Gov. Eric Holcomb has presented the Sagamore of the Wabash award to West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis.
The award is the most prestigious one given out by the governor.
The announcement came as a surprise ending to an event where Holcomb asked Greater Lafayette leadership about how to replicate the successes of investment and development in the region.
Dennis announced last year he would not seek another term after being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Holcomb called Dennis the “epitome” of public service and leadership.
“We’re not at this moment now by accident,” Holcomb said. “We’re here because of the leadership in this room, of course, but because of my friend and your friend, Mayor John Dennis.”
Dennis tearfully accepted the award, saying it was the second time he’d been surprised in his life.
“The first time was when I got elected mayor,” he joked.
This is the second time in two years that a member of the Greater Lafayette community has received the Sagamore of the Wabash award. Local journalist Dave Bangert was presented with the award in 2021.
Before announcing the honor, Holcomb spoke with Dennis, Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski and Tippecanoe County Commissioner Tracy Brown about how the region has been able to attract investment and development over the years — and how the state could better support local governments.
Dennis repeatedly quipped that the state should “leave us alone” or alternatively “give us more money,” with Holcomb eventually pointing out what he saw as a contradiction.
“And therein lies the ‘leave us alone’ but ‘bring your checkbook’ part of my job,” he joked.
The governor also zeroed in on how the state should handle a second round of Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative, or READI, grant funding.
Roswarski said he’d like to see fewer restrictions on the grants.
“I think, quite frankly, we’ll even magnify the money even more for the state by just having a little bit more flexibility that wouldn’t work in this current scenario to bring them back to the plate,” he said.
Holcomb has requested that the state legislature appropriate an additional $500 million as part of a second round of READI grant funding.
Holcomb also asked leadership how it was handling housing challenges.
“The available housing stock right now does not satisfy our market,” Dennis said. “The market itself, the success rate of the community, the environment that we work in right now, the need for employees…it’s the perfect storm of success that creates challenges.”
The city is expected to take up a resolution urging Purdue University to consider housing when making decisions about student admissions at Monday’s city council meeting.
Following the event, Holcomb said that the success of the Greater Lafayette region could be replicated.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I don’t think they’re too proud to share the secret. The secret is – and they stressed it time and time again, no matter what I threw at them — it always came back to working together.”