Knox County Health Officer Dr. Alan Stewart on Tuesday was recognized with Gov. Eric Holcomb’s second-highest honor, the Circle of Corydon Award, for his efforts in battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stewart was surprised with the recognition at a joint meeting of the city’s three civic organizations, Rotary, Kiwanis and Civitan.
Rotary member Jim Gislason, on behalf of the organizations, wrote a letter to the governor asking that Stewart be recognized for his efforts, pointing specifically to his unwillingness to see a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine wasted.
In the COVID-19 vaccination clinic’s early days — when it was set up at the Community United Methodist Church — the entire program was built, Gislason said, from Stewart’s determination and the tireless efforts of about 150 local volunteers.
An example of his commitment to the community, Gislason told the large group gathered at the Charles C. Hedde MD Health Education Center, was a rather disappointing trip to Oaktown for an on-site vaccine clinic.
With an extra 36 doses of the vaccine already drawn up — and no one else in line to receive one — he placed the syringes into a tackle box and went door-to-door. The last four he gave to willing patrons at a nearby Casey’s convenience store.
“No doses were thrown away that day,” Gislason said. “And time and time again, he did this.”
Word of his commitment, Gislason said, eventually “reached the desk of Gov. Eric Holcomb.”
“He was equally impressed, and it is my pleasure to announce that he has appointed Dr. Alan Stewart to be a member of the Circle of Corydon,” Gislason said, to which the room erupted into applause and a standing ovation as a very shocked Stewart came up to grasp his award.
Stewart, however, gave the credit to those who have served alongside him, not the least of whom is clinic coordinator and COVID nurse Betty Lankford.
“It feels very good, very humbling to get an award like this,” he said, straining to be heard over the the din of the crowd leaving the Hedde Center Tuesday afternoon. “But it shouldn’t be an individual award. This took teamwork.
“We’ve had a great team working with the immunization clinic, the health department in general, to combat the pandemic. And with all the struggles and the things we’ve been through, the ups and the downs, our team stuck together. We’re going to win this contest against COVID.”
Stewart, too, spoke briefly to the crowd of civic group leaders, focusing not on the danger still looming now nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, but the advancements made in science along the way.
It’s time, he said, to begin focusing on the positive.
“We’ve learned so much, made dramatic advancements in science over the last two years,” he said.
“Yes, there has been a lot of frustration and tragedy, and while we must continue to treat the problems we have, it’s time to look forward.”
The Circle of Corydon Award was created by Gov. Holcomb and is signed jointly by the recipient’s state Senator or Representative, in this case Sen. Mark Mesmer, who couldn’t be at the ceremony Tuesday due to a prior engagement, Gislason said.
The award is named after the town of Corydon, which played a pivotal role in Indiana’s history as the first state capital where early leaders drafted the first Constitution.
Holcomb awards the Circle to those who have made “remarkable contributions that have bettered Indiana and demonstrated the qualities exemplified by our greatest citizens,” according to Holcomb’s press secretary Erin Murphy.
Only members of the Indiana General Assembly may nominate individuals for the Circle. State Senators and Representatives may nominate two constituents each year.