Thomas Freas and Howard Lea had little in common, except that they were both important to their state and communities, and both died within 10 days of each other. Freas was a former state veterinarian. Lea was a long-time ag teacher at Southwestern Shelby schools.
Freas, Veedersburg, was the Indiana State Veterinarian, head of the Board of Animal Health, for 15 years. He was originally appointed by Governor Orr, a Republican, in the 1980’s, and was reappointed twice by Governor Bayh, a Democrat.
He practiced veterinary medicine in Veedersburg for 15 years. He was employed by the Board of Health for five years before being named state veterinarian. People throughout the state and the country looked up to him when he served as the state vet, weathering such issues as pseudorabies in swine.
If you’ve ever seen the fictional movie Field of Dreams, there’s an ironic twist to Freas’ life. In the movie, an old-time, small-town, well-liked family doctor chose medicine over professional baseball. He got one at bat in the big leagues in the last game of the season, and didn’t get a hit. He always wondered what would have happened if he had earned a base hit. Obviously, he was destined to be a doctor. Likewise, Freas, an Ohio native and star athlete in high school, was offered a pro baseball contract by the Cleveland Indiana. Instead, he decided to pursue his dream of becoming a veterinarian, enrolling at Ohio State University.
Howard Lea was a Kentucky native, and a major in the U.S. Navy and Army Reserve. He taught for many years at Southwestern High School in Shelby County, and was noted for his prowess and the success of his teams at soils judging. He took many teams to the National Soil Judging contest in Oklahoma.
Lea retired from Southwestern in 1985. He was 88 at the time of his death. The base Lea started at Southwestern still is strong today. While the current teacher, Pam Meyer, favors a broad range of activities rather than specializing in one area, Southwestern has recently placed high statewide in forestry, and has a district officer, Laura Crosby, this year.