Meet the unofficial mayor of Francesville. Darlene Mellon pours her heart into the community by taking an active, positive role in supporting Pulaski County. Through her diligent work and time on the Pulaski County Community Development Commission (CDC), Mellon is a strong example of how one person in the community can make a big difference.
Francesville, often referred to as a “small town with a big heart,” is a rural town of just under 900 residents. Though small, Francesville offers its residents dozens of businesses, unique amenities, and a tight-knit community that lends a helping hand to its neighbors.
“We’re small enough to know everybody, and we work together extremely well,” Mellon said.
Mellon moved to Francesville in 1986 when she found her dream home, a three-story Victorian house with a strong history and tons of potential. Her husband Charles, was an assistant at the high school, and later was promoted to principal and then superintendent. They have found their forever home in this Victorian house.
Mellon, a former kindergarten teacher at West Central Elementary School, retired in 2011 and began looking for ways to spend her time improving her community. She connected with Nathan Origer, the Executive Director of the Pulaski County CDC, and began her work improving Francesville.
“I remember that Francesville was experiencing some down time with our declining enrollment and lack of employment opportunities. Downtown businesses were closing,” Mellon reflected. “I asked myself, ‘What are we going to do?’ That sparked it!”
Mellon began small, but little things often have a way of turning into big things. Her mission was simple, but it was an important one. She wanted to clean up the litter in Francesville.
“One of the things I do is pick up trash. It’s great exercise, and it beautifies Francesville,” Mellon said. “I find if I can walk with a purpose, it’s easier to do. It’s one of those things that you do that people notice.”
The CDC aligns with Mellon’s personal belief that Pulaski County is a great place to live. The CDC aims to support the expansion of businesses, to recruit new businesses and industry, to promote tourism and transient spending, to develop business services, and to conduct charitable and educational activities all within Pulaski County.
On the CDC board, Mellon makes it her personal mission to represent the west side of Pulaski County. She strives to make sure that all decisions made include consideration to the towns on the west side, including Francesville and Medaryville.
“Unless you are there making a little noise and putting your ideas out there, nobody is going to pay attention to what’s happening. In order to make a difference, you have to be involved,” Mellon said. “I want Francesville to be represented on the east side of Pulaski County as well. If we want to let people know that there are good things happening on the west side of the county, then we have to be involved with some of the committees that meet.”
Mellon saw firsthand how one member of a community can make true, sustainable change. She would regularly drive through her uncle’s hometown of Bluffton on her way to Monroe, Indiana. Over the years, she could see how things were changing there. Flower baskets began to appear throughout the city. An art and cultural center emerged where a burned-down building once stood. The town was improving, and it was improving quickly. This transformation fueled Mellon’s belief that she, too, could make real, sustainable change right in Francesville.
Mellon’s passion for serving her community comes from her own personal love of Francesville. She takes pride in the seven churches within Francesville’s town limits, the town park, and the diligent work from the town council. Of course, Mellon also enjoys Francesville’s Fall Festival, a popular event that features arts and crafts, food, entertainment, and games.
Mellon also enjoys watching the landscape transform from her work with the UpTown Project, a Main Street organization devoted to enhancing Francesville’s historic business district. The UpTown Project was gifted an old Fagan Pharmacy building in December of 2017. The ribbon-cutting ceremony in June of 2018 celebrated the 20 microshops that have benefited from the project.
“Gutwein Insurace & Financial Services, located in the heart of our downtown, has painstakingly refurbished one of Francesville’s oldest buildings. It is absolutely beautiful!” Mellon said. “Another claim to ‘days gone by’ is the Patio Drive-In located on US 421. The owner, Todd Gudeman, is one of Francesville’s most faithful friends. Then, located near our town park is Parkview Haven Retirement Community. It’s tranquil and beautiful. Believe it or not, Francesville has 83 businesses within and surrounding our small community with a big heart! What’s not love about this community?”
Mellon attributes much of the improvements to Francesville to the Community Foundation of Pulaski County. Along with the generous nature of the residents of Pulaski County and several other donors, the Community Foundation makes beautification endeavors by the UpTown Project possible.
“We love the Community Foundation,” Mellon said. “They are instrumental to our success. There are a couple of us that serve on the board, and we know the importance of leaving a legacy. We cannot say enough good things about them.”
With a passion for her town, a commitment to helping the county, and a belief that one person can make a difference, Darlene Mellon of the Pulaski County Community Development Commission is dedicated to improving the town of Francesville.