 20,000 cheering fans.

“I had no idea there’d be that many people there on a work morning. But they were there to welcome Indianapolis to the NFL and welcome Bob Irsay to Indianapolis,” explained Hudnut.

The rest is history.

  • ANDREW LUCK

Hudnut still tracks the roster moves within the Colts.

“He’s got a new wide receiver that they drafted,” explained Hudnut.

While sad to see Peyton Manning leave for Denver, Hudnut says of current Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, “I think he’s terrific. We are so lucky to have him after Peyton Manning.”

  • THAT BLIZZARD HAT

Before the Colts arrived, a blizzard put Hudnut’s leadership to the test.

In 1978, snow paralyzed the Indianapolis area, dumping more than 15 inches of snow and bringing drifts of up to 20 feet. Hudnut was just two years into his first term. Wind chills were minus 30 degrees fueled by winds of up to 50 mph. The storm prompted 67 straight hours of coverage on WISH-TV. Hudnut made the rounds to local television stations. While making the trek through the snow piles on tractors, Hudnut wore a red, white and blue racer cap that citizens couldn’t forget — and they don’t have to.

“Subsequently, the Indiana State Museum asked for it, and I gave it to them. So, it’s over there now,” said Hudnut.

  • LEPRECHAUN MAN

That wasn’t the only hat Hudnut will be remembered for during his time in office. He donned all green dressed as a leprechaun while walking down the parade route on St. Patrick’s Day. It was part of his approach to get to know the citizens he served better.

(WISH Photo, file)
(WISH Photo, file)

“I think all of us want to make a difference with our lives. We all want to have a positive impact, and my purpose-filled life during the 16 years I was mayor was to have a positive impact to build well for the city, and also bring people into the folder and make them comfortable with local government and comfortable with high-level officials like a mayor,” explained Hudnut.

  • ON LEADERSHIP

In 1990 Hudnut focused on a run for the secretary of state office, but he was defeated by incumbent Joe Hogsett. He blamed the defeat on the 27 tax increases during his administration. It was his first and last attempt at a statewide office.

He chose not to seek a fifth term as mayor and took his name out of the running for a position in the U.S. Department of Education.

In 1991, voters saw something missing from the ballot: Hudnut’s name. Hudnut became emotional that it was over, in Indianapolis at least. After moving to Maryland he did serve one term as mayor of Chevy Chase.

“You want to have a positive purpose regardless of who you are and where you are on life’s continuum.”

Of his time in office, Hudnut says he knows he couldn’t have done it without his staff.

“I tried to be a builder of consensus and coalition collaboration, collegiality — that kind of thing. The ‘C’ words are much more important than leadership, than the ‘I’ words like ‘I’ and ‘individual,'” said Hudnut.

  • NO GUTS, NO GLORY

Hudnut says his current health has taught him now more than ever to realize that this day is given to us for a reason. He admits his goals are limited now since he can’t drive and is mainly house bound.

“You want to lead a meaningful life. You want to accomplish something. You want to have a positive purpose regardless of who you are and where you are on life’s continuum,” explained Hudnut.

Helping Hudnut keep that positive purpose is his wife, Beverly.

“(She’s) been a real angel of mercy during this difficult time when we’ve gone through radiation for throat cancer and a heart that won’t ever get better; it will just decline gradually,” said Hudnut.

He also couldn’t leave out mentioning his four legged friend, Frosty.

“I’m trying to not be down in the dumps just because you have something that is incurable and irreversible,” said Hudnut.

  • LARGER THAN LIFE STATUE

Even after his death, citizens will still have the chance to sit next to Hudnut. In December 2014 a “Mayor Bill” statue went up at on the northwest corner of Maryland Street and Capitol Avenue. More than $250,000 in private donations helped Hudnut’s legacy be forever bronzed in the city.

On the back of that statue is a saying Hudnut said he hopes people will remember him by: “He built well and cared for people.”

  • REACHING OUT

Hudnut admittedly isn’t up on social media, but there are several other ways to reach him. He has an Indianapolis post office box.

Former Mayor Bill Hudnut
P.O. Box 17398
Indianapolis, IN 46217

He also has a Caring Bridge web site or you can also leave a message in the comments below.

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