Retired Grissom teacher Bob Yenna receives Sagamore of the Wabash award | Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation Skip to main content

Retired Grissom teacher Bob Yenna receives Sagamore of the Wabash award

Bob Yenna, a retired Grissom Middle School teacher, got quite a surprise when he visited his old school this morning, Tuesday, May 31. The former 7th and 8th grade Language Arts teacher was greeted by nearly 600 students, Grissom Principal Nathan Boyd, Penn-Harris-Madison School Superintendent Dr. Jerry Thacker, and representatives from Riley Hospital for Children, as well as his own children and grandchildren.  The group was assembled in the gymnasium to witness a special event and a great honor: bestowing Indiana’s Sagamore of the Wabash award on the unsuspecting Yenna. 

Dr. Thacker—himself a 2014 Sagamore of the Wabash recipient—and Susan Miles from Riley Children’s Foundation presented Yenna with the state’s most prestigious award at the morning ceremony. Governor Mike Pence chose Bob Yenna as one of this year’s Hoosiers to receive the award in recognition of his very personal commitment to help raise more than $220,000 for Riley Hospital for Children.

Why? In 1978, Yenna’s 4-year-old daughter Heather was stricken with a rare form of cancer. Rhabdomyosarcoma attacked her muscles, tendons, cartilage and bone. She was at Riley for 6 months, and her life was saved. Feeling helpless to fight the diseases that ravaged their young children’s bodies, Yenna and the father of a child in the hospital room next to his daughter’s wanted to raise money for research. So the two determined fathers came up with the idea for the “Ride for Riley.”

The two rode a tandem bicycle 150 miles from Mishawaka/South Bend to Indianapolis. Their unique idea raised $9,000! They did the ride for about five years and then stopped for a few years. But Yenna’s fellow Grissom teachers talked him into starting the ride again. During the school year, Yenna even got the students involved, hosting activities through which the students could also raise money. Then, at the end of the year, Yenna and members of the Grissom staff would “Ride to Riley” to present the check of Grissom’s year of fundraising efforts.

Yenna retired in June 2012 with 33 years of service to P-H-M, all of them at Grissom, but he continued the annual ride with his Grissom family. As of last November, Yenna had made the ride 15 times! He was recognized for his devotion with the 2015 Dr. Morris Green Champion for Children Award from Riley Hospital. 

Click here to watch a video about Yenna’s passion to help give back to Riley Hospital for saving his daughter’s life. Fittingly, Heather was on hand for her father’s award presentation, joined by her proud brothers, Hollis and Heath.  

Bob Yenna, joined by daughter Heather (in front wearing black & white) and his sons with their families.

Stepping to the microphone to accept the award and express his gratitude, Bob Yenna addressed the middle school students in front of him. He emphasized how much truth is in the adage, “It’s better to give, than to receive,” and he encouraged them to become conscious givers so they could know the rewards and the richness of that experience, as he has. 

The Sagamore of the Wabash Award was created by the state of Indiana during Governor Ralph F. Gates' term of office from 1945 to 1949. “Sagamore” was the term used by tribal chiefs of Native American tribes to signify outstanding leadership. The Wabash is the "State River" of Indiana. Each governor since Gates has chosen to recognize notable recipients for their efforts to our state of Indiana. 


A team of Grissom employees is about to Ride to Riley again!

They depart June 2 and are collecting donations now.  To support the 2016 Ride to Riley, please click here now.