Former Monticello Mayor, White County GOP Chairwoman, and Union Township Trustee Mary E. Walters, 92, died on September 6, 2023. Mary was a fiercely independent, motivated, and hardworking woman who served as a role model and inspiration to many. Mary dedicated her life to benefit Monticello, White County, and the State of Indiana and touched countless individuals and businesses through her dedication, tireless service, and a relentless pursuit of progress. Mary’s departure leaves a void, but her invincible spirit will continue to inspire many in the community. She will live in our hearts forever.
As we bid farewell to a remarkable woman, we reflect on her contributions to the people of Monticello, White County, and the State of Indiana. Her legacy is a testament to the impact one person can have on an entire community.
Mary’s legacy includes changing the leadership landscape for women in Monticello and White County. Mary was a visionary leader and trailblazer who defied expectations and shattered stereotypes. Faced with adversity and skepticism, she stepped into roles that often were inaccessible to women. Mary was an example for all with her resilience and steadfast commitment to her community. Her leadership was marked by determination, her sense of duty, persistently pursuing progress, and an incomparable passion for the City of Monticello and White County.
Mary took pride in her ancestors and their contributions to White and Carroll Counties. She loved Monticello and said often that Monticello had been good to her and her family. She was a groundbreaking woman and contributed to the City of Monticello in her many roles. Throughout her life, Mary helped and mentored others to build a better Monticello.
Mary was born February 19, 1931, in Carroll County, Indiana, to the late Ralph and Goldie (Viney) Ellis. She spent her childhood in Carroll County, enjoying life on her parents’ farm. She worked with livestock and contributed to help run the farm, but she did not like to clean the chicken coops. Mary went to Carson School in Carroll County before graduating from Monticello High School. Her friendships with high school classmates from the Class of ‘49 continued for over seven decades.
Mary was a strong proponent of education and was motivated to never stop learning and improving herself. She helped found the Twin Lakes Athletic Booster Club and participated in its activities for over two decades. She served on a Twin Lakes scholarship committee and enjoyed reviewing applications for scholarships and working with other members to help local students go to college.
Mary was a licensed real estate broker and a licensed general insurance agent. She owned and operated Walters Real Estate & Insurance Agency from 1961 to 1980. Mary loved that she assisted so many residents of our community find their dream homes and build productive lives in Monticello. After the death of her husband, Earl L. Walters, Mary was owner of Walters Oil Company and was the only female Union Oil jobber in Indiana.
Mary began her government service as a White County employee, serving first as Matron of Women at the White County Jail in the 1950s, then later as Executive Director of the White County Area Plan Commission in the 1980s. In addition to her role as Executive Director of the White County Area Plan Commission, Mary served as a member and Chair of the Kankakee-Iroquois Regional Planning Commission and as a member of the Regional Planning Executive Board.
After the April 3, 1974, Monticello tornado, local leaders established the Monticello Redevelopment Commission to obtain state and federal funding for the reconstruction of the city. Mary was the first woman member of the group that was the key agency in the rebuilding the community. Rebuilding a vibrant Monticello was a source of major accomplishment for Mary.
During Mary’s two terms as Mayor, she and her department heads improved Monticello’s infrastructure and facilities. Among the many advances Mary championed were the expansion and improvements to North Main Street, expanding South Sixth Street and its development as the business and industry corridor for Monticello, and major improvements to the city’s water and sewer systems particularly into the northwest quadrant of town. Mary was especially proud that she encouraged Dave Jordan to invest in the Brandywine Hotel complex so there would be a local hotel with a national reservation system.
As Monticello’s Mayor, Mary encouraged her department heads to participate in Indiana Association of Cities and Towns (IACT) conferences to ensure Monticello stayed competitive with other cities and be attractive to future businesses. She also went to meetings of the National League of Cities and applied knowledge she gained at those meetings to her service as Mayor of Monticello.
During her years as Mayor, Mary served on several committees and as several officers of IACT and as a member and several officers of the North Central Indiana Mayors’ Roundtable. She was a member of the National League of Cities and served on its Economic Policy Development Committee.
