“Bill is one great man of vision, even so that I’d compare him to the likes of Walt Disney,” Thomas McDermott Sr., former Mayor of Hammond, said of Bill Wellman, Valparaiso’s 2014 recipient of the Citizen Square award.
Bill Wellman was honored on Thursday night at local restaurant Don Quijote for his decades of contribution to Valparaiso’s business scene as well as being a prominent figure in the history of the town.
A brief history of Bill if you haven’t read our very own Valpo Life in the Spotlight piece, or are simply unfamiliar with his name: Bill Wellman started his affair with the downtown area from his family that owned a club tavern down on Washington Street. He then left home to serve in the Marine Corps at the age of seventeen in WWII until he returned to be a student. A long line of business’ filled up with his name soon after - he created the Bridge VU Dinner Theater, helped with The Court in Valpo, as well as designing and implementing the Star Plaza Theater in Merrillville. All of these many, many years have gone past and now it’s no wonder why he was presented with the Citizen Square award.
“We started seven years ago with this award and we always choose a person who has a lot of history with Valparaiso, who has been really great to the community,” said Carlos Rivero, owner of Don Quijote, “That’s why we picked Bill this year, because he meets all of the qualifications to be given this award.”
Mayor Jon Costas had to agree. “If there’s anything Bill Wellman is, it’s that he’s a promoter and his fingerprints are all over this town. When I was a kid, his restaurant Bowling Alley was the place to be and that’s always been a precious memory of mine.”
Many of his friends were present to help recognize his great impact on the community. Chad Clifford from Front Porch Music handled the mic by entertaining the guests by singing acoustic with his guitar for the beginning of the night and in between speakers, but not without haste to give his own compliments to Wellman.
Tim Daly acted as the host for the night and introduced the various array of guest speakers. Owners of various restaurants from the downtown area, like Bon Femme and Silver Spoon, all told their own personal stories about Wellman.
Sheriff David Lain stood up to the mic for a very comedic round of story telling about his past with Bill, soon after Mayor Jon Costas - the 2013 winner of the Citizen Square Award - took to the stand for his speech.
Wellman then went to the stage to accept his award and present his version of a thank you speech. He focused on his family and personal table of guests by making a select few stand up while he gave them their praise. Those people were friends and his family, including his “main squeeze”, two daughters and son. From then Wellman told the audience about his experience with Honor Flight - a plane ride with former WWII veterans. From there he also mentioned his book and finished up the night with a thanks to all who came by.
In the end Wellman had a different take on what his award meant. “There was an old man in town who once told me 'Bill, it’s not about the plaques you receive or the awards you get - it’s about the money you got in the long run.'” As ever the joker, Wellman still lives in the now and even as his old age may run a few things down, his spirit has never been higher.
So here’s to Mr. Wellman, a man who brought up Valpo and a worthy recipient of the 2014 Citizen Square Award.