Governor Holcomb Presents Sagamore of the Wabash Award to Community Leaders Sarah and John Lechleiter

Nominated by United Way of Central Indiana, the Lechleiters were given the state’s top award at the Governor’s Residence on Oct. 18


INDIANAPOLIS – Governor Eric Holcomb bestowed the state’s highest honor, a Sagamore of the Wabash, upon Sarah and John Lechleiter for their decades of civic leadership that has strengthened the central Indiana community. The award was presented to the Lechleiters at a special event last evening at the Governor’s Residence, hosted by United Way of Central Indiana (UWCI).


John Lechleiter retired as Eli Lilly and Company’s president and CEO at the end of 2016, after 37 years with the company, and as Chairman of the Board in May 2017. Among his numerous board affiliations, John also served as Chairman of the Board of United Way Worldwide from 2014 to June 2017. In 2003, Sarah Lechleiter became a founding member of UWCI’s women’s leadership giving group, Women United, and remains active in United Way’s Women of Tocqueville group. In 2016, the couple made a transformational gift of $5 million toward United Way’s impact work in early childhood education and the Centers for Working Families network, which was matched dollar-for-dollar by the Lilly Foundation. They also helped lead the lobbying effort for the significant expansion of pre-K for low-income families in Indiana.


“The Lechleiters are renowned in our state for their tremendous generosity and dedication to improving central Indiana communities,” Gov. Holcomb said. “It is my honor to recognize their contributions with Sagamores of the Wabash.”


“For almost 40 years, Sarah and John have devoted so much of their time, talent and resources to making our community a better place for all of our children, families and residents,” said Ann Murtlow, president and CEO of United Way of Central Indiana. “The Lechleiters are a most deserving couple for the state’s top award, as they never tire of serving as volunteers for our community, they never stop advocating for policies that can do the most good, and they never stop giving of themselves in the most humble and generous of ways. We can’t thank Sarah and John enough for their commitment to United Way, and for their love and support of our great community.”


John earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Xavier University in 1975 and master’s and doctoral degrees in organic chemistry from Harvard University.  He has received honorary doctorates from Marian University, the University of Indianapolis, the National University of Ireland, Indiana University, Franklin College, Purdue University and Butler University. Sarah graduated in 1976 with a degree in Sociology and Social Welfare from Edgecliff College, which is now part of Xavier University in Cincinnati. Sarah likewise received an honorary degree from Butler University. The Lechleiters are proud parents of three children and grandparents of eight.




Sagamore of the Wabash Award

The Sagamore of the Wabash was created during the term of Governor Ralph Gates, who served from 1945 to 1949. Governor Gates was to attend a tristate meeting in Louisville with officials from the states of Ohio and Kentucky. Aides to the governor learned that the governor of Kentucky was preparing “Kentucky Colonel” certificates for Governor Gates and Senator Robert A. Taft, who was representing the State of Ohio. The Indiana delegation decided to create an appropriate award to present in return.


The term “sagamore” was used by the American Indian Tribes of the northeastern United States to describe a lesser chief or a great man among the tribe to whom the true chief would look for wisdom and advice. The award is highest honor, which the Governor of Indiana bestows. It is a personal tribute usually given to men and women who have rendered a distinguished service to the state or to the governor. Among these who have received Sagamores have been astronauts, presidents, ambassadors, artists, musicians, politicians and ordinary citizens who have contributed greatly to our Hoosier heritage.


United Way of Central Indiana

United Way of Central Indiana fights for the education, financial stability, health and basic needs of all people in central Indiana by creating, managing, and investing resources in sustainable solutions to our communities’ most stubborn barriers to self-sufficiency.  UWCI invites all members of our community to LIVE UNITED by giving, advocating and volunteering to improve lives in central Indiana.



Emily Brelage

Ty Spisak

Jessica Di Santo