Fetters feels his call to service leaves Huntington in good place

Huntington Mayor Brooks Fetters stands by his seat in the Huntington Common Council chambers on Dec. 18. As he leaves the mayor’s office, Fetters says he does so with great pride over his administration’s accomplishments over the past eight years.
Huntington Mayor Brooks Fetters stands by his seat in the Huntington Common Council chambers on Dec. 18. As he leaves the mayor’s office, Fetters says he does so with great pride over his administration’s accomplishments over the past eight years. Photo by Steve Clark.

In 2010, Brooks Fetters was busy running funeral homes in Huntington and Markle.

While he was a public officeholder, serving on the Huntington Common Council, he had no aspirations of seeking the city’s highest office and becoming mayor.

However, a municipal election was approaching in 2011. And as it drew nearer, Fetters found himself searching for an answer to one question, posed to him again and again.

“There had been a significant number of people who had known me for years,” recounts Fetters, “… who just asked a question, ‘Brooks, would you ever consider being mayor?’

“I really hadn’t thought about it ‘til they started talking to me about it.”

Fetters mulled the question over. In doing so, it occurred to him that people saw something in him that he hadn’t noticed himself. And their belief in him gave him the confidence to answer their question.

“As a person of faith, their questions, their wonderings, their affirmation, was part of me coming to the place where I felt that was an appropriate call to service for me,” he says.

Fetters entered the mayoral race – and the rest is history.

Fetters, a Republican, won the mayor’s office in 2011 and again in 2015.

While he sought a third term in 2019, those hopes were dashed with a loss in the GOP primary. The defeat may have stung at the time, but as Fetters reflects on his eight years in office, he struggles to identify many objectives that his administration wasn’t able to accomplish.

“There’s really not a lot that I’m walking out the door feeling like is undone,” he states.

Of Fetters’ objectives during his two terms in office, one of the biggest was promoting volunteerism to the citizenry.

“There are over 20,000 volunteers that donated in excess of 80,000 hours,” he shares. “Whether it’s painting a picnic table, planting flowers, sweeping curbs, emptying trash, cleaning rivers – what it is, it’s showing love to Huntington.”

Of the volunteer projects that were offered during his time in office, Fetters says his favorite ones involved the cleanup of the Little River, which runs through the middle of Huntington. Those cleaning sessions saw all manner of refuse pulled out of the river, from plastic bags to motorcycles.

“We cleaned the Little River from Broadway (Street) to the Forks of the Wabash in the last five years,” says Fetters proudly. “What we’ve done is we’ve put hundreds of people in the river, who now no longer fear it or see it as just kind of this thing that’s down there, it’s a place they go enjoy being in.”

In addition to partnering with citizens on volunteer projects, Fetters is proud of the partnerships his administration fostered with local entities to undertake improvement projects.

One of those projects saw the city team up with the Rotary Club of Huntington to create Rotary Centennial Park, which replaced a blighted property near the intersection of Park Drive and North Jefferson Street.

“It had looked horrible since I was a kid in the ‘70s,” says Fetters of the property. “The city got that down. Rotary Club of Huntington stepped up, put $125,000-$130,000 in that with the clock, the fountain, the memorial benches, the Rotary symbols, the beautification of that area.”

In addition to the Rotary Club’s contributions, Fetters praises Huntington Sheet Metal for designing and donating the metal Christmas tree that sits atop the park’s fountain at Christmastime. Huntington resident Jesse Miskovich programs the tree’s lights to illuminate and change colors in synchronization with Christmas songs, which can be heard on an FM radio station.

Fetters believes the Christmas display, which highlights downtown Huntington’s annual “Christmas in the City” event, is something that spectators, especially younger ones, commit to memory.

“There’s children on parents’ shoulders, eyes as big as silver dollars watching these lights go on and Santa Claus come to town,” he says. “This is the kind of thing, for a guy who’s 60 years old, looking back at what I remember as a kid, these are the kinds of things that those kids are going to remember 58 years from now. Some 2-year-old is going to look back and these were going to be some of the best formative memories of their life.“I think that’s what volunteerism and driving citizenship brings to a community. It brings vitality and life and pride and all the things that go with that.”

Another major improvement project saw the city team up with veterans entities to improve the appearance of Memorial Park.

