Five Famous Columbus Residents

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From a singing cowboy to a celebrated teacher

Columbus, Indiana, is a vibrant city known for its modern architecture and for housing the world headquarters of Cummins, Inc., a global manufacturer of engines and engine components. Since its founding in 1821, many colorful individuals have played significant roles in the city’s history. Here are some of their stories.

An image of Clessie Lyle Cummins in an early automobile.
Image courtesy of Cummins, Inc.

Clessie Lyle Cummins was the co-founder of Cummins Engine Company with W. G. Irwin, a banker. Cummins grew up on a farm in Indiana, and his formal schooling ended after the eighth grade. After moving to Columbus, Cummins worked for several different machine and automobile companies, including Reeves and Co., before being hired by W. G. Irwin as a chauffeur. Cummins almost did not get the job with Irwin because Irwin was afraid that the young Cummins was not strong enough to crank the engine of his Packard. After working for Irwin for more than a decade and continuing to tinker with engines, Cummins founded Cummins in 1919 with Irwin’s financial backing. The first engine was a six-horsepower engine designed for use on a farm.

A photo of Jeanna Lewellen Norbeck and her husband Edward Norbeck on their wedding day.
Image courtesy of the Lewellen family and Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum

Jeanne Lewellen Norbeck was born in Columbus and graduated from Columbus High School in 1929. She and her husband, Edward Norbeck, pictured above at their 1940 wedding in Hawaii, were living there when Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941. Her husband joined the Army, and Jeanne became one of the first women to serve as pilots in the US militarywhen she joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). More than 25,000 women volunteered to join the WASP, and Norbeck was one of only 1,074 successfully to complete the training.

A photo of teacher Shirley Lyster at her classroom desk.
Image courtesy of Kim Stover.
Banner ad for Legendary Locals of Columbus.

When Shirley Lyster retired in 2004 after more than 52 years as a teacher, she was the longest- serving teacher in the history of Columbus schools. Lyster was born in Columbus and graduated from Columbus High School in 1947, returning to do her student teaching there in 1951 after graduating from Franklin College. Lyster taught English for 52 years at Columbus High School and Columbus North High School and was English department chair for 33 of those years. During that time, she built a department of excellent English teachers and developed a writing program that received local and national accolades.

A movie poster for Ken Maynard's movie "The Fighting Legion."
Image courtesy of Tamara Stone Iorio.

One of the first singing cowboys in the heyday of movie Westerns, Ken Maynard was born in 1895 in Vevay, Indiana, but grew up in Columbus. He began his career in the era of silent films in the 1920s and appeared in more than 90 films during his career, which earned him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His later life was marred by alcoholism, and he died penniless in California in 1973.

An image of basketball player and shoe designer Chuck Taylor with his basketball team.
Image courtesy of 1917 Log.

One of the most famous names in American shoes was born in 1901 near Columbus. In 1917, Chuck Taylor (front row, far left) played basketball for Columbus High School wearing Converse shoes. He later played for several professional teams, including a Converse All-Stars barnstorming team that played all over the country. After school, Taylor had gone to the Converse office in Chicago looking for a job. He became well known for traveling the country selling shoes and hosting basketball clinics, and he made suggestions to improve basketball shoes that prompted Converse to add his signature to the star patch on the ankle of Chuck Taylor All Stars.

Legendary Locals of Columbus book cover.

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