Longtime Special Olympics Indiana CEO Michael Furnish Designated ‘Sagamore of the Wabash’
Furnish, who retired Jan. 15, was honored during a ceremony at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Tuesday and presented the award by Indiana Rep. Bob Behning.
INDIANAPOLIS — At a retirement celebration honoring more than 44 years as a volunteer, staff member, and executive with Special Olympics Indiana, outgoing President & CEO Michael Furnish was appointed Tuesday evening by the Indiana Governor’s Office a “Sagamore of the Wabash.”
The award, which takes its name from the Algonquin word for a tribal chieftain and has long been considered the state’s highest distinction for distinguished service, was presented on behalf of Gov. Holcomb by Indiana Rep. Bob Behning during a ceremony at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Furnish, who recently resigned his post following an 11-year term as the organization’s top executive, joined the Special Olympics Indiana staff in 1990 after first becoming involved as a volunteer and coach in 1973. During his tenure as CEO, the organization has served more than 40,000 individuals with intellectual disabilities and now maintains an annual participation rate of over 14,000. Other organizational accomplishments under his leadership include tremendous gains in the areas of financial stability and sustainability; the development of programs dedicated to unified sports and social inclusion in Indiana schools; and the establishment of initiatives addressing significant health disparities among people with intellectual disabilities.
“There has never been a time in our history that I have been more optimistic about the possibilities and the future,” Furnish said of his retirement. “The organization is thriving—as we continue to expand our sports program, support exponential growth in schools, bring athletes up as leaders, and dedicate ourselves to the health and fitness of athletes.”
According to public record, the Sagamore of the Wabash Award was created during the term of Indiana Gov. Ralph Gates, who served from 1945-1949, and inspired by similar citations in Ohio and Kentucky. The award is considered a personal tribute by a sitting governor, usually bestowed upon those who have rendered a distinguished service to the state. Past recipients have included “astronauts, presidents, ambassadors, artists, musicians, politicians, and ordinary citizens who have contributed greatly to our Hoosier heritage.”
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