Mary also was a member of the U.S. Department of Energy State Energy Advisory Board. She contributed her knowledge and experience to help integrate and provide consistency between federal, state, and local activities regarding initiation, design, implementation, and evaluation of federal energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.
Mary was the first woman admitted to the Monticello Kiwanis Club and belonged to the Club for over twenty-five years. She enjoyed helping its missions of building the community and serving children of the world. Mary rose through the Kiwanis leadership ranks to serve as President of the local Club for two terms and as Kiwanis Indiana District Lt. Governor. One of her favorite projects for the Kiwanis was organizing and hosting the Third House programs, during the Indiana legislative sessions, where White County residents could learn about state government and have open conversations with their local state legislators.
Besides her elected positions, Mary was the stalwart and leader of local Republican politics and was the backbone of the Republican Party in White County. She served as the Chair of the White County Republican Central Committee for many years. As Chair, Mary was a member of District committees of the Indiana State Republican Party and served as Vice Chair of Indiana’s 5th District. Mary’s political activities included being a member of the Indiana Republican Mayor’s Association, which named her their Woman of the Year. The Indiana Republican Women Federation honored her in its 1992 Tribute to Women, Third District Outstanding Republican Women.
Mary’s other community service included being a member of the White County Historical/Old Settlers Association from 1968 to 1992. She was Chair of the White County Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution Committee, Chair of the White County Sesquicentennial Parade Committee, and Chair of White County “Celebrate 88.”
Governor Robert Orr honored Mary with the Sagamore of the Wabash award. Gov. Mitch Daniels honored Mary with a Distinguished Hoosier Award. Gov. Eric Holcomb presented her with her second Distinguished Hoosier Award at the 2017 White County GOP Lincoln Day Dinner. These awards are high honors bestowed only by the Governor of Indiana to those who rendered distinguished service to the state or to the governor or brought honor to the state through their character and accomplishments.
An enthusiastic traveler, Mary traveled to all fifty states and was proud of that accomplishment. She instilled in her children a love for travel and experiencing unfamiliar places and broadening their understanding of the world. When her children were young, they would travel to nearby states and explore their history and cultures.
Mary also was an avid sports fan who loved her Twin Lakes Indians, Indiana Hoosiers, and Cincinnati Reds.
Mary lived in two houses over the past seventy years in Monticello, one on South Street and another that she restored on South Main Street. Mary loved holidays, big events, and celebrations. She took pride in decorating both of her houses. Her South Street home won several community awards for Christmas decorations and she enjoyed decorating the South Main Street house for the Fourth of July. Many in the community enjoyed and came to expect these decorations that helped create lasting holiday memories for generations of Monticello residents.
Mary often said her greatest accomplishment was her three children. Survivors include daughters Lisa Bayliff (Brad) of Blanco, TX, and Lynda Narwold of Loudon, TN; son R. Michael Walters (Stephanie) of Lafayette, IN; grandchildren, Ben Narwold (Jessica) of Mars, PA, Libby Glentzer (Joel) of New Castle, IN; and five great-grandchildren.
Mary married Earl L. Walters in Logansport, Indiana, who died on November 22, 1965. Besides her parents and her husband, Mary was preceded in death by sister Joan Craig of Marion, OH, and brother Charles Hiram (Hi) Ellis of Monticello.
Visitation will be on Thursday, September 14, 2023, from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. at Springer-Voorhis-Draper Funeral Home, 202 S. Illinois Street, in Monticello. Funeral services celebrating Mary’s life will be at 10:00 a.m. on September 15, 2023, at the funeral home.
Burial will follow in Riverview I.O.O.F. Cemetery.
Memorial contributions are encouraged to the Monticello Kiwanis Club Foundation, Inc., 1626 N. Royal Oaks Drive, Monticello, Indiana 47960; the Educational Foundation of Twin Lakes, Inc., 565 S. Main Street, Monticello, Indiana 47960; White County Historical Society, 101 S. Bluff Street, Monticello, Indiana 47960; or the Streets of Monticello Association (SOMA) Riverwalk project, P.O. Box 42, Monticello, Indiana 47960.