MERRILLVILLE — A transformative leader from northwest Indiana has received one of the state’s highest honors.
Bill Hanna, former president and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, was named Sagamore of the Wabash and presented his Sagamore certificate framed by Governor Eric Holcomb in a surprise ceremony before some 400 business leaders and area community on Tuesday in Merrillville.
The Republican governor said the Sagamore, second only to the seldom-rewarded Sachem, recognizes the Hoosiers “who have contributed far beyond the normal call of duty.”
In Hanna’s case, Holcomb said Hanna’s fingerprints are apparently all over every major project recently completed or underway in northwest Indiana, including the Double Track and West Lake extensions of the South Shore line, associated transit development districts, Lake Michigan shoreline rehabilitation and runway expansion and increased cargo capacity at Gary/Chicago International Airport.
“They came true through his influence,” Holcomb said. “He is trusted. He is respected. If I had to choose an honest broker, if I could only choose an honest broker in the state of Indiana, it is our friend, and certainly my friend, Bill Hanna .”
Hanna was joined by his wife, children and parents when the Governor presented him with the Sagamore Award. At first he was at a loss for words.
“I’m a little blown away. I’m usually not unprepared, but in this case I’m a little stunned by this,” Hanna said.
Hanna later said the moment was especially special because the award, a designation bestowed only by the governor, was given to her by Holcomb.
“The source of these things is important to me, and I could have told him everything he said about me,” Hanna said.
“It’s been the privilege of a lifetime, especially from a professional point of view, to be with someone who is your friend, to see him rise to a position where some people feel entitled to anything, but this no one feels entitled to anything and responsible for everything – never lost their humanity throughout the crisis, never stopped planning for the future,” he added.
Hanna led the RDA under three Indiana governors from 2009 to 2021. He is now the executive director of the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation for which the community center in Merrillville where Hanna was honored is named.
Prior to leading the RDA, Hanna was City Manager and Deputy Mayor of Valparaiso, Director of Economic Development of Valparaiso, and Vice President of the Valparaiso Economic Development Commission.
He earned his law degree from Valparaiso University, a master’s degree in business administration from Louis National University in Chicago, and a bachelor’s degree in organizational management and human resources from Colorado Christian University.
Hanna is a U.S. Army Veteran and served in the Army’s Official Presidential Escort and as a sentry and head trainer/guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
Heather Ennis, president and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Forum, seemed to speak for many in the room when she said, “What an incredible man.”
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