Humane Society for Hamilton County president and CEO Rebecca Stevens cried tears of joy as she led a ground-breaking ceremony that attracted a huge crowd of animal lovers to celebrate the shelter’s new $12 million facility being constructed in Fishers.
“So far, we’ve raised $12.5 million between cash and pledges. We’re still moving on to our $14 million total goal, because we want to be able to have at least $2 million in an operating endowment by the time this campaign’s done,” said Stevens, who sported a “Think Pawsitive” black T-shirt and black hard hat at the noon Wednesday groundbreaking..
The nonprofit’s board members, lead volunteers and shelter staff, who also sported the T-shirt, along with key supporters and donors, public officials, corporate sponsors, and architects and construction crews were among the folks who cheered on Stevens as she showed the world that her dream of a new facility was about to become a reality.
Humane Society board chair Kim Ebert said the current Noblesville shelter, “from the day it was built, was inadequate to meet the mission of the organization and as a consequence, we’ve struggled to provide the kind of programming we’d like to provide.” He said, “The vision, the leadership, the hard work, the dedication of Rebeccca Stevens has led the organization to this point today. Without her, none of this would be happening.”
The 40,000 square-foot state-of-the-art facility is being constructed on the east side of Hague Road just south of 106th Street in Fishers. The new facility will allow the organization to save more lives, expand community outreach programs and provide a happier and healthier life for the animals of Hamilton County.
“Everybody here I think knows what a labor of love this has been,” Stevens said.
A native of Indianapolis’ Eastside, Stevens left her career in the corporate sector in May 2005 to join the Humane Society for Hamilton County as its executive director. Nine years later, she made it public, in 2014, that the nonprofit wanted to build a shelter.
“Six years ago, we said it out loud and had no clue how we’d get it done. But for me, it was something I was dreaming about long before that,” she said.
Stevens shared how nervous she was getting ready to attend a Tinsel & Tails gala with zero dollars committed for the new facility. “And I thought, ‘Man, if I could have just one major gift. If I could get up and announce that.’” So just before the gala, she met with Dr. Mark Roth, a cat lover. “He is the just the most amazing, generous, quiet, unassuming man, and he said, ‘Let’s talk.’ and we met at the Olive Garden … And he committed for a $1 million gift,” she said. “That way, I was able to stand up that night and tell the world that this was for real. I’m really grateful Mark and Vanessa.”
Stevens went on to share more stories of the great generosity of this community. Like Nick and Ronda Weybright, owners of Weybright Management and Weybright Insurance Agency, who bought the Fishers acreage on the east side of Hague Road just south of 106th Street, to get it off the market and make sure nobody else got it, so that the shelter would have a place to build.
Stevens said the nonprofit was going to pay back the Weybrights using an estate gift from the late Sheri L. Ridge. “That was really at the point we realized, ‘This is possible. We’re going to get $750,000, and we’re going to be able to buy this land.’ It was because of Sheri; I never got to meet her … I have no doubt that she’s here today, and she is celebrating all of this.” Ridge, a Bloomington native who died unexpectedly at age 71, was known for giving, helping and serving others.
“There are so many of you to thank … and I am incredibly appreciative,” Stevens said. A large poster displayed nearly 50 major donors that have each pledged $5,000 or more to the Building a Brighter Future for Hamilton County & Hoosier Animals Capital Campaign, which was launched in November 2018.
The largest donation for the building campaign was a $4 million donation from philanthropist Steve Cage of the Steven J. Cage Foundation, for which the shelter will be named. Cage, of Fishers, is also president of Cage Campus, which offers entrepreneurs and their teams a new kind of workplace that prioritizes innovation, collaboration, and wellness. He proudly pointed to a larger-than-life picture of his black cat, Stanley, adopted from the Humane Society for Hamilton County, and which will grace the front of the new building.
A picture of a Beagle named Luke -- who belongs to Mike and Deb Bush of Westfield, who made an anonymous financial gift -- will grace an adjoining facade next to Stanley the cat. Luke was part of a litter that the shelter rescued several years ago from a backyard breeder. Luke was born without one of his front legs and only a partial front leg. The Bush family fostered the litter, including the mom, until the puppies were old enough to be adopted, and then the family adopted Luke and Mama. “Luke was the happiest, most resilient little guy you can imagine,” Stevens said. The canine died more than a year ago from brain cancer, “but he left an indelible mark on all of us … We couldn’t think of a more perfect representative to grace our building than this little guy who was perfectly imperfect,” she said. (His nickname, by the way, was Luke Skywalker.”
The Samerian Foundation, founded by Cindy and Paul Skjodt of Carmel and named after their children, Samantha, Erik, and Ian, made a donation of $2.5 million. The foundation will name the new facility’s medical center for the foundation’s executive director Fonda Crandall, who has been part of the foundation leadership team since the foundation was conceived in 2003 and has served the family for 30 years, since 1990.
The event, which was not open to the general public, was streamed on Facebook Live to limit the number of attendees, due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease) pandemic. However, from the sight of the large crowd, many who were wearing face masks, didn’t seem to mind not social distancing on this particular day. Especially staff who were surprised and picked up and rode together in black stretch Hummer limousines, courtesy of Cage.
“Rebecca, you know how to throw a party. I’ve been to a lot of ground breakings, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a crowd quite like this,” said Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness, during his turn to speak to the crowd. “We couldn’t be more thrilled to have not only such a tremendous facility but such an inspiring vision and the professional staff that you have. We can’t wait, not only to have it built, but then to collaborate.”
The first half hour of the ceremony was for thanking those who contributed. The second half hour was for the snapping of photos of those who had a hand in bringing the project to fruition. Each was invited to put a shovel into the dirt for a photo with Stevens who brought along Ruby, her French bulldog, in a tiny hard hat. “Ruby has become an event mascot for us … and she nailed it,” said Stevens of the rescue dog that she and her boyfriend, Ken, happily took in upon request from a breeder who couldn’t keep her due to her severe separation anxiety. (Hats and shovels were disinfected between photos.)
County Commissioner Mark Heirbrandt spoke earlier during the ceremony. “This here is for everyone, this facility,” he said. The commissioners and county council supported the building of a new Humane Society with a $3.5 million gift from the county, with the project led by county council president Rick McKinney, whose own family has an adopted animal from the shelter.
“I’m very thankful to be in that position to help the Humane Society for Hamilton County,” McKinney said.
Meyer Najem chief strategy officer Sam Mishelow, who made the initial connection through Heirbrandt, and Fishers Council President Cecilia Coble were also guest speakers.
The new facility will be a 15-minute drive, or about eight miles south, of the current shelter, which is on Pleasant Street in Noblesville.
Construction on the building began before the ground-breaking, which was delayed due to the pandemic. The new facility is on schedule to open in the spring of 2021.

-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.