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Lives Remembered

Lives Remembered

“The song is ended but the melody lingers on.” — Irving Berlin
In this edition, The Southside Times is not only looking ahead to all 2024 has to offer, but reflecting back the past year. Lives Remembered pays tribute to the lives of Southside residents who have passed away in the last year, highlighting a handful of residents who had an impact in their community. From lives taken too soon to leaders who paved the way to a better community for everyone else, the Southside lost many great people in this past year. These community members were chosen to represent different areas of the Southside, with a variety of ways they impacted the lives of those around them. To all of our readers who are going through a loss, we wish you comfort in this hard time.

By Sherri Coner

Bill “Pops” Ciriello

When the community said goodbye in September to Bill “Pops” Ciriello, Beech Grove residents knew it was a loss they would likely feel for years to come.

Known to everyone as simply “Pops,” this cheerful guy had a long, rich history of doing good, beginning with his service in WWII as a member of the United States Navy.

“Pops worked on a submarine,” said Jim Blice, one of Ciriello’s many friends.

Since Blice and Ciriello’s friendship was for more than 30 years, Blice knew a lot of Pops’ best jokes and a few of his like’s details, such as the fact that Ciriello was also a bugler.

“He’s the guy who got everyone up every morning on the ship,” Blice said.

Blice also stated that his longtime buddy was the first and only Beech Grove police officer to patrol the community on the back of a motorcycle.

But he doesn’t recall how long Ciriello served on the force.

Because Ciriello always had a vision of the community’s future in his mind, no one was surprised in 1953 when he founded the Beech Grove Promoters Club.

While gathering fellow Beech Grove residents to volunteer during community cleanup days, the July Fourth fireworks celebration and a late summer festival, Ciriello found time to launch a couple of businesses, Nostalgia Motors and Ciriello Plumbing.

Somewhere in that busy blur of life, this smiling guy also made time to marry Betty, his bride of 73 years. They had three children.

These days, the Ciriello family includes great-great-grandchildren.

After years of serving on the Marion County Fair Board and helping Beech Grove claim a place on the map, this mover and shaker lost his beloved Betty in July 2021.   

As best he could, Ciriello continued to live after losing her.

He and Blice shared a Sunday morning breakfast, a Wednesday lunch and a lot of laughter.

In September, William Joseph “Pops” Ciriello died at age 94.

“His wisdom and so many experiences will be missed,” Blice said. “Pops did a lot of things.”

Pat Van Valer

When Dick and Ginger Van Valer moved their young family in 1945 from Gas City to Greenwood, they dedicated their lives to enhancing the small town’s post-war growth.

While the young father of two sons was anxious to develop his law practice, he also served as Greenwood’s first volunteer fire chief.

With the same helping hand, Dick’s wife, Ginger became the first full-time executive director of Greenwood’s Chamber of Commerce.

When their youngest son Pat graduated in 1961 from Greenwood High School, he enrolled at Indiana University where he earned a degree in zoology and a master’s in psychology.

After initially working in the Trust department at First National Bank, then moving on to Merchants Bank and National City Bank, all in downtown Greenwood, Pat Van Valer followed in the lawyer’s shoes worn by his dad and older brother Joe Van Valer.

After earning a law degree in 1972 at IU School of Law, he claimed a desk at the family law office, located on the corner of Main Street and Madison Avenue.

He also owned Landes Costume Company from 1982-1992 and was founder/owner of Van Valer Heating & Cooling.

No matter how busy life was, this jovial, never-met-a-stranger type of man remained dedicated to philanthropy. Like his parents, he believed in being of service to others. Van Valer served on the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce and became president for a term.

He also served as president, board member and various advisory positions for the Johnson County Community Foundation and was an advisor to the Washington Jefferson Williams Fund. He earned a Distinguished Friend Award in 2006 while serving on the Personnel Board of the Orchard School in Indianapolis.

Last March when Van Valer passed at age 79, the county knew the loss would be forever felt. Longtime friend, Jennifer Cox of Franklin, said she will miss Pat’s unwavering friendship.

“You always knew he loved and appreciated you,” Cox said. “He had a wonderful ability to listen to everyone, give thoughtful insight and respond.”

Two decades ago, she and Van Valer met as neighbors.

They became dear friends and Pat introduced her to several nonprofit opportunities in Johnson County, Cox said.  

“I always respected that he thought of others first, including his community, family and friends,” she said.   

Donald Wright

Lots of people spend their adult lives being more mobile than not.

But that was never the case for the late Donald Joe Wright.

Born in 1959 in Beech Grove, Wright never felt the urge to leave the familiar pocket of Southside history he and his family called home.

This 1977 graduate of Beech Grove High School also earned an accounting degree from Indiana University Kelley School of Business. With a set career path, Wright stayed around the only home he was interested in knowing… Beech Grove.

Time got a lot less free when Wright became a doting dad.

But between his work and his children, he ventured to the golf course with longtime friends or watched golf from his recliner.

Like any other business owner and town resident raising children in a community, Wright thought about the future of Beech Grove.

It was an Indianapolis suburb with a population of less than 15,000.

Wright decided to run for mayor and won that race in 2004.

Not long after he took office, Wright launched the Beech Grove Redevelopment Commission. Revitalizing Emerson Avenue, making improvements to the city park and tackling stormwater infrastructure were major goals reached during his tenure.

With a much more pronounced entrepreneurial spirit, Wright announced to the city council that he was resigning. He was not completing his second term as mayor.

He wanted to be more immersed in his own future as a business owner.

There was no way he could be a mayor and also focus on another venture.

So Wright walked away from the mayor’s office.

In 2014, he opened Bravura Health & Wellness, an employer-sponsored wellness clinic.

Life calmed down enough to enjoy more family time with his adult children and three grandchildren.

Wright was 64 years old when he died last May.     

“Mayor Wright cared deeply about Beech Grove and worked hard to improve the quality of life for everyone,” said Beech Grove Mayor, Dennis Buckley. 

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