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Bobbie Garver retired Friday, June 28 as community development manager at the Indiana Arts Commission (IAC.) She worked with the IAC longer than any past or present employee, and the IAC believes her to be the longest continuous serving state arts agency employee in the nation.
Garver, born in Lexington, Ky., moved to Indianapolis when she was about five years old and has lived there ever since. She attended school at the Indiana Center—now called the University of Indianapolis—and studied business.
“The decision [to study business was based on] things I had done in high school; I don’t think I gave it a lot of thought, she said. “It was just something I did. I know today, I think about it a lot.”
Garver’s aunt worked for the IAC’s first chairman, Frank Thomas, when Garver was a young teenager. During the summer, Garver worked for his company, Burger Chef, organizing promotional materials for the company and doing other odd jobs. Years later, her aunt had to leave for a summer, and Garver filled her position at the IAC until they could find someone else.
Though the position started out temporary, Garver worked for the IAC for 44 years.
“That was kind of the joke: that I have been working at the IAC until they find someone to fill the position,” Garver said.
Garver joined the IAC on August 8, 1969. Her first memory of the organization was putting together a conference with Thomas, which was new to both of them. She was one of two employees in the office, but the office grew to 25 at one point. Now, the IAC consists of nine employees.
“Bobbie showed exemplary wisdom when working with both artists and organizations,” Lewis Ricci, executive director of the IAC , said. “It would be hard to chronicle in any way the myriad good advice Bobbie gave people in the arts over the years, but one thing is for sure, if you wanted to hear an honest and informed appraisal of a situation, opportunity or challenge, you would call Bobbie first.”
Though she studied business, the arts always interested Garver growing up. Working with the staff, artists and arts organizations was Garver’s favorite part of her job. Before she retired, her position required her to act as a liaison between the IAC and its various Regional Arts Partners, committees and organizations.
“I love the field work,” Garver said. “I love the artists, I like the arts organizations, and I have some really good friends from the staff. So that’s the best part of it—the personalized contact.”
Susan Britsch, community development manager and education coordinator at the IAC, worked with Garver for six years before her retirement. Garver also acted as her mentor when she joined the Commission.
“She brings more what I call institutional knowledge than anyone I have met in my life, and quite frankly, probably more institutional knowledge than anyone would have across the country in any arts commission,” Britsch said. “I don’t know of anyone else who has worked in the position she’s been in for the length of time she has been in it.”
Britsch’s first impression of Garver was her energy, passion and positive attitude. She said now, at the end of the career, Garver has the exact same attitude.
“She is so consistent,” Britsch said. “She has the positive, consistent disposition all the time, which is why everybody loves her. She reminds us all on a daily basis why we do what we do.”
Kristina Davis, current community development manager and accessibility coordinator, knew Garver for five and a half years, and said Garver never sought glory or recognition for her achievements.
“She’s just amazing. She just lives such a full life and is such a full person that you’re lucky if you can get a glimpse into that,” Davis said. “She’s just a well-loved person; I hope she continues to feel that. I know she will always need to have some connection to the arts, and I hope she finds what that new meaningful connection is to her, and I think she will.”
Ricci believes Garver will most be remembered in her career for her dedication to the arts and positive attitude with which she served others.
“Bobbie did not simply contribute to the IAC, Bobbie was the IAC,” Ricci said. “As a program officer, she worked on the front line of service, and was the face of the IAC for countless people over many decades… Some people help institutions. Others are the institution. Bobbie is the latter.”
Now that she has retired, Garver hopes to spend much of her time traveling, bonding with her family and “spending her summer on the dock reading frivolous books” at her Lake Freeman cottage.
“I’ve loved working at the Arts Commission, and I’m going to miss it,” Garver said. “It’s a new phase in my life, and it’s very sad, part of it is, but we’ll see.”