When one thinks of the City of Rockport, several things come to mind, including the bluffs overlooking the Ohio, Abraham Lincoln, and maybe most especially, baseball. The city has long had the reputation for producing stellar players — a legacy that started in Joe Allan Hargis’ day if not before. As a result, that baseball legacy was, at least in part, the theme of the Spencer County Historical Society’s Annual Historian of the Year Banquet, held last Thursday, December 8 at Rockport Nazarene Church Fellowship Hall.
NOTE OF THANKS: Members of the church prepared an amazing meal for attendees and deserve both praise and thanks for their generosity. The desserts were especially delicious!
Society President Steve Sisley welcomed everyone and gave a brief history of the society, explaining it was initially founded in 1916 — the same year as Indiana’s centennial — but went by the wayside in 1936 during the Depression. It was revived in 1985 with a goal of preserving the county’s rich history and genealogy. To that end the Spencer County Public Library in Rockport boasts a room dedicated to an astonishing number of collections, such as marriage licenses, wills, immigration and census records, church and business histories and so much more. The room is a repository for information that is available to everyone and includes microfilmed newspapers and an extensive collection of books.
Every year the society honors both a living and a deceased personage, both of whom have contributed to the county in a specific way.
This year’s Commemorative Award recognized Robert Pyle “Bobby” Snyder. Snyder’s devoted friend and fellow coach Darrell Stephens shared memories of the man who, though named for an uncle who was killed as a fighter pilot during World War II and would answer to Robert, Bobby or Bob, much preferred to be called Coach. According to Stephens, when he was hospitalized Snyder would argue with the medical staff to put Coach on his door instead of Bob.
“History finds a lot of people and people find history, but Bobby did both,” Stephens noted. “He was a member of the last class of Rockport High School (mascot the Zebras) and he had a lot of family history.”
But what Coach did best, Stephens explained, was get students exposure to higher education, especially at Wabash Valley Junior College in Mt. Carmel where he taught and coached.
Stephens was 33 and recently divorced when Snyder talked him into attending Wabash Valley. “He helped so many kids I couldn’t put a number to it. It’s staggering! He was constantly preaching education. I could tell stories all day, but I can’t tell most of them.”
Stephens continued, “He was just Bob Snyder, he was coach — and they broke the mold. He was proud of this community and proud of the baseball program here. He wouldn’t miss a game, a pitch, a car ride. I am proud of what he did for me. He was an inspiration. He was bold and brash.”
Stephens said in 1979 “Bobby chartered an airplane when the ISU Sycamores were headed for the NCAA Championships at Salt Lake City, Utah. People in Terre Haute couldn’t get plane tickets so Bob chartered a plane. He filled it up too and had the President of the College,whocouldn’t get a flight anywhere else, on the plane he chartered (Bobby was the scorekeeper).
Coach Jim Haaff, a 2017 recipient as the Historian of the Year (Stephens was honored in 2021) was present and together with Snyder the pair coached Rockport Legion baseball for 56 years. Stephens explained the name Rockport Legion Baseball is everywhere thanks to the two — year after year the team has been a perennial power.
Coach Haaff pulled his cell phone from his pocket — an early generation flip phone — and asked if anyone possesses one of these (to chuckles as to the model). He said Bobby lived and breathed for his phone. He lost it one time quite briefly and panicked. “There’s no telling how many phone calls he’d take in a day. He helped an awful lot of kids get in school. He knew something — the value of a junior college. With a two- year degree you can make a fine living. Get out over four years $150,000 in debt and go to work to try and get out from under that.”
Haaff said as a coach he was extremely good at particular things in the game and knew college coaches from here to there. “It was really him that was responsible for a lot of our success. Please remember Bob Snyder — he gave his soul to the kids.”
Audience member Tim Turpin stood up and said Snyder was “one of the greatest third base coaches,” and then noted how many differ- ent area business owners are today a success thanks to the tutelage received from Coach Bobby Snyder.
Wayne Boultinghouse was honored to recognize the 2022 Living Historian who has done so much on so many levels to preserve Spencer County’s rich history.
Jerry Hargis spent many years as a journalist, and baseball has definitely been a component since he wrote about it extensively, including the publication in 2007 of his book, Around the Horn.
But Boultinghouse delved deeper into Jerry’s past, starting with his birth on April 3, 1934, to Joe Allen and Helen (Stock) Hargis. He was delivered by Midwife, noted historian and author Bess Ehrmann.
Jerry smiled as Wayne went on to describe his career, starting with playing for Evansville Bosse before head- ing to IU in the Fall of 1951 to major in sports broadcasting. But ink got under his finger- nails, and he became as ports writer instead — although he wrote on a variety other topics as well.
In preparing to award the distinction, Boultinghouse asked Hargis a series of ques- tions, including his favorite team (Cincinnati Reds), favorite sports announcer (Bill Sturm) and favorite writer. Jerry said, “Dad, he was the best!” His greatest thrill playing sports was hitting the game-winning home run against Cannelton.
Jerry also spearheaded the publication of Inside Indiana — yet another legacy.
But perhaps his greatest achievement in life was marrying his late wife Jean (together for 65 years, their children, 18 grandkids and eight great-grandchildren — creating a magnificent Hargis heritage.
When Boultinghouse was a senior at Rockport High School (go Zebras) he took Wayne to IU and introduced him to the head and assistant coach and they watched the game. On the way home Jerry asked, ‘Well what do you think?’ Wayne said he couldn’t believe how talented and quick the players were and Jerry responded, “That’s why you would be a good fit!” Coach Haaff also had much to say about Jerry Hargis, noting they “kind of took a partnership.” He praised Hargis’s writing talent and said even when the game didn’t go their way, “when you read his column the next day you’d actually wonder if you’d lost.”
He continued, “The power of the printed word can be a disaster. As far as I was concerned he was at the top of his game — the ability to take failure [and write it in such a way] no one got drubbed when the paper came out.”
Coach Haaff concluded, “Jerry, we’ve enjoyed your work. You’ve been very courageous.” The celebration ended with congratulations to Jerry Hargis and his family, along with much handshaking and many, many more stories of his prowess as a sports writer.
Congratulations Jerry Hargis. You are a legend in your own time!
Story and Photos by Kathy Tretter