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The Power Behind a Smile: Jinsie Scott Bingham

by Alison Howard
featured image by Rick Wokoun

The first time I met Jinsie was sometime during my middle school years, as our class went on a tour of the town square.  She was our tour guide for the field trip and I distinctly remember being absolutely fascinated when she talked about what was then our city “Wall of Fame,” located on the former Treasure’s on the Square gift shop and restaurant exterior wall.  As soon as she mentioned Depression-era gangster John Dillinger and his biggest haul from the town’s Central National Bank in 1933, I was enthralled.  I had no clue our town could hold so much history—and not only history, but cool history.  Of course, I have more appreciation for historical events now that I’ve somewhat matured, but I will never forget Jinsie’s follow up story to the Dillinger robbery: during the haul, an older woman who was covering herself on the ground became fed up, stood and turned towards the door; when frantically asked where she thought she was going, she defiantly turned back and shouted “I’m going to JC Penny’s.”

When I met with Jinsie in mid-February this year, local history like this once again fascinated me, as Ms. Bingham possesses an indescribable talent to weave folklore and history together, always keeping it entertaining yet extremely informative.  Throughout our brief interview, I learned more about the town history than I had being a Greencastle city resident for almost 16 years—not to mention the staggering amount of work and effort that Bingham has contributed to the community.  Rightfully so, Bingham in her years as a Greencastle resident has been recognized by respected, high level organizations, winning such honors as the 1996 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Indiana Chapter of American Women in Radio and Television, among countless others.

Of course, Bingham has done more in her lifetime than win awards (though she’s done quite a bit of that).  The woman I had the pleasure of speaking with—the same woman who gave me a quick history of Dillinger’s haul at the local bank and the same woman who has managed to reach a level of achievement in her years I can only imagine in mine—does not immediately strike as the type of person who has such a huge and powerful standing in the community.  In fact, when I first walked into the Pulliam Center for Contemporary Media—three minutes late— Bingham appeared extremely personable and inviting.  She assured me that I was fine for being late (that she actually was afraid she was the one who had went to the wrong place) and immediately went into asking me about me, even though the entire interview revolved around her.  Combining with her impeccable sense of style—I was hardcore envying her red sweater set—Jinsie came across as the woman I hope to become as I grow older: the type of woman who achieves so much but shows so little of it through humility.  Below is a concise recap of the conversation I had with Ms. Bingham on February 13th:

Photo by Emily Dixon
Photo by Emily Dixon

Alison Howard (AH): So, well, I guess my first question is—you’ve been in Greencastle basically your whole life.  Did you ever have any intention of leaving at one point?

Jinsie Bingham (JB): Oh, I did leave at one point.

AH: You did?

JB: Well, I graduated from Greencastle High School in 1953, but by that time I had almost a full freshman year in at DePauw.

AH: Right.

JB: Well, they didn’t do those kinds of things back in 1952.  I was the first one.

AH: Oh, wow, okay. 

JB: And there was nothing called an Alpha Program.  I had completed my high school requirements but I wanted to stay for band and choir because I had been lucky enough to finally get to first chair first clarinet.

I laughed heartily here because I very much understood the struggle behind chair competitions in band—I played alto saxophone and was forever sentenced to second chair.

JB: I had worked six years to get there!  I had started out in the senior band when I was in junior high.  So I went back and forth for band and choir but it got to be really hectic.  And during that time, I had a job downtown at Cohen’s Pharmacy.  I was the soda jerk.  I got paid 35 cents an hour.  I thought I was Mrs. Vanderbilt.  Plus all you can eat, as long as Mr. Cohen wasn’t looking.  But it was a great job.  I ran off about thirty pounds because I worked after school and in the evening.  And, during that time, I met a DePauw student and he was a graduating senior from DePauw when I was graduating from my junior year at Greencastle High School.  And for some reason he really liked me a lot so I eventually married him and we lived in Lincoln, Nebraska.

AH: Oh, cool.  Okay. 

JB: Then, eventually there was too much strain on the marriage.  My mom was sick so I came back to Greencastle.  So, I was gone, what, 3 or 4 years—long enough to have two kids and come back here and take up life in Greencastle.  So then, what, about 10 years later, I married a Harvard guy.  So I’ve done okay, husband-wise.

AH: *laughs*

JB: So my professional career, I did the usual stuff as a kid growing up in a small town: we all did everything.

