Polly Jontz Lennon (nee Prather), former President of Conner Prairie, passed away on Tuesday,
August 25th, after a long life of service to the Indianapolis community. During her fourteen
years at the helm of Conner Prairie, Ms. Lennon transformed the small historic site into a living
history museum complex with a national reputation. From 1982 to 1996, annual attendance
figures tripled, membership quadrupled and the collection of artifacts increased by the thousands.
Under her leadership, Symphony on the Prairie was initiated, the Museum Center and the Prairie
House was built, the William Conner Estate and the Golden Eagle Inn were restored and the
Hearthside Suppers program was started. "Polly was one of the first and few women leaders of a
major cultural entity and was a leader in the museum field," said Ellen Rosenthal, current
President of Conner Prairie.
After her retirement from Conner Prairie, Ms. Lennon continued
working in the museum field by serving as Director of the Seminar for Historical Administration
at Colonial Williamsburg from 1996 through 2000, where she became a mentor to hundreds of
today's museum leaders across the country. She was the Interim Executive Director of the
Indiana Historical Society in 2001, the Interim Director of Development for Indiana University
Center on Philanthropy (now the IU Lilly School of Philanthropy) in 2001 and 2002 and Interim
Vice President for Seminary Advancement for the Christian Theological Seminary in 2004 and
Ms. Lennon graduated from Indiana University in 1949 with a bachelor's degree in
journalism and political science. Her first job after college was copy editing for the Indianapolis
News. For 19 years she was public relations and development director of the Children's Museum
of Indianapolis. In 1999, she was named a Distinguished Alumna of Indiana University. She
received Sagamore of the Wabash awards in 1988 and 1995 from Governors Orr and Bayh,
respectively, and was inducted into the Indiana Academy in 1996, serving on the organization's
Board of Regents for many years.
She received numerous other awards including the Hoosier Heritage Award for Lifetime Achievement,
Rosso Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Ethical Fundraising from the Indiana University Center
on Philanthropy, Legacy Fund Community Foundation Lifetime Achievement in Philanthropy Award, Distinguished
Service Award from the Midwest Museums Conference, Distinguished Alumni Award from the IU College of Arts
and Sciences Alumni Association, Silver Anvil Award from the Public Relations Society of
America, and the Clarion, Matrix and Frances Wright awards from Women in Communication.
She served on the boards of many local organizations including Day Nursery, the Indiana
Historical Society, Rotary Club of Indianapolis, President Benjamin Harrison Foundation,
Conner Prairie William Conner Society and Friends of Holliday Park. Ms. Lennon was a proud
50-year member of Kappa Kappa Gamma. Ms. Lennon's husband of 45 years, Leland D. Jontz,
predeceased her as did her second husband, Paul A. Lennon, and her dear friend John Dittrich.
Ms. Lennon's son, Jim Jontz, who died in 2007, was a three- term U.S. Congressman from the
Fifth Congressional District of Indiana, and, prior to his Congressional service, won five terms as
state representative for the Twentieth District.
Ms. Lennon is survived by her daughter, Mary Lee Jontz Turk, and her three granddaughters, Katherine Turk, Elizabeth Turk and Emily Turk.
A celebration of Ms. Lennon's life will be held in the Museum Center at Conner Prairie Interactive History Park on November 7th, 2015 at 2:00 PM.
The family asks that anyone wishing
to make contributions in Ms. Lennon's memory make them to Conner Prairie Interactive History
Park, 13400 Allisonville Road, Fishers, IN 46038