March 29, 2019

Award winner uses heart and hands to help others

Robert “Lanny” Rossman smiles as he stands in front of the once-abandoned house in Indianapolis that he and his nephew Steve Adams spent 14 months transforming into a home for a single mother and her three children. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Robert “Lanny” Rossman smiles as he stands in front of the once-abandoned house in Indianapolis that he and his nephew Steve Adams spent 14 months transforming into a home for a single mother and her three children. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

A joy for life often radiates from the face of Robert “Lanny” Rossman, and it’s on high beam as he stands in front of a house on the near west side of Indianapolis.

Rossman and his nephew Steve Adams spent 14 months tearing down and building up the interior of the once-abandoned house—a complete overhaul that gives the 75-year-old Rossman an overwhelming sense of satisfaction.

Yet what brings the true joy to Rossman is knowing that he not only helped to transform the house, he helped to transform a family’s life. The house became a home for a single mother and her three children, a home that the family couldn’t otherwise afford.

“I remember she was extremely excited and thankful when they moved in,” says a smiling Rossman, one of the founding members of Hearts and Hands of Indiana, an organization that buys abandoned houses in the area and rehabilitates them as homes for low-income families. “I don’t think there’s a greater feeling than that, knowing you can provide a home for someone.”

Rossman’s efforts with Hearts and Hands is just one of the reasons he has been chosen for the archdiocese’s Spirit of Service Award, an honor that he will receive on April 30 in Indianapolis during a celebration that will mark the 100th anniversary of Catholic Charities in central and southern Indiana.

(Related: IndyCar driver Ed Carpenter to speak at Spirit of Service Awards Dinner)

The father of four has also coached football and basketball in the archdiocese’s Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) for more than 40 years. And for the past 20 years, he has served as a volunteer with the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Brown County.

His commitment to making a difference in the lives of others can be summed up in a story shared by his longtime friend, Jim Simmons, who recalled when he once asked Rossman to join him for lunch.

“He declined because he was delivering food for St. Vincent de Paul and transporting a 78-year-old veteran he met during his St. Vincent work to the Veterans Administration Hospital for his monthly treatment,” Simmons notes. “It is typical of Lanny’s everyday routine.”

Rossman’s focus on helping people in vulnerable situations stems from his own experience of tough times.

“In 1981, I got fired from my air traffic controller job,” recalls the grandfather of 13. “I went from making $40,000 a year to being in poverty for more than a year. That’s when I needed my faith more than ever. I went to church and prayed. I knew God would help me.”

He pauses before adding, “I don’t know where I’d be without my faith. It’s given me the belief to help others. It’s enabled me to keep my marriage going. I don’t know where I would be without the man upstairs.”

Rossman also says he wouldn’t be able to do all he has done for others without the support of his wife of 52 years, Paula.

“You got to be willing to help people,” says Rossman, a member of both St. Agnes Parish in Nashville and St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis. “You got to be willing to sacrifice your time. And you’ve got to have a spouse who understands that.”

He also gives praise to his brother Jack and his son Paul for the way they all coach CYO football together, putting the emphasis on effort instead of winning.

For Rossman, it all reflects the way he searches for the joy in life.

It all reflects his belief that joy only comes in helping and connecting with other people.

He says that belief was passed to him by his parents, Ed and Margaret Rossman.

“Everything I do has to revolve around happiness. It’s great to receive, but to give back is much better. If you took the joy out of giving, you’d have a sad world to live in. There is so much to enjoy.

“We’re only here for a short time, and I want to do what I can because I want to get to heaven and see my parents again.”
 

(In upcoming issues, The Criterion will feature the three other recipients of the archdiocese’s 2019 Spirit of Service Award: Liz Stanton of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, Yan Yan of St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, and Jim Morris, vice chairman of Pacers Sports & Entertainment.)

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