2020 Southside Times Person of the Year: Nancy VanArendonk

By Nancy Price

Effective leaders possess many skills, including enthusiasm, energy, charisma and organization.

Those who know Nancy VanArendonk, president of the Franklin Township Historical Society, agree that she excels in all of the above, and more, which is why she has been named the 2020 Southside Times Person of the Year.

“I would describe Nancy as a passionate and multi-talented leader,” said FTHS board member Bill Clark. “She has a vision for FTHS and personally works hard to complete the projects we pursue.”

VanArendonk has served with FTHS for about 20 years. (Submitted photos)

“She is a natural leader, yet accepts good suggestions and other ideas,” added Dana Crapo, longtime board member of FTHS. “It was my pleasure to have witnessed the skills and leadership Nancy brought to the organization in the 20 years or so that we worked together in the society.”

As FTHS President, VanArendonk organizes annual events, including the Old Fashioned Christmas Celebration, Harvest Dinner, Silent Auction and Rummage Sale and Ghost Stories at the Museum House; speaks about local history to schools and chamber of commerce events; writes content for newsletters and social media, in addition to ordering and writing content for historical markers; and leads board meetings.


“It’s easy for me to get enthusiastic about things that I enjoy or find interesting,” VanArendonk said. “And I get excited in seeing results, in seeing things happen. More so, perhaps, is that there’s an ‘it’s simply the right thing to do’ thread running through a lot of the decisions. I’m a Christian and I think the priority is having a relationship with God, but I also feel that much of the impact we have on our world if found in the things we do, even in things that may seem to be less important at the time.”

VanArendonk’s interest in local history was inspired by her father. |

A lifelong Southsider, VanArendonk is known as the go-to person for Franklin Township history. The local history buff may have inherited this from her father. As a youth, however, she could have cared less.

“I actually didn’t develop an interest in history until my adult years, though I’d always been exposed to it,” she said. “My father was passionate about history; he never drove past a historical marker without stopping, and he was involved in historical organizations. But at the time I was more interested in horses and rock bands and such and I didn’t really pay much attention. He would have been thrilled to know that I ended up as president of the Historical Society.”

VanArendonk received a scholarship to attend Indiana State University. A journalism major, she transferred to Ohio State University two years later. She began a career as a journalist by writing articles for local and national newspapers and magazines. Nearly 20 years ago, then FTHS president Sylvia Henricks asked VanArendonk to join the board; she began serving as president in November 2014 and has completed her sixth year in the role.

FTHS President Nancy VanArendonk gives a presentation


“One of the things I discovered early on was that, in order for me to speak intelligently to any group about an aspect of our area’s history, I’d have to do research and learn as much as I could about that topic myself before sharing it with others,” she said. “I really enjoy the uncovering of these histories, and I also enjoy the enthusiasm of those who hear the stories. I like making history available to people in an interesting manner. There are those who, if you say you’re going to talk about history, think it’s going to be something dry. But, if you say, ‘Do you want to hear some great stories about what happened right here 100 years ago?’ they may have a whole different response.”

“There are just so many cool stories about this area that frankly you’re unlikely to learn anywhere else – like the big rattlesnake hut that was organized on the Southside in 1825 because there were so many rattlers killing farm animals (over 100 rattlers were killed), or the woman who sewed buckshot into the hem or her dress before being baptized in a creek, so that her dress wouldn’t float up and show her legs which she thought would be unseemly,” VanArendonk continued.

“But of equal importance is the fact that, frankly, we need more people to get involved. Ours is an all-volunteer organization, and a lot of our older members who have carried the responsibility of maintaining the society are now at an age where they can’t do as much as what they once could. If we don’t get some new people involved, and in particular some younger people, it’s possible that this society could cease to exist someday. And that would be a terrible loss,” she said.

My Home Town: A History of Acton Indiana 1852-1994 was recently re-released in a new edition.


Although the effects of COVID have “hit us in a huge way,” with the cancellation of all events, including the society’s two biggest fundraisers, VanArendonk created a PowerPoint presentation on local history to schoolchildren. As well, the popular annual Old Fashioned Christmas Celebration is being offered online this year via YouTube at tinyurl.com/fths-christmas and through the FTHS website, FTHS.org and on its Facebook page.

Plans for FTHS next year include reprinting a series of articles about local history written by Sylvia Henricks, a potential membership drive and eventually going back to in-person events.

VanArendonk has been married to husband, Larry, for 47 years and have two adult daughters, Laura VanArendonk (husband, Jon) Baugh and Alena VanArendonk. “Both daughters are skilled in a wide variety of areas and are nonstop busy,” VanArendonk said. “They both live nearby, which is nice!”