INDIANAPOLIS — With sunshine streaming through the glass skylight of the Statehouse's south atrium, Indiana leaders and everyday Hoosiers celebrated Wednesday the life of three-term former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh, D-Ind., who died March 14 at age 91.
Bayh's accomplishments are unlikely to ever be equaled: crafter of the U.S. Constitution's 25th Amendment (presidential succession) and 26th Amendment (18-year-old voting age); author of the Title IX statute barring sex discrimination in higher education, including athletics; and father to former Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh, who'd later serve two terms of his own in the U.S. Senate.
"If ever there is a Mount Rushmore of Indiana political figures, surely and certainly Birch Bayh would be on it," said Gov. Eric Holcomb. "I can see his limestone smile in my mind right now."
Holcomb noted that Bayh largely was responsible for the development of the Port of Indiana at Burns Harbor, and all the international shipping that now flows through Northwest Indiana, as well as the establishment of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore that in February was re-designated as a national park.
"There simply aren't very many people, ever, who can say they created a national park. Birch is one of those select few," Holcomb said.
Bayh's efforts to combat racism, promote gender equality, launch federal disaster relief assistance and commercialize academic discoveries also were recalled by U.S. Rep. Andre Carson, D-Indianapolis; Jane Magnus-Stinson, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana; former U.S. Rep. Baron Hill; and Purdue University President Mitch Daniels.
His sons, Evan Bayh and Christopher Bayh, along with his widow, Katherine Bayh, shared personal stories about Birch Bayh's joy in raising crops and flowers, his commitment to helping others, appreciation for poetry, and, of course, his well-known love of ice cream.
"He literally knew where every Dairy Queen was located in the state of Indiana, and every place else," Evan Bayh said. "He traveled with a spoon!"
At the same time, Evan Bayh said his father never forgot that "the fundamental responsibility of the elected official is to get things done that will help people in their daily lives."
"And so he set out, attempting to do just that."
The Bayh memorial service, coming just three days after the death of another giant of Indiana politics, former U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., for whom a moment of silence was held, seemed to mark the end of an era for a generation of Hoosiers.
But House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he takes heart — due in no small part to the legacy of Birch Bayh — "that there are young statesmen and stateswomen who will fill these shoes in the future."