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Community Champion: John Pratt of Greensburg 

A history teacher making an impact on the future of Decatur County

(This story was originally published in The 812 Magazine's January edition)

(GREENSBURG, Ind.) -- Greensburg history teacher John Pratt is not your typical teacher or typical community member. His path toward teaching has also been anything but ordinary. 

After growing up in town, John had a successful career in philanthropy and non-profit management in several different parts of the country.

When he was 43-years-old, John returned to Greensburg after his father passed away.

That's when John entered the world of education with his first job at North Decatur. 

While he was teaching there, he realized that in the ever-changing world of education, there was a void in inspiration.

He established a program called Chautauqua, to show students that anything was possible.

The goal was to bring successful people from diverse backgrounds to share their stories with teenagers.

Pratt then took a history job at his alma mater, Greensburg High School, and that is when Chautauqua would expand to what it is today.

Pratt has brought in famous actors and actresses, musicians, Nobel Peace Prize winners, politicians and historical figures to share their stories and insights with students and community members during the semi-annual event for the past 17 years.

He hosted his last Chautauqua in November, which featured a member of the "Hamilton" musical, a musician who performed before Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, and the current United States Poet Laureate for Poetry. 

His efforts to impact students beyond the lesson plan hasn't stopped there.

Every morning at Greensburg High School, a voice comes over the intercom as students place a hand over their heart and recite the pledge of allegiance.

It may sound like the beginning of the day at many local schools, however, this is the only program of its kind in the United States. 

What makes it unique is the voice who leads the pledge.

One day it might be a local veteran, the next day it might be a business leader. Or, someone that isn't even in Greensburg. 

Some notable people who have led the pledge include Mike Pence, while serving as Vice President, former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, Governor Eric Holcomb, along with astronauts, journalists, Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, and many more.

Some guests recite the pledge in-person, while others call in to school.

For John, it requires a significant amount of extra work to recruit and schedule guests, but he has never shied away from bringing history to life for his students.

In 2022, it was an opportunity to go outside the classroom and celebrate local history during Greensburg's Bicentennial. 

John was at the forefront of celebratory programs that took place that year. There were summer concerts, a lecture series, film series, a large parade and many other events to mark the 200th anniversary.

He didn't stop there as he also helped coordinate the Bicentennial banner program, which spotlighted veterans and other Decatur County natives.

Pratt also led the effort to place American flags at the graves of veterans at every cemetery in the county in 2022. 

One of his proudest projects that year took place outside of Greensburg, in the small community of Clarksburg. 

There is a small cemetery in a heavily-wooded area that many locals didn't know existed. 

It had been mostly forgotten and sat dormant for 150 years. It was far from a typical cemetery as well. 

Those who are buried there are  African Americans who were part of the Underground Railroad. 

John and a group of volunteers restored the cemetery, installed new fencing and signage, to properly honor those who have been laid to rest there since 1850.

The new signage reads "African Methodist Episcopal Cemetery, EST. 10/3/1849.

Pratt continues to make an impact in the classroom and was recently awarded the Sagamore of the Wabash, the state of Indiana's highest honor for a civilian.

However, Pratt doesn't seek acknowledgment for his contributions, as he is the first to credit others who have helped him bring history to life in Decatur County.


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