AH: *laughing* Right, yeah.

JB: I was in 4H and I was Honored Queen of the short-lived Job’s Daughters Bethel 78, and then there was the opportunity to go work at the radio station selling ads.  I found out about that job—my husband ran a survey crew for a private engineering company and they hired the off-duty firemen on their tally days to work on the survey crew.  And then the news director of the then-radio station, WXTA, hung out at the fire department.  And so we all met for refreshments after work and he said, “listen you’re an old Avon saleslady—they’re looking for somebody to sell ads at the radio station.”  And I thought, “well, I can do that.”  So I called the radio station and interviewed for the job and showed up to go to work the first day of April, April Fool’s Day, 1969.  And when I got to the studio, which was downtown—two doors south of Moore’s Bar—there was a note for me on the front desk saying “Jinsie, I forgot I had to be out of town today.  Good luck.”

Bingham with Putnam County Sherrif Scott Stockton. Photo courtesy of the Putnam County Community Foundation.
Bingham with Putnam County Sherrif Scott Stockton.
Photo courtesy of the Putnam County Community Foundation.

AH: *laughing* Oh, no.

JB: That was from my boss, Charlie Banks.  So I started out going around the square; I knew everybody in Greencastle because my parents had been very active in the community.

AH: Right, yeah.

JB: And I said “hey, I got a real job, I’m going to be calling on you to sell all of your advertising needs, blah blah blah blah blah.”

I laughed again because I knew where this story was going.  Before the interview, I of course researched a bit on Ms. Bingham and discovered that not only did she own her own radio station—she was the first woman in Indiana to do so.  However, this is not to say that I found Jinsie’s story boring or self-serving.  It’s a personal habit of mine to know the outcome of something only to discover what events caused the outcome later.  For instance, I like reading the last page of a book, then going back to wherever I was and finding how the story gets to that ending.  This was a similar case with Jinsie: I already knew how successful she was and what all she had accomplished; I was fascinated to know just how she got there and maybe how her trailblazing path could lead the way for someone else’s future success, too.

Anyway, we continued on about Bingham’s connections to the community through her parents, as her father had owned Scott’s Franklin Street Garage, which is now being retro-fitted to be a brewery.  She said this was “a great tribute” to her father, “who consumed a lot of beer.”  Similarly, she told me the story of the original Monon Grill, which her parents owned, as well.  The building was apparently the first pre-fab building in Putnam County and sprung up, ready to go, within the span of an afternoon—much to the surprise of her neighbors.  She said, “people who walked up the Jackson street hill to go to work that morning were astounded.  They walked down the hill that afternoon and tah-dah, it’s a building.”  Eventually we got back onto the subject of Jinsie’s career:

JB: So, my folks had been very involved in the community.  My dad had been in the Indiana State Legislature so, for me to go around the square and say “tah-dah”—I knew absolutely nothing about radio advertising, but I learned.

AH: That’s good!

JB: And on, let’s see, 6 or 7 years later, on another April Fool’s Day, I became the first woman in Indiana to ever go out and buy a radio station.

Here is where I made a sharp outward sigh of amazement, because even though I already knew she had made such a huge step forward in media and women’s empowerment in Indiana, it still was really, really impressive to hear it first hand.

JB: I used to tell people I was on leave from the rest home.  I mean, looking back, if I had known that, I would have been terrified.  And probably would have failed.  So, I felt pretty good about that.  I have been inducted into the Indiana Broadcasters Hall of Fame and the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame.  So, it’s been kind of, ehh…

She shrugged and nodded, as though she completely understood what a big deal these achievements were, but didn’t want to take full credit for them.  I once again laughed and sighed in amazement.

JB: And then over the years, by being involved with the radio station, I also did news and covered events and I’ve done ball games—you name it, I’ve done it.  And doing that, I got involved in everything that was going on in the community.  I announced the Putnam County 4H fair for a—I just gave that up—I announced it for 41 years.

AH: Oh wow.

JB: I hated to give it up, but I was beginning to call the participants by their grandparents’ names.

AH: *laughs*

JB: And some of them didn’t like it at all.  And you know it was kind of funny because the old people sitting behind me in the reviewing stands said “oh sure!  I know that.  That’s his grandson.  Well, you know, la da da da da.”

