Former Franklin County resident named Hoosier German-American of the Year

Wednesday, October 9, 2019 - 22:48

The Indiana German Heritage Society will recognize William Selm as Hoosier German-American of the Year during a brief ceremony Saturday, Oct. 12, at 12:30 p.m. at the Athenaeum GermanFest, 401 E. Michigan St., Indianapolis.

Selm will be honored for his decades of work exploring, researching, documenting, preserving, sharing and celebrating the state's rich and deep German heritage. He grew up in a German-American family on farms in Franklin and Rush counties. He earned a B.A. in history with a German minor at Indiana State University, followed by an M.A at Boston University.

Following graduation, he worked briefly for the National Park Service in Boston, but returned to Indiana in 1983 to work as historian for the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission. During his nine years at IHPC, Selm explored the deep German roots of the city and the profound impact Germans made there.


Gov. Robert Orr appointed Selm in 1983 to the Indiana State German Immigration Tricentennial Commission. As a commissioner, he conceived, organized and curated the exhibit "The German-American Experience in Indiana," hosted by the Indiana State Museum and state library in 1983-84.

Selm co-founded the statewide Indiana German Heritage Society in 1984 and the Athenaeum Foundation in 1991. IGHS' purpose is to explore, research, understand, document, share and celebrate the contributions by German­-speaking immigrants and their descendants to the state. The Athenaeum Foundation was founded to rescue, revitalize and restore the historic building, originally named Das Deutsche Haus. In 2016 it was recognized as a National Historic Landmark.

In 2002 Gov. Joseph Kernan appointed Selm to the Indiana Historic Preservation Review Board, on which he served for a decade.


Along with working as a freelance historian, lecturer and tour guide, the honoree served as a decorated hotel doorman for 14 years, and has been an IUPUI adjunct faculty member since 1988, teaching architectural and furniture history. He is also a Max Kade Fellow of IUPUI and a Society for German­ American Studies member.

He has authored "Wegweiser: A Self-Guided Tour of German­ American Sites in Indianapolis" and "Vonnegut's Indianapolis Walking Tour." He created the IGHS traveling exhibit "Wegweiser: German Place Names in Indiana" and helped create the permanent exhibit "The Germans of Indianapolis" in the Athenaeum.

Each year since 2007, the Indiana German Heritage Society has recognized an individual who has made significant contributions to exploring and celebrating the German heritage of Indiana.The first recipient was the novelist Kurt Vonnegut. Other honorees include Drs. Eberhard and Ruth Reichmann and Dr. Giles Hoyt.

With his roots in Brookville, Oldenburg and Rushville, he and his wife Laura have resided since 1983 in Indianapolis, where they raised four children. He is an active member of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church and serves on the Indianapolis Metropolitan Development Commission.

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