WARSAW — A solemn procession will make up part of the Kosciusko County portion of the Indiana Bicentennial Torch Relay when members of the American Legion Post 49 Honor Guard carry the torch in memory of one of their own.
Robert “Coach” Lichtenwalter has posthumously been chosen as one of 22 local residents named torchbearers in the relay, which comes through Kosciusko County Thursday, Sept. 29. The event is modeled after the Olympic Torch Relay.
Post Commander Raymond Bledsoe, Second Vice Head of the Honor Guard Dexter Wise and Josie Ryan all reminisced about Lichtenwalter and the influence he had on the local community.
Bledsoe noted Lichtenwalter remembered for his work with the Baker Youth Club, which he served for 29 years as its director. Back then, it was known as the Baker Boys Club.
“(There are) hundreds of boys who would never have graduated high school if it wasn’t for him,” he said.
Lichtenwalter did not stop there, however. As his nickname suggests, he coached numerous youth sports teams over the year. Lichtenwalter also played a major role in the founding of the Veterans’ Circle at Oakwood Cemetery, Warsaw. When American Legion members expressed the desire to set aside a special burial place for local veterans, Lichtenwalter submitted a request for a grant to help make the circle possible.
“That is where Coach now resides,” Bledsoe said.
Wherever he went, Lichtenwalter made an impression, from his car with the two large American flags to his willingness to help out wherever he was needed. When the call went out for torchbearer nominees, he was the first person to come to Ryan’s mind.
“When I think of someone who has touched the most people in Kosciusko County, the first person I thought of was Coach,” she said.
Lichtenwalter served with the United States Army during World War II and was a lifetime member of the American Legion. He was part of the Honor Guard that will carry the torch in his memory in September. He was known as a faithful attendee at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, along with his wife, Suzie. Lichtenwalter passed away a little over a year ago, July 15, 2015.
Other organizations Lichtenwalter was active with included the Boys & Girls Club of America, where he earned a Lifetime Achievement Award; the Elks Lodge; the Kosciusko County Historical Society; Indiana State Teachers Association; the Kosciusko County YMCA and City-County Athletic Complex. The Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce named him Man of the Year in 1974.
“I just wondered how in the world he could spread himself so thin and still get it all done,” Bledsoe said, admiration in his voice.
While honor guard members do not yet know which part of the route they will be on, their plan is for Lichtenwalter’s daughter to start out carrying the torch, then to hand it off to an honor guard member as they are walking.
“We want to use all of our guys we can,” Ryan said.