Bingham records Putnam County promotional work with Landon Smith. Photo by Joe Buser
Bingham records Putnam County promotional work with Landon Smith.
Photo by Joe Buser

We laughed again: she laughing at what she viewed as her silly mistakes and me at how a person could be so vitally intertwined in a community, and have such a strong memory, as to make generations-worth of connections.  I can barely remember my dinner from yesterday (Spaghettio’s, I think).  Apparently, Ms. Bingham also possesses some telepathic abilities, as after this brief laughter session I was going to ask her what her favorite job was and before I got the chance, she went right into it:

JB: One of the best jobs I ever had, before I got into the radio business, was working as the receptionist for the Indiana House of Representatives. 

AH: Nice.

JB: It is a position that no longer exists.  I did not break it, there were other people doing the same thing after me, but the House and Senate chambers were remodeled after that.  When I was there, there was a kind of, of a glass-enclosed outer chamber and nobody could get in or out unless they came to my desk and I said “okay.”

AH: *laughs*

JB: And that was a wonderful job because I got to know who was who for sure.
AH: Right, yeah.

JB: And I was wined and dined…it was a fabulous job, a fabulous job.  And looking back now, I was just—I think I turned 21 just before the session started maybe—I was hardly, y’know—

AH: Yeah, my age.

Bingham's legacy will stand as a lifetime's effort bringing safety, opportunity, and justice to the people of Putnam County. Photo courtesy of the Greencastle Indiana Rotary
Bingham’s legacy will stand as a lifetime’s effort bringing safety, opportunity, and justice to the people of Putnam County.
Photo courtesy of the Greencastle Indiana Rotary

JB: Anyway, it was a wonderful stepping off thing and as I was able to get involved in several different organizations over the years after that—it’s kind of fun how you meet all those people who, we all started out together, and it has been a wonderful experience.
We went on for quite a while longer, talking about her various memories of the town after the war and how the community’s economic history has seen “a lot of boom times, and a lot of not-so boom times.”  However, one moment stuck out in particular for me, despite all of Jinsie’s talk of her achievements and high-level connections:

JB: After World War Two, there was a great awakening of the community because, you know, shoes were rationed, food was rationed, gas was rationed, it was just—the American public probably wouldn’t put up with today what people did then.  And you know, all the young men had been sent off to service.

AH: Right.

JB: And there were flags in some windows about this size.  (She made a square with her hands about the size of a grapefruit). We would get them at the dime store.  A blue star meant in service and…a gold star was the people who didn’t come home.

Jinsie began to tear up and it was obvious just how much the War had affected her, even today in 2016.  Instantly, watching this painful memory in motion, I realized just how much this community truly meant to Jinsie—to be brought to tears by a memory that took place some 50 years ago.

By the end of the interview (I wish I could put the entire conversation here, since she revealed so much fascinating history of the town and her involvement in it), Jinsie once again decided to thank me for the opportunity—even though this was an article purely about celebrating her, so no thanks were needed.

JB: Gosh, put in another quarter and I’d go all afternoon.  Thank you for this opportunity.

AH: Yes, thank you so much for meeting with me, this was great.

JB: I had forgotten about some of [my times in this community] so it was *laughs*, it’s time for me to write my obits.

AH: Oh, no!

JB: I just turned 80.  I can’t believe it.  What am I going to do?  Oh!  80 years old!  But it was worth it, I had a pie and a cake. 

We both laughed again.  I hope the pie and cake were good (I’m sure they were).

In a good majority of Shakespeare plays, there’s the character of the Fool: infinitely smarter than the rest of the characters, including the Royal Family, but humbles himself down to please and entertain his peers.  Some of Jinsie’s comments reminded me of this immortal character and gave me a new appreciation for the power of laughter and service:

JB: I sure try.  I messed up a lot of things, I’m sure of that, but I’ve been in on making a lot of things happen and it’s not because I have any capacity for any great intellectual contribution: it’s because I can make people laugh.

Thank you Mrs. Bingham for your contributions to this community and congratulations again on all of your achievements.  They are all very well deserved.

Cover Photo Courtesy of the Putnam County Community Foundation
Cover Photo Courtesy of the Putnam County Community Foundation

About Alison Howard

Howard is a Greencastle native and DePauw University senior who performs with the university theater program and works as a tutor at the school’s writing center.

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One comment

  1. Tami VanRensselaer

    Just wanted to great article about a very great woman!!! Very well done!

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