Throughout her life, Ruth Callon was a pioneer.
She worked tirelessly to ensure that girls and women had opportunities to play sports in Indiana. At Franklin College, where she attended and later coached and taught, she helped create the women’s athletics department.
She led the formation of the Indiana Collegiate Women’s Sports Organization, the first league for female athletics in the state.
But being a pioneer runs in her family, said Dan Callon, her son.
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“Mom came from some of the earliest settlers in Johnson County,” he said. “In mom, you have connections to so many aspects of Johnson County.”
Though Ruth Callon died in December, she is being honored as one of Johnson County’s bicentennial torchbearers Sept. 23. Dan Callon and his sister, Cathy Pieratt, will be part of the relay bringing the torch through the county that day, serving as proxies for their mother.
“We decided to do it together. Since there’s two of us doing it, it’s more about mom than us,” Dan Callon said. “It’s nice to take pride in what your family has done, what your parents have done.”
So much of Callon’s life was devoted to Johnson County.
She grew up on Worthsville Road, on the farm that her ancestors had founded in 1859. The family had actually settled further north, in White River Township, in 1821. They were some of the first pioneers to come along the Wetzel Trace and make their homes in the Indiana wilderness.
Her great-great-great-grandmother, Martha Park, started the first school in White River Township. Ruth Callon would often portray Park in historical reenactments and community events.
Standing in the grassy side yard on the property, Dan Callon pointed out the scope of the original farm — a 160-acre block of land that covered most of the area west of what is now U.S. 31, between Stop 18 and Worthsville roads.
The tract was divided among children over time. As fewer members of the family were farming, portions were also sold off to developers and others in the area. Now, the farm is down to just three acres, Dan Callon said.
But Ruth Callon was born on the farm on Worthsville Road and grew up running around with the other farmers’ children in what at the time was a rural part of the county.
She was the only girl in a neighborhood of 23 boys, so she had to get tough quick, Dan Callon said.
“Sports and everything were just part of her life,” he said.
That toughness served her well throughout her life. She graduated from Whiteland High School before earning her bachelor’s degree from Franklin College. She eventually earned a master’s degree in education from Butler University.
Ruth Callon taught at both Whiteland High School and Franklin College. It was at her alma mater that she started making inroads in women’s athletics.
She helped write the rules for intercollegiate women’s competition through the Indiana Collegiate Women’s Sports Organization. Working on a committee for the Indiana High School Athletics Association, she helped start postseason competition for high school girls.
Her efforts were rewarded later in her life, as she was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005. The Indiana Fever named her one of 15 Inspiring Women in 2009.
But the love of sports extended beyond just organized high school and collegiate athletics. Ruth Callon was also instrumental in starting the Special Olympics in Johnson County.
As a member of Greenwood Christian Church, Ruth Callon directed the recreation program for her church’s vacation Bible school each summer.
“For her, she just wanted people to have the opportunity,” Dan Callon said. “Whether you’re talking about girls and women in sports, or handicapped people. She just wanted them to have the opportunity to enjoy competition.”
Some of the county’s most endearing traditions were central to her life. She met her husband, George Callon, while attending Franklin College. Their first date was at the Johnson County fair, and every year after they were married, they celebrated their “date-a-versary” at the fair, Dan Callon said.
Ruth Callon also played in the Johnson County Band, a volunteer community group, in the 1930s and 1940s.
Being nominated as a torchbearer is an honor that Dan Callon thinks his mother would have deflected, saying that others were more deserving. But she also would have enjoyed it, he said.
“Mom was always one of the most humble people about what she’d done. She always said that God put her in the right place at the right time with the right people,” he said. “But I think she would have been pleased to represent Johnson County.”