Ken Paust looks at his Sagamore of the Wabash award during a Dec. 28 celebration of his public service. Photo by Mike Emery

Commissioner honored with Sagamore of the Wabash

Ken Paust wants to make Richmond and Wayne County a better, more attractive place to live.

For five decades, he’s worked to do just that as a Richmond council member, a county council member and, finally, as a county commissioner.

“What is best for this county? What can I do to make it better and bring more people here?” Paust said about his motivation. “I think, definitely, I have made a difference in a lot of areas.”

Paust’s government career ended Dec. 31 after Brad Dwenger defeated him in May’s Republican primary for the District 1 commissioner’s seat. About 50 county employees, elected officials and other local leaders gathered Dec. 28 to honor Paust at his final commissioners meeting They gave him a standing ovation when he entered the chambers in the Wayne County Administration Building.

State Sen. Jeff Raatz and State Rep. Brad Barrett presented Paust with a Sagamore of the Wabash award, the highest honor bestowed upon Hoosiers by a governor, and a framed congratulatory letter from Gov. Eric Holcomb. Paust also received a Wayne County Sheriff’s Office blanket from Sheriff Randy Retter.

“His desire for the community and to keep us moving forward shines through,” Raatz said. “We’re much better off, for your service. I don’t know how you thank a man for his lifetime of service just by shaking his hand or giving him accolades, but from my heart to yours, and I’m sure all these people here, thank you.”

Barrett said Paust’s impact extends beyond Wayne County’s borders because of his statewide work. That’s something he learned after he was elected to serve in Indianapolis.

“I knew what an asset Ken was to the community from over here, but when you get over there and you hear his name over there through the Association of Indiana Counties, through all the leadership there, that’s when it really hits home,” Barrett said. “It’s recognized on a grander scale.”

Ken Paust acknowledges those gathered to honor him Dec. 28, when he presided over his final Wayne County Board of Commissioners meeting. Photo by Mike Emery

Commissioner Mary Anne Butters served with Paust the past 10 years. She joked that it was only 20% of his overall community service.

“Ken, it won’t be the same without you; I’ll miss you terribly,” Butters said. “I want to personally thank you for the privilege it has been to serve beside you these 10 years, and I wish you all the best.”

Commissioner Jeff Plasterer, who previously served as a county council member, said Paust has been a friend and mentor for three decades, since they worked together on United Way projects. He thanked Paust and he noted that Paust always has a smile on his face and attacks county projects with enthusiasm.

“It doesn’t matter what happens, whether a vote goes against him or his way, he’s always in a good mood, he’s always right there ready to cheer you on and take on the next project,” Plasterer said. “That’s one of the things I’ve learned from Ken over the years, is, hey, we can disagree on issues without being disagreeable. Let’s get the vote taken [and] we’ll move on to the next thing, because there’s always something else that needs to be done.”

Getting projects done is, in essence, why Paust began his public service career after returning to Richmond from the Army. He was involved with the Jaycees, particularly a project where they constructed a Berlin Wall replica downtown to draw attention to the plight of Germans. Then, it was suggested he run for city council, an idea he found interesting.

Paust served there through construction of the Richmond Municipal Building and the Promenade, an outdoor mall he thinks extended downtown’s relevance for 25 years. After 20 years in city government, a mayoral election loss led to the suggestion he become a county council member. Paust thought that, too, sounded interesting, and he has served the county since 1993.

Through it all, he’s taken the opportunity to impact the city, the county and its residents’ lives.

“Here you have a chance to actually do something that’ll make a difference,” Paust said. “My goal has always been to make Wayne County and all of our towns a better place for our children to grow up in and to make this the best community we can.”

The city building and Promenade are career highlights as successes, but Paust made sure to mention the one project he couldn’t complete: a conference center. He said he tried from the city and county side several times, including for the land where the administration building now sits.

But, in typical fashion, Paust also looked ahead. He said the city has upcoming projects that he thinks will lead to a downtown renaissance, and the city, county and other communities are working to thoughtfully spend American Rescue Plan Act dollars.

“It’s going to be a really exciting time for utilizing those funds, and I wish I was going to be here,” Paust said. “But then there’s going to be a lot of public meetings where you can have input in where you think some of these funds ought to be spent, so you just might find me in the audience.”

Smith, Walton also say goodbye

The Dec. 21 council/commissioners workshop was the final public meeting for council member Rodger Smith and Auditor Kimberly Walton.

Beth Leisure, the 2022 council president, presented Smith, Walton and Paust with tokens of appreciation.

Smith served 10 years on council, the first eight as an at-large member then the past two in the District 2 seat Plasterer vacated to become a commissioner. He said that the county has solidified its financial position during that time.

“Thank you to the community that’s allowed me to serve 10 years,” Smith said. “We’ve put the county in a position I think is second to none financially with how we’re doing things.”

Walton did not speak during the meeting, but afterward, she also thanked Wayne County’s citizens. She was appointed during 2017 to serve the final 19 months of Bob Coddington’s term after serving as his chief deputy. Voters then elected her in 2018 before she was defeated during the 2022 Republican primary by Mark Hoelscher.

“I am thankful I was able to serve the citizens of Wayne County in this capacity as long as they voted me into the position,” Walton said. “I will miss it and wish everyone the best.”

Walton now works as a data analyst and project manager for Wayne Bank and Trust.

“Kimberly has been an amazing help,” Leisure said. “We couldn’t have gotten through the year without her.”

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Mike Emery is a reporter and layout editor for the Western Wayne News.