BY AMANDA BEAM
Ida Callahan tells good stories. Not only has the Jeffersonville native helped to elect presidents, congressmen and other local officials, but she also has accompanied famed singers on her instrument of choice, the keyboard. Both these political and musical pursuits have provided Callahan with an interesting take on life, one shaped as much by her conservative values as by her melodious tunes.
Like framed paintings of Lincoln and old Western-themed photographs of Reagan, Callahan has become an enduring presence in the Clark County Republican Party. At age 18, she began her stint as a GOP precinct committee-person, a position she has faithfully executed for more than 55 years.
“You know, Ida is probably one of the longest-standing members of the Clark County Republican Party,” said Clark County GOP Chairman Jamey Noel. “She’s worked tirelessly.”
HARD WORK PAYS OFF
During Callahan’s life, many aspects of politics have changed. Computer databases have replaced old poll cards. Voting machines became electronic. And candidates don’t necessarily run on a party ticket. But she continues to dedicate her time to promoting Republican candidates any way she can find. It’s not uncommon to find her working 12-hour days during campaign season.
Besides making phone calls, finding poll workers for Election Day and doing anything else needed at party headquarters, she also said she tries to recruit others to her cause by talking to fellow customers in lines at stores about politics.
“In a nice way, I try to stop and make them think about being conservative,” she said.
Noel knows Callahan’s passion for politics well.
“You can’t control Ida. She just says what’s on her mind,” Noel said. “She’s been around a long time.”
Callahan also said her volunteer work now is much easier than the door-to-door polling she was assigned during her early years.
“We did door-to-door then more than anything else. We didn’t have cell phones. We didn’t have computers. It was a much more difficult task back then,” she said.
With Republicans gaining seats in Clark County the past several years, Callahan said she’s starting to see first-hand where her work has paid off. During the 2010 elections, she couldn’t believe the advances the party made.
“I was afraid to say anything for fear I’d wake up. I felt like I was dreaming. I’ve worked so hard through the years to see it happen. It’s just the greatest thing that could have been,” Callahan said.
THE REST OF THE STORY
But there’s more to Callahan’s life story than politics. A gifted piano, organ, keyboard and accordion player, she’s musically accompanied stars like Patrick Swayze and Wayne Newton. She worked with both men at a local horse show. She’s introduced Tommy Tune at a Kentucky Derby event. And during the New York World’s Fair, she danced with Guy Lombardo and played his famous accordion. Callahan holds four copyrights to her own original songs.
And, she once even reveled with several members of the Rat Pack.
While filming a movie called “Some Came Running” in Madison, movie icons Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Shirley MacClaine visited New Albany for a bite to eat. Callahan’s friend, the owner of the restaurant, phoned her about the trio. Callahan not only met all three, but played the piano for them as they sang the night away.
“After everybody left, we were still around and we sang all night. Everybody thought Dean Martin drank so much, but he only had one drink that entire evening. But Sinatra, he was the one who did the drinking,” Callahan said.
“It was just an evening of fun. It turned out to be all night long. One song led to another, led to another, and to another.”
Now, Callahan volunteers to play the piano at local political events as well as at assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Most of her repertoire, she’s learned by ear.
“I go out to the senior homes. A lot of those folks don’t have a soul. Their family is all gone,” she said. “They just enjoy singing some of the older songs. I listen to CDs of the old songs to refresh my memory.
“With music, it takes all the stress out of an everyday messed up life. If I get overly busy, I sit down and play a song. Then, I’m ready to go again.”
Other things aside from music may be on Callahan’s mind this election year. She again is putting in long hours for the GOP. But she doesn’t regret her time spent helping these candidates and the party she loves.
“When you enjoy doing something you make time for it,” Callahan said. “I believe in that.”