Bob Book isn’t shy about sharing his stories, but you have to ask if you want to hear them.
And though he’ll try to dissuade you he did anything extraordinary in his military service, his integral role establishing one of the first modern hospitals to service Carmel, or his several decades worth of public service, Book’s life is a full one, and one that has impacted the Carmel community uniquely.
Sitting at the head of his kitchen table, his wife Jeanne coming in and out of the room followed by an old, white-bearded beagle named Lucky, Book seems rather comfortable to share a cup of coffee and talk about things. A baseball hat with the Marine Corps emblem embroidered on the front is probably the most he’ll make about his 35 years in the military. A Retired Marine colonel, Book joined in 1948 in time for the very end of World War II, and the Korean War and Vietnam War.
“Now look,” he said. “I did nothing heroic. It was a good opportunity; I served my time for my country and that’s that.”
For Carmel he’s been a key player in veteran’s affairs, from his involvement with Military Officers Association, the Indiana Military Veterans Coalition, and the Hamilton County Veteran’s Association, and helping with the veteran’s memorial.
The memorial at Freedom Circle at Veteran’s Plaza was dedicated in 2006, and Book’s involvement with the committee through the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars helped to organize an entirely privately funded memorial, for public use. Book helped with the committee and organized much dialogue between Mayor Jim Brainard and the committee members.
“The committee was made of veterans and nonveterans, and really people of all walks of life,” said Book. “It was a great effort and I was happy to have been involved.”
While he’s always been a face for Carmel, Book is also well known for his position within Elanco, an Eli Lilly company focused on animal health. A graduate from Purdue University with a degree in animal science, Book was drawn to the study from a young age when he grew up on the rural, southeast side of Indianapolis. The fit with
Elanco was natural and he stayed with the company through its earliest years, from 1955 to 1983, retiring as the Vice President of Marketing Operations, the same year he retired from the Marine Corps. After retiring in 1983, Book took a position within the Lilly Endowment to work with the Indiana Institute of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition.
Elanco was the opportunity that, like his military service, took Book across the country and around the world. New with the company after college, he moved west to cover a territory that ran from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi, the Canadian border to the Rio Grande. He still smiles recalling the interesting people he met over the years.
After moving back to Indiana in the 1960s, Book and his family moved to their Carmel residence where they still live. “Carmel is home,” he said. “This is where my kids are and grandchildren are.”
In other ways, Book has been involved in the operations side of Carmel serving in local government as a township trustee and is also a precinct committeeman with his wife Jeanne. For Book, it wasn’t necessarily the interest in anything political, but a chance to stay involved in the area on a much larger scale, and a coincidence he managed to get involved.
“I originally got involved because there was consideration for a park between 116th and 131st streets,” said Book. “After that I just wanted to stay involved, there was a seat vacated and so I ran. Someone has to do these jobs, and I like to help make things happen that benefit the community.”
After 29 years as a trustee, Book still waivers to take credit for the service locally, or when he was seriously considered as a candidate for President Reagan’s Secretary of Agriculture in the 1980s when he was still at Elanco, a position he said he did not campaign for.
While much could be made about his military career and service to Hamilton County, his role in establishing St. Vincent Hospital was a significant achievement, one he says was just because he saw a need, and had an overwhelming sense to return much for a hospital that had helped his family.
“I find the community that is St. Vincent is to be special because of the care that they provide to the sick and infirmed and those less fortunate, on the basis of Christian approach which is important to me. I’m glad I had the opportunity to be of service to the hospital and the daughters of charity,” said Book. “I’m not Catholic, but I ascribe to the beliefs of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. But they are very special to me and have done great things for me and my family and this community.”
As a child, Book’s brother, William, was born with cerebral palsy and saw early on the support the hospital provided his family. Book further saw the Daughters of Charity step in to help his family when on Halloween night of 1968 he and his family went to the Coliseum at the State Fair, when a propane explosion killed 74 people and injured 400.
“When the Coliseum exploded, I was there with my family. I was tossed up in the air and bounced off a light” said Book. “My daughter, Nancy, was very badly injured, one of the youngest to be so severely hurt and live. While she was sick and in the hospital for several months, a Daughter of Charity lived with her, and I credited her with saving my daughter’s life.”
After seeing the shortage of beds available to the injured in such emergency, and recognizing the nearest hospital in Carmel was miles away in Indianapolis, Book set out to propose a new hospital for the area that could grow and suit the needs of the city.
“Bob saw the potential and growth of Carmel,” said Leo Dierckman, current chairman of the board at St. Vincent. “He has the vision to see what the community could be, and that for Carmel to develop, it needed a hospital. Everything Bob does is selfless and motivated to benefit someone else. It’s rare to find that in people, where there isn’t an angle. He really just wants to serve the community.”
Since the opening in 1985, Book has been involved in many ways, and served as the chairman of the board for the hospital and now serves as a member, still active in his position there, and always will be, he said.
“You can’t forget Bob’s a former military man,” said Mike Chittenden, president of St. Vincent Carmel. “He has been a great leader, advisor and has always been interested in our issues. He advocates for us in the community.”
Bob Book has stories to tell, from his family, and involvement with St. Vincent, the explosion at the Coliseum, his career at Elanco and Eli Lilly, his military service, and role in local government. He seems happy to share them, but more interested in going out and creating a new story.