When he took office, Fetters says the park’s memorial elements, a T-33 jet and a Sherman tank, “were simply nothing more than playground toys for as long as anybody could remember. Sitting at the bottom of the sledding hill, they had been abused and used and were in horrible disrepair.”

So, the city, along with the Huntington County Veterans Council, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2689 and the county’s American Legion posts, collaborated to create the Veterans Memorial at Memorial Park. Among the highlights of the memorial, which is located between Bartlett Street and Sunken Gardens, is the aforementioned tank, plus a T-33A jet, which replaced the park’s former jet. The jet is encircled by the memorial’s Ring of Honor, which lists the names of the county’s war dead, from the Civil War to the War on Terror.

Of the memorial’s other features, the newest is the Charters of Freedom display, which was installed in 2019. The display features replicas of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Overall, Fetters hails the memorial as “one of the most outstanding veteran memorials in the state of Indiana.”

“I just can’t say enough about how the community’s responded to that,” he says. “I see people there constantly.”

Other improvement projects that took place during Fetters’ time in office included the addition of amenities to Yeoman Park, the creation of Erie Heritage Park and the installation of greenway trails, lamp posts and gateway signs.

Aside from projects in the quality-of-life spectrum, Fetters says his administration took on other projects that, while not glamorous, still needed to be done. Of those projects, one of the most important was the cleanup of the H.K. Porter site. Located on the city’s east side, the site is contaminated with asbestos, lead and benzene – a result of manufacturing work that occurred in a factory there for decades.

Cleaning up the site was Fetters’ top priority when he took office in 2012. He’s thrilled by the progress that’s been made since that time.

“What I’m especially proud of is that we’ve had, through the persistent marathon efforts of a group of people and the Redevelopment Commission, which has truly become a force for positive change within our community, we have removed 10 of the 11 buildings that are on that site,” he shares. “EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has invested over a million dollars in that site, the city has probably invested $300,000-$400,000 in that site.”

While remediation efforts at the site are ongoing, Fetters takes pride in the fact that his administration got the process started and stuck with it.

“We’re cleaning it up, not only for the well-being of the east side of Huntington, who dealt with that for way too long, but for the community as a whole,” he says. “It is nothing that anybody ought to be around.”

Another project in the same vein as H.K. Porter was the city addressing the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s long-term control plan for Huntington. The plan is comprised of nine projects and concerns stopping the flow of untreated wastewater into area rivers.

When Fetters took office, none of those projects, which are mandatory, had been completed. By the end of 2014, though, Fetters says the city had caught up on those projects. Today, the city is ahead of schedule, with the plan’s 2022 project set to get underway in 2020.

“The long-term control plan projects end in 2026,” says Fetters. “So, we’re truly within shouting distance of the end of these improvements that have been mandated to us.”

Of all the projects his administration took part in, Fetters is especially proud of the Etna Avenue Improvement Project. Completed in 2018, the project saw stormwater infrastructure installed on Etna Avenue, which was also widened and received curbs and a greenway trail.

The project was launched in 2008 by Mayor Steve Updike, who preceded Fetters in office. Progress was slow, due to financial constraints, as well as the project’s complexity.

Fetters is pleased that his administration was ultimately able to finish what Updike’s started.

“It was a real privilege to knock that project out and give Mayor Updike the credit for it,” he says. “It’s a beautiful project.”

As Fetters moves out of the mayor’s office, Mayor-elect Richard Strick is preparing to move in. During his time in office, Fetters says he took pride in mentoring Huntington’s next generation of leaders. One of those leaders, he shares, was Strick, who served on the Huntington Common Council from 2016 to 2019 and launched an independent bid for mayor in July 2019.

“Richard is one of those individuals that I have had the privilege of investing in and I consider him a friend and I consider him a person who will be a very capable and outstanding mayor in taking Huntington to the next step,” says Fetters. “The young generational support that came out to put him over the top in November speaks to the intentionality of what we tried to do to prepare the next generation of leaders for the city and community of Huntington.”

At present, Fetters is contemplating what his post-mayoral life is going to look like.

“As far as a job, I’m only 60 so I need to find some gainful employment for a while,” he says.

Whatever shape his life ends up taking, Fetters is grateful for his eight years as mayor.

“You don’t get to do this job forever; you get to do it for a while,” he muses. “And so you want to make the most of it. You want to do the very best you can to improve the place we all love to call home for the benefit of everyone.”