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Business leader draws award

Pence issues 1st Sagamore honor to city executive

– Fort Wayne businessman Dick Freeland rated Gov. Mike Pence’s first Sagamore of the Wabash award.

He delivered it to Freeland during a private ceremony in Fort Wayne on Wednesday afternoon, recognizing his entrepreneurial spirit, public service and courageous work.

Freeland is chairman of the board of Pizza Hut of Fort Wayne Inc. He opened his first Pizza Hut restaurant in Fort Wayne in 1972 and now he owns 48 Pizza Hut restaurants and four KFC restaurants in northern Indiana and northwest Ohio.

“I’m so honored to give my first Sagamore of the Wabash to Dick Freeland, an extraordinary Hoosier who exemplifies great leadership and tenacity every day in his business and personal life,” Pence said in a written statement. “I’m impressed with his business success story, and his many contributions to Fort Wayne and our state are remarkable and greatly appreciated.”

Freeland has been a major political donor over the years, giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to GOP candidates and conservative causes. One northeast Indiana political action committee he helps fund gave almost $40,000 to Pence’s gubernatorial campaign.

Press secretary Kara Brooks said the political donations had nothing to do with the award, which was recommended by Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne. Long works for Freeland as general counsel.

“Dick is very deserving of the Sagamore of the Wabash award,” Long said. “Not only has he been a standout business leader, but also, in his own private way, an extremely generous and influential donor to our community’s religious and charitable organizations.”

The Sagamore of the Wabash used to be handed out by governors like candy. But former Gov. Mitch Daniels limited the awards to a select few, instead giving out many Distinguished Hoosier awards.

Brooks said Pence will likely follow in Daniels’ footsteps.

Daniels gave 245 Sagamore of the Wabash awards during his eight years, according to Pence’s office.

Thousands of “Sags” have been given over the years, though sometimes the numbers aren’t clear because each governor has kept his own roll, and some Hoosiers have received the honor multiple times.

According to statistics compiled by Daniels’ office in 2005, the fewest given was by Gov. Ralph Gates, who served from 1945 to 1949.

The Sagamore was created by Gates so he could give a similar award alongside the Kentucky Colonel at a tri-state meeting in Louisville.

The term “Sagamore” was used by American Indian tribes of the northeastern United States to describe a lesser chief or a great man among the tribe to whom the true chief would look for wisdom and advice.

Gates awarded just two Sagamores in his four years in office.

Since then, the number has ballooned. The first governor to reach 100 awards was Matthew Welsh, who served from 1961 to 1965.

Former Gov. Robert Orr presented an average of more than 500 a year during his two terms in office and totaled 4,236 awards.

Govs. Evan Bayh and Frank O’Bannon each gave more than 3,000 apiece. And Gov. Joe Kernan awarded 1,147 over his 15 months in office.

nkelly@jg.net

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