On Oct. 12, the Indiana German Heritage Society (IGHS) will recognize William L. Selm as Hoosier German-American of the Year. The brief ceremony will take place at 12:30 p.m. at the Athenaeum GermanFest at 401 E. Michigan Street in Indianapolis.
Selm is recognized for his decades of work exploring, researching, documenting, preserving, sharing and celebrating the state’s rich and deep German heritage. He grew up in a German-American family on farms in Franklin and Rush counties. He earned a B.A. in History with a German minor at Indiana State University, followed by an M.A. at Boston University. Following graduation he worked briefly for the National Park Service in Boston, but returned to Indiana in 1983 to work as historian for the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission. During his 9 years at IHPC he explored the deep German roots of the city and the profound impact Germans made on the city.
Indiana Governor Robert D. Orr appointed Selm in 1983 to the Indiana State German Immigration Tricentennial Commission. As a commissioner he conceived, organized and curated the exhibit “The German-American Experience in Indiana,” hosted by the Indiana State Museum and the State Library in 1983-84.
Selm co-founded the state-wide Indiana German Heritage Society in 1984 and the Athenaeum Foundation in 1991. The purpose of the IGHS is to explore, research, understand, document, share and celebrate the contributions by the German speaking immigrants and their descendants to the state. The Athenaeum Foundation was founded to rescue, revitalize and restore the historic building, originally named Das Deutsche Haus. In 2016 it was recognized as a National Historic Landmark. In 2002 Gov. Joseph Kernan appointed Selm to the Indiana Historic Preservation Review Board, on which he served for a decade.
Along with working as a free-lance historian, lecturer and tour guide, he served as a decorated hotel doorman for fourteen years, and has been an adjunct faculty member of IUPUI since 1988, teaching architectural and furniture history. He is also a Max Kade Fellow of IUPUI and is a member of the Society for German American Studies. He has authored Wegweiser: A Self-Guided Tour of German-American Sites in Indianapolis and Vonnegut’s Indianapolis Walking Tour. He created the IGHS traveling exhibit, “Wegweiser: German Place Names in Indiana.” He helped create the permanent exhibit, “The Germans of Indianapolis” in the Athenaeum.
Each year since 2007, the IGHS recognizes an individual who has made significant contributions to exploring and celebrating the German heritage of Indiana. The first recipient was the novelist Kurt Vonnegut. Other honorees include Drs. Eberhard and Ruth Reichmann and Dr. Giles Hoyt.
With his roots in Brookville, Oldenburg and Rushville, he and his wife Laura have resided since 1983 in Indianapolis, where they raised four children. He is an active member of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church and serves on the Indianapolis Metropolitan Development Commission.