Martin and Rowana Umbarger remain committed to their community

By Jen Bingham / Photography by Josh Marshall

When describing where relatives live, Rowana Umbarger points.

“My sister lives over there, and my niece is building a home just on the other side of her,” she says. Rowana and her husband, Maj. Gen. R. Martin “Marty” Umbarger, continue to list the nearby locations of various relatives (brother, son, daughters). They can look out the window and see the farm Rowana grew up on, where her parents still live.

“All of our family live close by,” Rowana says. “Our family is kind of an anomaly because no one moved away.”

The Umbargers have deep roots in the Bargersville community. Marty, a two-star general with 45 years in the military, currently serves as adjutant general of Indiana. He plans to retire in May, after having served in the position since 2004. He is also the president and co-owner of Umbarger Show Feeds with his son, Jackson. The company, a fourth-generation family business that started in 1939 under Marty’s grandfather, Roy Umbarger, weathered the agricultural crisis of the 1980s by moving away from general agriculture to focus on feed for high-end and show animals.

Rowana also has farming roots; her family has owned land in the area since 1831. She now serves as the office manager and accountant for the feed business, and she is finishing her fourth year on the Bargersville Town Council.

The Umbargers are not quite childhood sweethearts, though they have known each other for most of their lives. “Our parents were best friends,” says Marty. “We’ve known each other through all the years, but we’re six years apart.” He attended school with Rowana’s brother, Reggie. During those early years, to Marty, Rowana was just a kid.

The two reconnected in 1981 when Rowana stopped by his family’s feed store. When Marty saw her again that day — by this time, he was in his 30s and Rowana was in her late 20s — he saw her differently. She was “grown up,” he says. “So a few months or so after that, we kind of started dating.”

“About a year and a half (later),” Rowana corrects Marty, with a laugh. “He doesn’t rush into too many things.”

“I still don’t know today why it struck me,” he says, “(but) I just got her number and called her. And we went out, and then we dated for like a year and a half, and we’ve been married 31 years.”

Rowana is now 61; Marty is 67 — the age difference now not a problem. They have three children, all from previous marriages: Marty’s son, Jackson Umbarger, and Rowana’s two daughters, Trista Gordon and Erica Garrity.


When asked if he ever expected to be adjutant general of Indiana, Marty exhales a disbelieving breath and answers.


He had been a citizen soldier since 1969, an active member of the Indiana National Guard who served his country on a part-time basis while also holding down a full-time job working for his family’s business. After Sept. 11, 2001, Marty was called to serve as deputy commanding general (Reserve Component), United States Army Forces Command, Fort McPherson, Georgia. It was during that time that he was promoted from brigadier general to major general.

In early 2004, he got a call from then Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan, who asked him to become adjutant general of Indiana. Adjutant generals serve over their state’s National Guard.

Marty says he refused the post at first, because he felt it would draw him away from his business, but Rowana, as well as Marty’s brother Tom, talked him into it.

“Rowana said, ‘It’s meant to be; you should do this,’” he recalls. “And we thought about it, prayed over it and just decided. … Rowana and I went, and we met with Governor Kernan, and we said we’d be willing to do it.”

Since, Umbarger has served two additional governors, to his own surprise.

“Governor Kernan was defeated (in 2004), so I figured I would be retired, because I didn’t know Governor-elect (Mitch) Daniels,” he explains. “I got a phone call right before Thanksgiving, shortly after he took office. So I went down and talked with him for about an hour and a half. And about three days later he asked me to be his adjutant general. I had the honor of working for him for eight years — great guy to work for, very brilliant man.”

Marty now works for Gov. Mike Pence, who also asked him to remain in his position.

Rowana says her husband’s leadership style explains a lot about why three different governors have asked him to serve. “I think it’s his integrity,” she says. “I think it’s his ability to bring people together. He’s a consensus builder; he’s very inclusive and very easy to work with.”

Rowana, too, has participated in the Indiana political arena, though in a more local capacity. She was Bargersville’s Town Council president for three years, and she remains a general member of the council now.

Her political involvement began back in 2008 when Greenwood and White River Township were looking at reorganizing so that the previously unincorporated area of the county where she and Marty live could become part of the town of Greenwood.

“We’re less than a mile from Bargersville, and it’s almost 10 miles to Greenwood,” she says. “We were perfectly happy being unincorporated White River Township, but when they started that reorganization process, there were several of us that got together and tried to decide what can we do? We looked at annexing ourselves to Bargersville. That’s what we did.”

After her involvement with this process, several people asked Rowana to run for the Town Council of Bargersville, which she was eligible to do once they became part of the town. At first she said no.

“That was the last thing I wanted: political office,” she explains. But eventually Rowana had a change of heart. She now enjoys her position.

“I want to be a part of seeing the community grow and sustain itself,” she explains. “I want to be part of how that change evolves. I want it to be the right kind of change for the community.”

Rowana is excited about a downtown planning grant the town recently received from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.

“The initial grant is for the consultant to come in and help us decide the planning of our downtown,” she explains. “Before you can apply for a lot of other grant money out there, you have to have a plan in place, so that’s the first step. From that, we can apply for grant money for facades or for lighting or for other things.”

She hopes to see the project through, which was one reason she ran for Town Council again this past November.

“I’ll stay four more years, and after that, time will tell,” she says. “We’ll see where we are in our life. I think we’ll both remain involved with the community. And we would like to travel.”

RJ McConnell, a partner with Bose McKinney & Evans in downtown Indianapolis, has known the Umbargers for about 10 years, getting to know them better when he began serving on the board for Johnson Memorial Hospital, on which Marty also serves. “Marty is a humble public servant with a keen business sense,” McConnell says. “He has been someone who’s been an absolute pleasure to get to know. He’s someone who shared his sage advice whether it was for the military, for the hospital or his family’s local business in Bargersville. He always seemed to bring the same demeanor and common sense.”

Because McConnell and his wife, Karla, live on a farm outside Franklin, they share an interest with the Umbargers in the small towns that lie south of Indianapolis, and they frequently spend time with them in a social realm.

“They’re clearly wonderful ambassadors for the town of Bargersville,” McConnell says. “They’re very delightful people to be around.”