Many of us are familiar with the name Mary Rigg, and our associations with the name are linked more to the community center on the city’s westside than with the visionary social worker for which it is named. It’s a fitting association — Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center provides adult education and job training, basic needs help, and so much more. But it doesn’t quite capture the rich history of the organization and the generosity of its namesake.
In 1924, a couple of years after women won the right to vote, Mary Rigg, a fully trained, post-graduate level social worker (a feat in itself for the time), came to Indianapolis to take the helm of the American Settlement House for immigrants. She worked with families new to this country who faced so many obstacles — from poor sanitary conditions and housing situations, to language barriers — to give them help and hope.
Jane Zobel, a retired social worker and educator herself, knows the impact Mary Rigg made during her lifetime. Zobel credits Rigg with helping her ancestors begin their lives in America in 1931. Two boys, George and Gabriel, 13 and 11 years old, travelled alone for five days over 3,000 miles of water and land from Transylvania to America to pursue better lives after their father passed away. The boys were “tagged” for delivery to Rigg. She promptly found foster homes for them and helped provide them education. Generations later, the family, motivated by Rigg’s example, have continued to stay engaged with the organization and have devoted their lives to social work and improving the lives of those in need.
Rigg retired from her post at the American Settlement House in 1960, and the organization was renamed in her honor. Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center continues the hard work she devoted her life to for nearly 40 years through classes, coaching and programs that support and engage community members. Her work is an example of the power of one person to transform entire communities and how positive change can be felt and carried forward, generation after generation.