Wander Indiana” was a slogan once used to promote tourism in the state. If there is someone who could be a poster child for that campaign, if it came back, it would be Phil Anderson. The Clinton County native who now lives in Carmel has visited every town in Indiana on the state map, and a few more besides. “Driven through” might be more accurate than “visited,” in some cases.
“Some don’t even exist anymore,” Anderson says. “But once I realized how many I had been to in my career, I had a fascination with visiting the rest.”
You may know Anderson from his days as executive director of the Indiana Corn Growers Association, the Indiana Veal Association or the Indiana Beef Cattle Association. Today he operates his own consulting firm called Rethink.
In this interview with Indiana Prairie Farmer, Anderson explains what led him to visit every town in Indiana.
How did your background lead to your interest in exploring rural Indiana? I grew up on a farm in Clinton County and attended Clinton Prairie High School. I was in 4-H and served as a state FFA officer on the 1979-80 team. Our farm is in what’s known as the “12-mile prairie” and was very flat and very rural. Dad loved to go for drives to check crops, and he would always go one way and drive home another route to see more crops. We called it a loop. I occasionally work with rural tourism groups today, and one strategy is to put together “byways” where people can choose to visit any number of attractions. Byways are officially designated routes, but they’re forms of loops.
So your fascination began when you were at home on the farm? Yes. My parents gave me an atlas with maps of Indiana, which became my guide for finding places later on. If a town was listed there, I tried to find it. They also gave me books about names and places in Indiana.
How did this interest in rural towns continue as you began your working career? I first worked in ag sales and called on farmers. Then I was executive director for the Indiana Corn Growers Association, and later the Indiana Veal [Association]. After that, I was executive director for the Indiana Beef Cattle Association for 12 years. Then I worked for the Indiana Rural Development Council before I opened my own consulting business.
Working for corn growers, I became very familiar with roads and towns in central and northern Indiana. While working with IBCA, I spent lots of time in southern Indiana. I always took my maps and made it a point to stay off main highways whenever possible. That took me through small town after small town.
Is there a difference in flavor of towns and rural communities across Indiana? Absolutely. The rolling terrain of southern Indiana resulted in winding roads and small towns. In southeastern Indiana, all roads seem to lead to Cincinnati. Roads in Clark County and Knox County were laid out by the French survey method because of the heritage of settlers. Roads run at angles. In northern Indiana where it’s flatter, roads run more on rectangles. Many towns in northern Indiana started as stops for railroads. It’s all part of Hoosier heritage.