Elmer Louis Hoehn, 101, beloved father, grandfather, great-grandfather and friend to many, passed away at home in Jeffersonville on Saturday, September 30, 2017.
An educator, legislator and attorney, he devoted himself to community, state and national public service. Regarded as Clark County’s elder statesman and “Democrat of the Century,” he was honored as Indiana’s Oldest Living Legislator by the Indiana Senate.
He participated behind the scenes and was part of the force that led to the success of many people.
A former state and federal official, he was personally involved in the establishment of Indiana University’s Extension Center, the implementation of regulations governing the Indiana oil and gas industry, the defeat of segregationist Governor George Wallace in the 1964 Indiana Presidential Primary, the continuity of world oil supplies during the 1967 Six Day War, the purchase of property now known as Watertower Square, the creation of the Port of Indiana-Jeffersonville, the designation of local sites as part of the Lewis and Clark Trail, the transfer of the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant to Clark County and subsequent creation of River Ridge, and the founding of an Interfaith Centre at Clark Memorial Hospital.
The son of Louis Hoehn and Agnes Goss, he was born on the family farm in Memphis, IN on December 19, 1915. There was no electricity, no running water and no mechanically powered vehicles. Horses provided power and transportation.
As a boy, he plowed the fields behind a mule, cared for livestock, made hay and hunted for food. When he was nine, he was driving the family’s Model T to New Albany selling vegetables door to door. The lessons of hard work and perseverance learned on the farm guided his life through the next century.
His mother, a teacher, was an avid reader conversant in history and current political events. She inspired him to seek an education and life beyond the farm.
Elmer attended elementary school in Memphis and graduated from Silver Creek High School in 1933. He earned his B.S. degree in 1936 from Central Normal College where he led numerous campus organizations and was elected to literary and journalistic honoraries. The caption below his fraternity’s picture in the college yearbook foretold, “Here are to be found talented young men who are to be the men of affairs, the political, educational, social and civic leaders of tomorrow.”
From 1936-42 he taught business courses at Jeffersonville High School where he met his wife of 67 years, Frances Cory, the choral music teacher, and where he sponsored the Hi-Y Club. For the rest of their lives, his Hi-Y “boys” as well as many other students kept in touch, celebrated his birthday and considered him their mentor and friend. Their shared memories of the Depression, the 1937 flood and WW II deepened their bonds. During these years, Elmer pursued graduate business courses at Northwestern University and earned his law degree at night from the Jefferson School of Law.
About 1939, Elmer inherited a cotton farm in Louisiana from his uncle. He managed this operation long distance making occasional trips south until the 1970s. On several occasions, he confronted prejudice. When a road was blocked preventing the school bus from taking African American children to their school, Elmer devised a route through his fields allowing the children to pass safely to school.
In 1941 Dr. Herman B. Wells, President of Indiana University, and Dr. Floyd I. McMurry sought Elmer’s assistance in establishing the Indiana University Southern Indiana Extension Center in Jeffersonville because of its proximity to Louisville. The first classes began at night in Elmer’s typewriting classroom at Jeffersonville High School. Elmer was an instructor at the fledgling campus from 1941 until 1942.
During WW II, Elmer served as Jeffboat in-house counsel managing government contracts and personnel matters. He was especially active in the Red Cross and scrap iron collection supporting the war effort.
On June 10, 1943, Elmer and Frances married at St. Augustine’s Church. Flowers were scarce due to wartime shortages, so neighbors supplied lilies from their gardens to decorate the altar. Because many guests had to go back to work at the defense plants, the wedding was early in the morning followed by a breakfast at the Kentucky Hotel in Louisville.
By the end of the war, Elmer’s talents, organizational skills and energy had come to the attention of community leaders who encouraged him to run for office and assume a leadership role in local Democratic politics.
Twice elected to the Indiana House of Representatives he represented Clark County in the 1945 and 1947 sessions. He was elected House minority floor leader during the 1947 session. He also became Clark County Democratic Chairman. During the 1948 election, only two counties, Clark and Lake, were carried by President Harry S. Truman. Elmer received a phone call on behalf of President Truman from former U.S. Senator Sherman Minton of New Albany, who would later become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. According to Minton, President Truman thanked him for the Clark County victory. Soon Elmer became acquainted with members of the Truman Cabinet and Secret Service.
In 1949 Elmer became Clerk of the Indiana House. Later that year, Governor Henry F. Schricker appointed him Director, Oil and Gas, Indiana Department of Conservation. From 1950-51 he was also the Governor’s representative to the Ohio River Antipollution Compact. As Director, he implemented the first regulations governing the state oil and gas industry. Beforehand, there was no control over production activities or issues affecting the environment. For guidance, he looked to the Interstate Oil Compact Commission, an organization led by the Governors of over 30 oil and gas producing states whose mission was conservation and waste prevention. Elmer served as the Governor’s official representative to the Compact from 1949-51 and began working with Governors, federal and state regulators and elected officials and industry executives nationwide. His association with the Compact lasted throughout his career and he again served as the Governor’s official representative when his friend Governor Matthew E. Welsh chaired the Compact in the early 1960s.
