County mourns the loss of Jack Sullivan, longtime businessman and community servant

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Warren T. “Jack” Sullivan, 90, a fixture in the Switzerland County community for his entire life, passed away on Thanksgiving Day at the Swiss Villa Living Center.

Born in Cincinnati but raised in Switzerland County, Jack Sullivan was a 1936 graduate of Vevay High School and a 1941 graduate of Purdue University’s School of Pharmacy. After graduation from Purdue, he entered the U.S. Navy in October of 1941, serving during World War II and rising to the rank of Lieutenant.

He was honorably discharged in 1946, and returned to Switzerland County, where he worked at his father’s pharmacy in Vevay.

Jack Sullivan’s father, Warren T. Sullivan, Sr., had purchased the pharmacy in Vevay from L. W. Golay in 1919; and Jack purchased the pharmacy from his father in 1995; continuing to run the family-owned business until it closed in October of 1996 – after 77 years of faithfully serving the Switzerland County community.

But Jack Sullivan was far more than the local pharmacist, he was an icon of community service and dedication to his community.

He was a longtime member of the Kiwanis Club of Vevay, serving in every office available, and served for many years as the program chairman and club historian.

In 1953 Jack Sullivan was elected Governor of the Indiana District of Kiwanis, and was the oldest living Governor in the state at the time of his passing. He was honored as a George F. Hixson Fellow by Kiwanis in 1989; and Kiwanis International Foundation honored him for 60 years of service with the “Tablet of Honor”.

Along with Kiwanis, Jack Sullivan was also active in Switzerland Masonic Lodge #122; Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite Valley of Indianapolis; and the Murat Shrine.

He was also very active in Ruter Chapel United Methodist Church in Vevay; and was an active member of both the Vevay American Legion Post #185 and the Vevay Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #5396.

He was a founding member of the Paul Ogle Foundation, serving for 28 years on its board and working to bring philanthropic funds to Switzerland County causes. He served on committees over the years that oversaw the building of Switzerland County High School; the location of the U.S. Shoe Corporation and Randall-Textron Corporation here; and the development of the Markland Dam.

Locally he also spent time on the county health board, the SWITZCO board, the Switzerland County Chamber of Commerce; and the Swiss Wine Festival Committee.

In 2003 he was awarded the “Sagamore of the Wabash” – the state of Indiana’s highest honor – by Governor Frank O’Bannon.

In 1993 he was honored by the Switzerland County Chamber of Commerce with the Paul Ogle Community Service Award; served as the Grand Marshal of the Swiss Wine Festival parade in 1994; and when the new senior citizens center was constructed in Vevay; the county commissioners officially named the facility the “Jack Sullivan Building of the Switzerland County Senior Citizens Center.”

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In the October 3rd, 1996 issue of Vevay Newspapers, publisher Don Wallis wrote an article about the closing of Sullivan’s Pharmacy after 77 years in business in the community.

Here are excerpts from that article:

Sullivan’s Pharmacy – Vevay’s corner drug store for 77 years – has closed forever, and the town will never be the same.

On Tuesday evening, Jack Sullivan closed the doors of his family’s drug store for the last time. They were opened for the first time – by Jack’s father – in 1919. For most of its long life, Sullivan’s Pharmacy has been the only drug store in town.

Jack’s father ran it for 35 years, with Jack’s help in the last several of those years. Then Jack ran it for 32 years, with the help of his daughter Lisa toward the end.

All these Sullivans were born and raised in Vevay and lived most of their lives here. They have belonged to the community, and so has their store. It is a local community landmark, a living symbol of the personal, intimately-connected nature of life in this place.

What does it mean to a community like Vevay – or any community – to have its own corner drug store, owned and operated by a local family down through many generations of time?

“The people,” Jack Sullivan said, “our relationship with all the people we have served,” when he was asked what was the best thing about his life’s work. Among his customers now are the great-grandchildren of customers his father served. There are many Switzerland County multi-generation families whose medical needs have been served by Sullivan’s Pharmacy down through the years.

“I could name them all,” Jack said, “but I might leave someone out. I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out.” That is one of the meanings of community, the sense of the need not to leave anyone out.

And the sense of personal connection. A true community drug store is much more than a business. People come to it with very personal needs. Often their health – the quality of their life – is at stake. Knowing them so well, the Sullivans could relate to their customers on a level beyond merely professional service.

“People felt free to tell us how they felt, how they were reacting to their medicine,” Jack said. “A lot of things they might not tell their doctors, they’d tell us. So then I could advise their doctors what was working for these patients, and what wasn’t working so well. I made sure their doctors were informed of any problems. Then their treatment could be adjusted to suit their needs.

