TERRE HAUTE —
Former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, recently praised by President Barack Obama for making the world a safer place, visited Terre Haute Thursday to receive the Chapman S. Root award.
The award is given annually by Hospice of the Wabash Valley to a citizen whose generosity and leadership have enhanced the quality of life in the region.
“He is an icon not only of our community, but of the world,” said Trudy Rupska, chief executive officer of Hospice of the Wabash Valley. Lugar has supported many health care initiatives in West Central Indiana, particularly those focused on rural health care, she said.
Lugar, in a brief interview before the awards program at Hulman Center, said he was thrilled to receive the award. “I’m deeply honored. The citizens of Terre Haute have been exceptionally generous to me throughout the years. I’m very grateful for their recognition,” he said.
Lugar, a Republican, served in the U.S. Senate from 1977 to 2013. Last month, Lugar was one of 16 Americans to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an honor for those who have made significant contributions to national security, world peace or cultural developments. It is the highest honor the U.S. bestows on civilians.
He received the medal from President Obama during a White House ceremony. Obama praised Lugar for making the world safer and for being a pragmatic voice in a time of “unrelenting partisanship.”
Lugar co-authored the Nunn-Lugar Threat Reduction program in 1991, which has worked to safely secure and dismantle vulnerable stockpiles of weapons and materials of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union. That program “has made our country a whole lot safer,” Lugar said.
Receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom “was overwhelming,” he said. Other recipients were Oprah Winfrey and former President Clinton.
Asked what he would like the people of Indiana to remember about his years as a public servant, he talked about the nuclear threat reduction program and his work in agricultural reform.
The Lugar Center for Rural Health also has been an important initiative he was able to support while in the Senate, he said. Thursday evening, he visited with students at the Lugar Center before he went to Hulman Center.
“We’ve had a chance to visit tonight with brilliant young people who are going to be doctors who are going to serve western Indiana and across the state line in Illinois,” he said. “I have an exceptional interest in the Lugar Center that will continue, and we look forward to being a strong booster.”
Since leaving the Senate in January, Lugar has launched the nonprofit Lugar Center in Washington, aimed at finding solutions to energy security, world nutrition, effective governance, controlling weapons of mass destruction and other issues.
Those who have worked closely with Lugar say he has been instrumental in improving health care in the Wabash Valley, and in particular rural health care, through his support of the Lugar Center for Rural Health; the Clay City Center for Family Medicine; the Vermillion-Parke Community Health Center and its mobile school health center; and a Wabash Valley telemedicine initiative that has gained national prominence.
“The number of students in the health professions has dramatically increased in Terre Haute, and a lot of that came about because of [Lugar’s] involvement in helping us get the Midwest Center for Rural Health,” now called the Lugar Center for Rural Health, said Dr. James Buechler, the center’s director emeritus.
The focus on rural health care is helping prepare more professionals who will then go back and practice in rural settings, he said.
Lugar has played a significant role “in improving health care in the community,” Buechler said.
Mary Ann Carroll dealt with Lugar through her work at Indiana State University and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.
“When I worked at ISU on governmental affairs, he always was interested in our message and supported our projects to help improve education,” Carroll said in an interview. “He’s been a staunch supporter of this community. Unlike a lot of people who go to Washington and forget Terre Haute, he has remained a real friend of the community.”
Through the years, Lugar has provided significant support to Terre Haute and Vigo County, including:
n He partnered with the educational community to invest federal dollars in innovative programs that continue to stimulate the economy in Vigo County.
n In 2006, the Midwest Center for Rural Health of Union Hospital was renamed the Richard G. Lugar Center for Rural Health in honor of the time and energy Lugar has given addressing the healthcare needs of rural Hoosiers.
Lugar helped to procure funding for the Rural Health Innovation Collaborative’s Simulation Center at Union Hospital to improve education and training for physicians, nurses and allied health professionals.