From 1953 to 1965 he was Executive Director of the Independent Oil Producers and Land Owners Association, an organization of oil and gas producers in Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois, commuting each Monday to the office in Evansville. Representing their interests at the state and federal level and continuing to participate in Compact activities, his network grew to include Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Sam Rayburn and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson. At the same time, he continued to build relationships with the Democratic National Committee members serving as Indiana Eighth District Democratic Chair from 1952-58.
Senator Johnson asked Elmer to work for him in 1960 and he was a delegate to the National Convention. After Senator John F. Kennedy was elected, Elmer and Frances attended the Inauguration festivities with several Jeffersonville officials. Elmer’s friendship with Capitol staff got them prime seats behind the podium where President Kennedy took the oath of office.
Following the Kennedy assassination, when Vice President Johnson became President, Elmer started receiving regular calls from White House staff.
In 1964, Elmer joined forces with Governor Welsh to defeat segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace in the Presidential Primary. The popular Welsh ran as a “favorite son” candidate for President against Governor Wallace defeating him 2-1. Elmer was a delegate at the National Convention when Governor Welsh delivered his delegates to President Johnson who named Elmer his Midwest Campaign Manager. The election that November was the biggest win for the Indiana Democratic Party since the Roosevelt landslide in 1936.
When President Johnson appointed Elmer U.S. Oil Import Administrator in the Department of the Interior in 1965, he was a nationally known energy expert and political strategist. Serving as Administrator until 1969, his duties included limiting imports of oil and petroleum products into the U.S. reducing reliance on foreign countries.
During the 1967 Middle East Six Day War, he played a role in redirecting U.S. bound oil shipments to Great Britain and France whose fuel was running out because ships supplying Europe could not pass through the Suez Canal.
For many years after his government service, Elmer maintained a private law practice in Washington, DC located near the White House, the Washington Post and the Russian Embassy.
In 1991 he and Frances moved back home to Jeffersonville. At the age of 76, Elmer immediately immersed himself in community activities beginning an entire new chapter of public service resulting in economic development and jobs creation.
He was the first chairman of the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Reuse Authority. Local journalist Tom Lindley wrote in 1997, “Selecting Elmer Hoehn to head the redevelopment commission is laudable. He’s a seasoned hand, and a statesmanlike figure that deserves respect. He knows how to build consensus and force compromise.” A 2015 News and Tribune headline recounting the transfer of the property to Clark County and ultimate development of River Ridge deemed it “The Deal of the Century.”
Elmer was also a member of the Ohio River Greenway Commission, Chairman of the Clark County Regional Water and Sewer District, and a board member of the Red Cross, the Falls of the Ohio Foundation and the Clark Memorial Hospital Foundation.
Recognizing the growth of cultural diversity in the area, Elmer and Frances were benefactors of the Interfaith Centre at Clark Memorial Hospital. Elmer personally helped design the space and its symbols so all faiths would feel welcome.
Working with the local Convention Bureau, the Clark County Council, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, legislators and historians, he was deeply involved in the designation of Clarksville as a 2003 Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Signature Event location. Today Clarksville’s Lewis and Clark sites are tourist attractions on the Eastern Legacy Lewis and Clark Trail.
He received many local honors including Red Cross Humanitarian of the Year and Indiana University Southeast’s Chancellor’s Medallion. He was inducted in Southern Indiana Realtors Association Hall of Fame for “Deal of the Century.” The Indiana Department of Natural Resources named him “Director Emeritus.”
Elmer was a proud second generation American. His Irish and Alsatian French grandparents immigrated in the mid-1800s seeking religious freedom, economic opportunity and peace. In 1995 the Hoehn family reconnected with dozens of cousins living in the US and France. Elmer helped organize several international reunions. In 1998, he was named an honorary citizen of Soufflenheim, France, the Hoehn ancestral village.
Throughout his life Elmer participated in numerous organizations including the Indiana, Kentucky and DC Bar Associations, the National Press Club, the Elks and the Jaycees.
Elmer is survived by his daughter Kathleen Gillmore (David), Houston, TX; his son Patrick Hoehn (Garnetta), Jeffersonville; grandsons Cory Hoehn (Heather) and Kyle Hoehn (Melanie) and four great grandchildren, Zoe, Jackson, Kylie and Carson Hoehn, Floyds Knobs; and a sister, Dorothy Hoehn, Memphis. His parents and wife, Frances, predecease him.
The family extends its gratitude to his many caregivers for their kindness and concern, especially Dora Fischer, Susan Devary and Jennifer Holley.
Visitation will be 2 to 8 p.m. on Monday, October 9, 2017 at Scott Funeral Home, 2515 Veterans Parkway, Jeffersonville, with a memorial service beginning at 7 p.m. A funeral Mass of Resurrection will be celebrated at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, October 10, 2017 at St. Augustine’s Church, Jeffersonville, with burial at Walnut Ridge Cemetery.
The family suggests that memorial contributions be made to Falls of the Ohio Foundation or the American Red Cross.