The Asher men - Mike and sons Brian and Scott - remember their reaction after receiving the news Jan Asher would be inducted into the Shelbyville High School Hall of Fame.
“We were speechless,” Brian Asher said of the notification meeting with John Hartnett and Shelbyville Central Schools’ Andy Hensley. They eventually collected themselves. “There were a few tears and a lot of thank-yous,” Brian said.
That reaction aptly describes last night’s heartfelt ceremony at SHS, where the inductions of Jan Asher, class of 1967, who passed away in April; Wilbur Pell, class of 1933, who died in 2000; and Kenneth Gunning, class of 1933, who died in 1991, raised the number of Hall members to 41.
Pell had practiced law in Shelbyville with his father for nearly 30 years after graduating from Harvard Law School and serving as a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent. He was appointed to serve on the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals by President Richard Nixon.
Local attorney Jeff Bate, who accepted the award on behalf of Pell’s sons, Chuck and Bill, recalled his own father, Charles Bate, also an attorney, first suggesting Pell for the Hall of Fame. “(Charles Bate) said, ‘You’ve got Charles O’Connor, you’ve got Lee McNeely, you’ve got Phil Brown. I don’t know why you wouldn’t put Wilbur Pell in,’” Jeff Bate recalled.
Two of Pell’s nephews, Jim Pell and John Pell, and a niece, Judy Pettit, shared anecdotes about their uncle.
Pell’s office building was on West Taylor Street near the courthouse and jail, most recently the site of the late Robert Arnold’s law office, and is now for sale.
Bate also explained some of Pell’s critical court decisions. “I like to see Wilbur Pell as one of those people from Shelbyville High School who added to our history,” he said.
Gunning was another graduate from the class of 1933, where he succeeded in multiple sports, playing on J.M. McKeand’s undefeated 1932 football team and winning the Paul Cross Award in basketball. He went on to be the leading scorer for the Indiana University basketball team for three seasons and was recently inducted posthumously into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
Gunning’s daughter, Pat Wilson, spoke on behalf of the family, recalling stories about her father racing against Jesse Owens in time trials. She added that her dad had also been a fitness instructor on a military aircraft carrier on which he had been in Pearl Harbor two days before the bombing.
Gunning is also mentioned in “But They Can’t Beat Us: Oscar Robertson and the Crispus Attucks Tigers.” In one story, Gunning promised his underdog Connersville team he would run home from Rushville if they won.
“Partially true to his word, (Gunning) got off the bus a mile away and ran the last mile,” John Hartnett said to laughs.
Gunning’s nomination was first suggested by former SHS basketball coach John Heaton.
Many attendees last night were connected to the Asher family. Jan Asher, who died at age 73 this year, taught 41 years for Shelbyville Central Schools, including stints at the old junior high school and middle school, high school and Loper Elementary. She was SHS’s first volleyball coach and coached several other sports.
“And anything else they asked her to do,” Brian Asher said.
She also created the nationally-recognized SHAPE physical education program at SMS.
At one point, Brian said, he and his brother, Scott, and family tried in vain to determine the number of students their mom had taught. “We finally came up with somewhere close to 10,000."
Asher said his mother, a long-time advocate for girls’ sports, would have been honored to be joining fellow female Hall members Mary Anne Richey, Jean Ann Dellekamp, Jo Webster, Marilyn Hendrick, Dr. Phyllis Fleming and Sandy Allen, the latter also a former student of Jan’s.
“Mom also joins a group of excellent educators tonight in the Hall of Fame, including people like Roland Stine, Jerry Higgins, Gene Sexton, and those are all people Mom taught with side-by-side,” Brian said, noting, though, that his mom would have been “embarrassed” with all the attention.
“She is one of many educators, past and present, who have and will continue to make a positive impact on kids’ lives. This award belongs to all of you,” Brian said before thanking “everyone who was part of our mom’s life.”
Past Hall of Fame inductees Hartnett and Gary Long were in attendance, as well as James Garrett, representing his uncle, Bill Garrett. Hall of Fame members will also be recognized at half-time of tonight’s home football game.
Hensley, SCS Director of Student Services, said the Hall of Fame inductee list included “mentors, trailblazers, business leaders, philanthropists, and teachers,” and represented strong values in education. “These are qualities we instill. We want our graduates to have these qualities,” he said.