News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Obituaries

September 26, 2013

Carolyn Esther Lunny Toops

TERRE HAUTE — Carolyn Esther Lunny Toops, 90, passed away at 11:15 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013, in her residence. Carolyn was born June 23, 1923, in Franklin, La., to James J. Lunny and Cora Virginia Alpha Lunny. She graduated from Franklin High School at age 15, after which she attended Centenary College in Shreveport, La. She majored in chemistry, graduated magna cum laude in 1943, and attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where she met her future husband, Emory Earl Toops Jr., from Crystal Lake, Ill., who was also a chemist. They were married in Oakland, Calif., on April 6, 1944, and worked at Shell Development Company, the research arm of the Shell Oil and Chemical Companies, he in physical chemistry and she in analytical chemistry.

They left California for Chicago after World War II ended. Earl attended the Illinois Institute of Technology for a master’s degree. Carolyn worked at Precision Scientific Company as a chemist and as a writer for instructional manuals and the company’s in-house publications.

In 1949 they moved to Terre Haute, where Earl was a chemist at Commercial Solvents Corporation and Carolyn was “just a housewife,” as she often said with a smile. Their two sons, Emory Earl Toops III and James Brian Toops were born in Terre Haute.

While their sons were growing up, Carolyn remained in the home but was active in numerous organizations. Her volunteer work was important not only to the community but also to her because it enabled her to get acquainted with many people from various walks of life. She said throughout her life, “Volunteerism is important so long as you enjoy the cause and the people with whom you are volunteering.”

Carolyn appreciated the fact that during her lifetime Terre Hauteans began to take more and more interest in local culture as well as more and more pride in area artists and arts programs. She particularly enjoyed volunteering with the Community Theatre to establish the international film series and with the Alliance of the Swope Art Museum. In 1992 for the Swope’s fiftieth anniversary celebration she organized a program, “Fifty Years of Art and Fashion,” for which Leo Baxter played piano music appropriate both to the various eras and the costumes modeled by local residents.

Also with Leo Baxter, Carolyn organized a fashion show for Terre Haute’s sesquicentennial (1966) that took place in the Mayflower Room of the Terre Haute House. The show was a major highlight of the celebration.

Carolyn was also active in the formation of Arts Illiana. For her numerous efforts she received their “Bravo! the Arts” Service Award in 1997.

However, Carolyn did not limit her volunteerism to the arts. She was a lifelong member of the League of Women Voters and active in local politics and education. She worked with Bobbie Weinbaum to start a volunteer tutors program and assumed primary responsibility for working with the Vigo County School Corporation before the national title programs were adopted.

She also helped develop the Vigo County Mental Health Association, an organization created to educate the community about mental problems, and worked as a researcher and writer for the Vigo County Historical Society, most particularly for its summer celebrations.

Carolyn’s involvement in the community eventually led to her employment at the Terre Haute Tribune-Star. She began as the Tribune-Star’s society editor in 1967 and later worked part-time as a reporter. She found it amusing that, as she put it, “I started as an editor and worked my way down to reporter.”

As a part-time reporter, Carolyn was often called upon to write special features that required more time and research than a reporter with a daily beat could manage. The editor, Marsee Cox, assigned her two particularly controversial projects: urban renewal and public housing.

However, a popular culture article on bands and dancing in Terre Haute during the 1920s struck a particularly responsive chord with the local community. After Carolyn’s first article on Leo Baxter, who also was an orchestra conductor, residents began to bring her photographs and provide her with anecdotes. She received so much information that the editor asked her to expand the article into a six-part series.

She had been working part-time at the newspaper for several years when on Nov. 11, 1970, she learned from local radio (WBOW) of her husband’s death. She heard Martin Plascak “rip and read” a wire service report about an industrial explosion in Tulsa, Okla., that specifically mentioned the death of her husband. Nine others had also been killed.  

Having lost all benefits 90 days after her husband’s death, Carolyn was fortunate to become a full-time reporter – with benefits – at the paper. Her primary focus, which suited her perfectly, was reporting on local news. She spent hours at the courthouse listening to arguments, visiting officials and reporting on concerns vital to the community.

As soon as Carolyn became a full-time reporter, she joined the Society of Professional Journalists and the Wabash Valley Press Club. She also began to work actively with the Newspaper Guild and served as the Guild’s representative to the Wabash Valley Central Labor Council from 1975-79.

She remained at the newspaper until the strike in February 1981 and was on the Board of the Eugene V. Debs Foundation until her death.

Carolyn served on several local government boards including the Vigo County Air Pollution Control Board (1970-81), to which she was appointed by the Vigo County Commissioners. The Circuit Court Judge appointed her to the County Tax Adjustment Board; and the mayor, to the Citizen’s Committee for Community Improvement. Most recently (1998-2011), she served on the Vigo County Parks and Recreation Board, a position she was appointed to by the Circuit Court Judge.

From 1982-86 she served as Executive Director of the Vigo County Taxpayers Association, a job very similar to that of being a full-time reporter because most of the people she’d worked with at the courthouse were active with this group.

In 1996 she became a founding member of the Dewey Institute for Lifelong Learning at Indiana State University. She created or coordinated numerous courses, lectures and special events for that organization. Ultimately, her efforts led to the creation of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Indiana State University that received a $1,000,000 endowment from the Bernard Osher Foundation in 2009.

Carolyn’s many efforts on behalf of her community resulted in The Greater Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce and The Tribune-Star Publishing Company honoring her with the “Terre Award for Outstanding Service” in 1997.

Among the more notable moments in her life were visiting the Carter White House and Washington, D. C., with Alan Rankin, meeting Charles Schultz, creator of the comic strip “Peanuts,” and attending a party at his home.

Carolyn is survived by her son, Emory Earl Toops III and his wife Marilynn Schwartz of Fort Wayne; their two daughters, Gwendolyn Ruth and Emily Esther and Emily’s husband Paul Deren; her son, James Brian Toops of Reno, Nev.; and her sister, Margaret Sandidge, of Crowley, La. She was preceded in death by her husband, Emory Earl Toops Jr.

Carolyn’s granddaughter, Emily, wrote her in December 2011, “I am truly blessed to have you as a role model for strong, independent-thinking women. And I love how you didn’t need a fancy mansion or a millionaire husband to stir things up.”

Carolyn’s many friends and opponents will remember the prowess of “Toopsie” on the tennis court, a sport she loved all of her life.

Finally, Carolyn would like to thank the many people who made her life in Terre Haute productive, interesting and fulfilling.

A celebration of life will be held Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, at 6 p.m. at Greiner Funeral Home, 2005 North 13th Street, Terre Haute, with a gathering of friends and family from 4 p.m. to service time. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Vigo County Parks and Recreation Department or a charity of your choice. Online condolences may be made at: www.greinerfuneralhome.com.

 

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