TERRE HAUTE —
Tom Champion, a long-time firefighter and curator of the Terre Haute Police and Firefighter Museum, works hard to preserve the memory of one of the city’s most influential and generous citizens.
Champion, with the help of friend Charlie Travelstead and four students from the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, cleaned up the Chauncey Rose memorial at Fairbanks Park on Saturday morning.
In chilly conditions, the four students, Gunther Wong, Frank Levering, Jacob Kundert and Nick Fish, worked to remove the Plexiglas coverings over the brass plates memorializing Rose on the brick wall behind the former U.S. Post Office columns atop a hill overlooking the park. The students, all volunteering their time and labor, removed old rusted bolts and washers, replacing them with shiny new ones after scrubbing the Plexiglas.
“[Rose] was the greatest philanthropist of modern times,” Champion said, expressing dismay at the condition of the former post office building facade where the little-known memorial is displayed.
Champion, like many other members of the Chauncey Rose Historical Association, has a deeply personal connection to Rose. In 1932, at age 5, Champion entered the Rose Orphan’s Home on the city’s east side. He would live there until 1945.
“He gave me a home,” Champion said when asked why he cares so much about Rose, who lived from 1794 to 1877, making millions as a businessman and donating millions to help the poor and promote education. Among many other acts of philanthropy, Rose established the Rose Lady’s Aid Society, the Rose Orphan’s Home, the Rose Dispensary, which provided health care to needy people, and Rose Polytechnic, later to become Rose-Hulman.
There are three memorials to Rose in Terre Haute and Champion tends to them all. They are at the site of the former Rose Orphan’s Home on Rose Avenue near 25th Street, in Highland Lawn Cemetery where Rose is buried and at Fairbanks Park.
By noon, the work at Fairbanks Park was completed, but Champion will certainly continue his tireless efforts to preserve the memorials and memory of Rose. Champion has spent his some of his own money fixing up and maintaining the memorials, Travelstead said.
While living at the Rose Home, Champion said his job in his high school years was to shovel coal at the home.
“Every child had a job,” he said. He also remembers fondly watching nearby circuses and believes he is one of the last living people to have had personal contact with poet Max Ehrmann. Ehrmann used to visit the director of the orphan’s home, Champion recalled, and the director would ask young Tom to help the then-elderly Ehrmann into the main building.
The Rose Orphan’s Home could house up to 150 children. It opened in 1884 and closed in 1949. There is also a memorial at Highland Lawn Cemetery to children who passed away while living at the home, Champion said.
Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or firstname.lastname@example.org