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Brewer Was Known as a Problem Solver
August 8, 2007 - Bill Brewer had a knack for making the right decision and leading people out of difficult situations. That’s probably why so many turned to him when they were up against tough odds.
Brewer, 77, a resident of Knightstown more than 50 years, died Saturday, August 4, after a five-month illness.
Brewer was superintendent of the Indiana Soldier’s and Sailor’s Children’s Home (ISSCH) for 38 years, and impacted the lives of thousands of youngsters who passed through that facility.
“I can’t imagine the Knightstown community without Bill Brewer,” State Senator Beverly Gard said. “He was such a remarkable man.”
In more than five decades of living in the Knightstown community, he also had a major impact on generations of families outside of the ISSCH. He was deeply involved in Post 152 of the American Legion, and was well known in most corners of the community.
“We will definitely miss him,” said Richard Leakey, a longtime businessman in Knightstown and close friend of the Brewers. “He was always great to the community, and for the Legion. In return, the Legion was always great to the Home.”
Brewer first came to the ISSCH in 1954. He served as a coach and teacher until 1959, when he left to take the same positions at Connersville High School. He returned to the Home in 1962 as superintendent, and held that position until his retirement in 1990.
It was during that 28-year tenure that Brewer established himself as a man who solved problems and made the difficult decisions without waiver.
Five years after his retirement, the ISSCH came under fire for various problems associated with mismanagement, and the state of Indiana recalled Brewer to put out the fire. He returned to the facility in 1995 and got things back in order within a year.
“We were dealing with some pretty tough times at the Children’s Home,” Sen. Gard said. “Bill was the main reason that facility was able to stay open. He came back and they were able to weather the storm. I am sure there are many thousands of kids out there who are better people today because of Bill Brewer.”
Shortly after leading the ISSCH to solid ground, Henry County came calling for Brewer. The new Henry County Youth Center was about to open, the top administrator had suddenly quit, and the county had a monster problem on its hands with no leadership in place.
In stepped Brewer once again, forgoing retirement to serve as acting superintendent until the ship could be righted.
“Sometimes he told it like it was, and sometimes people didn’t want to hear that,” said his wife of 57 years, Bonnie. “When Judge Kellum called about the Youth Center, they were in a tough spot and they wanted Bill to take care of it. It was pretty much the same with the state when they recalled him to the Children’s Home.”
Brewer set the bar pretty high during those first 28 years at the ISSCH, and when state and county officials knew they had a problem, they also knew who to call to fix it.
“When we were there (at the ISSCH) he would sometimes hurt some feelings,” Bonnie laughed, “but he always managed to get the job done his way. His way was usually the right way.
“It’s amazing the number of e-mails I’ve gotten from people who talked about how he would upset them, and they would later realize that he was being fair. He knew he couldn’t please everyone, but he always did what was right for the kids. I think that’s why we both loved it so much. It was all about the kids.”
Before arriving at the ISSCH, Brewer made his mark in other areas of the country. He was a star basketball player for the Lewisville Bears, graduating in 1948. He went to Barberville Union College in Kentucky for two years, married Bonnie in 1950, and then served two years in the U.S. Army. While stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, Brewer starred for the post basketball team.
That’s where Texas Western University basketball coach Dale Waters first saw him play. Waters was originally from Mt. Summit, just north of New Castle, and was familiar with hoop stars from Indiana. He offered Brewer a scholarship, and he played at the university for two years. Brewer was named a “Little College All-American” in 1954.
Texas Western is best known today for the motion picture Glory Road, which depicted the 1966 national champion basketball team that was made up of an all-black roster. Today, the facility is called the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP).
Following graduation from college, Brewer found himself back in Indiana and teaching at the ISSCH.
He wasn’t just a servant for the ISSCH and the Knightstown community, however. Over the years, Brewer was named a Sagamore of the Wabash by three different Indiana governors, and also was awarded the Kentucky Colonel, that state’s equivalent honor.
Brewer’s complete obituary can be found on Page 2 of this week’s Banner.
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