“I like to think we helped people get good medical treatment. That was always our main concern – to create a good relationship between the people and their doctors and ourselves.”

That sense of personal connection – that sense of community service – often meant long and odd hours of work for the Sullivans. “People would call me at home in the middle of the night and say they’d run out of their medicine,” Jack said. “They needed it, so I’d get out of bed and go down to the store and get them what they needed.”

The same thing often happened on Sundays when the drug store was closed. “We never failed to respond when we were called. Looking back,” Jack said with a smile, “it seems we never were closed.”

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Jack’s father, Warren T. Sullivan, Sr., grew up on Tapps Ridge. His mother, Hallie, grew up nearby in the village of Florence. They married and moved to Cincinnati where Mr. Sullivan became a pharmacist at a drug store downtown in the middle of the city, at 6th and Vine. He was doing well but he wanted to come home, and in 1919 he did so, buying the drug store in Vevay owned by L. W. Golay. It has been Sullivan’s Pharmacy ever since.

Growing up in Vevay, Jack helped his father out at the store. In those days Reed’s Laundry of Madison had a pick-up service in Vevay. As a teenager Jack collected and delivered bundles of laundry, riding around town on his bicycle. (In return, Reed’s did the Sullivan family’s laundry for free.)

Jack remembers that in those days the drug store served as a gathering place for the people of the town, in the manner of the old-fashioned country store. “We had a pot-bellied stove in the corner and folks would come in and sit around and shoot the bull.”

The drug store was a busy place. Jack remembers when there were eight full-time doctors in Vevay, all of their patients served by Sullivan’s Pharmacy. And above the drug store was the Phoenix Hotel, run by the Pangburn family, with its 28 rooms and spacious lobbies on both the second and third floors, served as living rooms for the hotel’s guests.

Jack remembers the hotel’s horse-drawn dray making its picturesque journeys to the Vevay river landing, to collect the luggage of guests arriving by steamboat. Later, a Model T Ford was put into that service.

The hotel has long been closed – it’s been closed now for 70 years – but on the drug store building a sign proudly proclaiming THE PHOENIX HOTEL remains. Jack keeps it freshly painted. “It’s an old landmark,” he says, “so we keep it up.”

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Jack graduated from Vevay High School in 1936 and went up to Purdue University, where he was a member of Purdue’s famed All-American marching band. He studied pharmacy. After graduating he went into the Navy and served as an officer in World War II.

After the war, in January of 1946 Jack came home.

“On the day I got back my dad was sick with the flu,” Jack says. “So the next day I opened up the drug store for him. I’ve been here ever since.”

Here his community service has extended beyond the drug store into nearly every aspect of community life. Jack Sullivan has over the years been one of Vevay’s strongest civic leaders. Reflecting his lifetime of community service are three of his most significant achievements – winning the Chamber of Commerce Community Service Award; attaining 32nd degree Masonic honors; and serving as Governor of the Indiana district of Kiwanis. (Jack’s son, Bill Sullivan of Vevay, will soon serve as an Indiana divisional district lieutenant governor, continuing the family’s tradition of service.)

Now it’s time for Jack Sullivan to retire, and relax. He has sold the business – prescription files, liquor license and retail merchandise – to Revco, whose store in the east end of town now becomes Vevay’s community drug store. It is the end of an era.

“I’ve got mixed emotions,” Jack said, on the eve of his retirement. “People around town say they’re sorry we’re closing, and so am I. It’s been a great experience, and I’ll miss it. But now it’s time to take care of my health” – after taking care of the health of so many others, over the years – “and do some things I haven’t been able to do with my wife and my family.”

What will happen now to the old corner drug store? The building, Jack says, is for sale or for rent, and there are a lot of good possibilities. “When Ed Tilley ran the bank he used to tell me, ‘Jack, you’ve got the best spot in town – right on the corner, between the bank and the Courthouse’.” Times change – the Phoenix Hotel is long gone, and now Sullivan’s Pharmacy is gone – but maybe, Jack says, his corner is still the best spot in town.

-Don Wallis

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Jack Sullivan is survived by three sons: William “Bill” Sullivan of Vevay, Ted Sullivan of Madison, and Pat Sullivan of Scottsburg, two daughters: Lisa Sullivan Rieman of East Enterprise, and Jackie Fugate Scottsburg. He is also survived by two step daughters: Pam Hambrick of Vevay, and Judy Cole of Austin, Texas.

Also surviving are 14 grandchildren and several step grandchildren; 13 great-grandchildren and several step great grandchildren; and one niece and one nephew.

A complete obituary of Jack Sullivan can be found on page 2 of today’s edition of Vevay Newspapers.