As Judy Walker sat at her table in the Lebanon Elks Club chatting with the people around her Saturday night, her husband, Dane, made the rounds shaking hands and welcoming people to the 15th year of benefit auctions to aid the Boone County Cancer Society.

At this point, the function and its routine is almost old hat. Dane, 86, spoke about the sustainability of the auctions, saying every time he does another he thinks it may be the last, “until the next one comes up.”

But Saturday’s event held a new twist for the Walkers as Indiana House District 28 Representative Jeff Thompson appeared just as the auction was slated to begin.

Thompson presented the Walkers with the highest honor awarded to a person in Indiana, the distinction of becoming a Sagamore of The Wabash honoree.

“I never expected anything like that, and Judy and I never thought of anything like that,” Dane said. “That ain’t the reason we do it for sure. I’ve heard of people getting those (Sagamore of the Wabash) and I didn’t think we did anything to deserve anything like that.

“To us, it’s a common thing to do. I’d like to have all the people’s names on there that helped us so much.”

BCCS Executive Director Joy Kaylor submitted the Walkers to Rep. Thompson for consideration. Kaylor detailed the Walkers contributions to the BCCS, highlighting that the couple had helped raise $227,979 in the past 15 years.

Many, if not all, people have known someone afflicted with cancer. And it’s a disease Dane and Judy know all too well.

All three of the Walkers' daughters — Dana, Deanna, and Diann — were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1991 and 2002. Cancer had not spread into the lymph nodes of Dana and Deanna, but Diann’s was more invasive.

The Walkers lost their youngest daughter, Diann, on July 5, 2004.

The family faced tragedy again in 2009 when Dana’s husband, Rick, died on the morning of one of the fundraising auctions. The family went on with the auction that night, Kaylor said, “because the sudden death only strengthened their efforts to aid cancer patients more.”

The BCCS is not affiliated with and does not receive funds from the American Cancer Society. It provides financial assistance to any resident of Boone County that has been diagnosed with cancer, regardless of their income.

Patients can use up to $1000 to aid in paying off medical bills, prescriptions, transportation, and the cost of wigs. Its funding primarily comes from fundraisers and privates donations. All of the money stays local.

Thompson, who represents Boone and Hendricks county residents, said he’s known the Walkers nearly 40 years. First elected in 1998, Thompson said it’s been rare during his tenure as a house representative to be able to hand out the Sagamore of the Wabash Award.

“I’ve given out one every three years or so,” Thompson said. “I delivered one in Governor (Frank) O’Bannon’s stead, a couple for Gov. (Mitch) Daniels, one for Gov. (Mike) Pence, and this one for Gov. (Eric) Holcomb. It’s been pretty few and far between.”

Saturday night's auction raised over $10,000, setting a new record. It makes the third consecutive record-breaking auction the Walkers have put on.

Dane said he may have to give up the reigns to others as he’s turning 87 in December. But after 15 years of holding the auction, he’s learned never to say never.

“It’s a lot of work for an old man,” chuckled Dane. “I have some people that help me a lot. I would hate to give it up.”

Follow reporter Jake Thompson on Twitter @JacobEThompson, for breaking, county and crime news updates.

Sagamore of The Wabash Award

The Sagamore of the Wabash award was created during the term of Governor Ralph Gates, who served from 1945 to 1949. Governor Gates was to attend a tri- state meeting in Louisville with officials from the states of Ohio and Kentucky. Aides to the governor discovered that the governor of Kentucky was preparing a Kentucky Colonel certificates for Governor Gates and Senator Robert A. Taft, who to represent the State of Ohio. The Hoosiers decided that Indiana should have an appropriate award to present in return.

The term “sagamore” was used by the American Indian 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.

Each governor since Gates has presented the certificates in their own way. It has been said that one governor even resorted to wearing full Indian headdress as he read the scrolls. The award is highest honor, which the Governor of Indiana bestows. It is a personal tribute usually given to those who have rendered a distinguished service to the state or to the governor. Among these who have received Sagamores have been astronauts, presidents, ambassadors, artists, musicians, politicians, and ordinary citizens who have contributed greatly to our Hoosier heritage.

It should be noted that the Sagamores have been conferred upon both men and women. There is no record of the total number which have been presented, as each governor has kept his own roll; just as each has reserved the right to personally select the recipients.

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City, crime and general assignment reporter for The Lebanon Reporter.

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