Back From the Farm: Family Recipes and Memories of a Lifetime

Family memories, times together, food, family, and friends–all come together in Phil Potempa’s newest cookbook.

              My friend Phil Potempa writes these encyclopedia-sized cookbooks based upon growing up on a farm and his years—still counting—as a food and entertainment columnist, currently for the Chicago Tribune Media Co. Well, his latest, Back From the Farm: Family Recipes and Memories of a Lifetime Vol. 4, is no different. I didn’t weigh it but it’s hefty and thick with 576 pages. Chocked full of recipes, photos, and anecdotes, the book is a compilation of Phil’s food and entertainment columns that takes us from growing up on the family farm in La Pierre, Indiana to hanging out with celebrities and everything in between such as local baking contests, chef interviews, chili cook-offs, ethnic celebrations, and readers’ favorite recipes.

              “There are a lot of ways to read these books,” Phil tells me, noting that some people tell him they go straight to the index and look up the celebrity names while others leaf through the book, stopping at recipes that look interesting and still others are intrigued by stories of Potempa’s farm relatives.  After all, who could resist recipes with such names as “Granny Wojdula’s Nine-Day Sweet Pickles,” “Jim Nabors’ Mom’s Split Green Pea Soup,” “Bob Hope’s Favorite Chicken Hash,” or “Blondie Wappel’s Favorite Pink Champagne Cake,” which implies that Blondie must have had several recipes for cakes made with pink Champagne.  Now that’s really drilling down on an ingredient.

              San Pierre, for anyone—and that’s most of us—is a small dot on the map consisting of less than 200 people according to Wikipedia. It’s where the Potempa still spends time with his family (he also has a place in Chicago) and is the center of Indiana’s mint growing industry and where the North Judson Mint Festival is held every year. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Services third nationally for spearmint production and fourth for peppermint production. Much of their mint ends up as oil and is sold to Wrigley, Colgate Palmolive, and Proctor & Gamble for use in their products. In other words, when you brush your teeth with a spearmint flavored toothpaste it might have come from San Pierre which is some 50 miles away.

              Asked what his favorite story was, Potempa names Phyllis Diller, a housewife from Lima, Ohio who hit it big as a comedian in her late 30s and had a career that continued on until her death in 2012 at age 95. Her schtick included donning a fright wig for wild blonde hair, downplaying her good looks with bad make-up, and, with a cigarette in a long holder, cackling out jokes about her life including her poor domestic skills. She was considered the first woman stand-up comedian and like Joan Rivers, another first in the field, was expected to make fun of herself to be successful.

              “One of her lines was that she used a smoke detector as a way of timing her dinners, when it went off, she knew the food was ready,” recalls Potempa. “In actuality, she was a great cook.”

              Indeed, Diller opened a food production business, though as far as I can figure she only sold cans of her chili which came in three varieties—beef, chicken, and vegetarian. But don’t look for it in the grocery store and even Amazon doesn’t carry it as her food company is closed now. But the recipe for her chili is a popular search item on Google and is included in Potempa’s book.

Celebrate family ties, Hollywood friends, and recipes from the farm in Phil Potempa's newest cookbook.

              The two both shared a love of cooking and Diller helped Phil with his first From the Farm cookbook.

              Describing her as his first celebrity interview, Potempa says that over the years when she was performing in Northwest Indiana or the Chicago area she would invite he and his family to attend her shows and then visit her backstage afterwards.

              “She was really a friend, I’ve been to her home and it was so wonderful to see my cookbooks in her fire red kitchen,” says Potempa about one of his visits to her home in the tony Brentwood, California city near Los Angeles.

              Another fav story was told to him by his good friend Russ Adams, a 1978 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, who worked at the Strongbow Inn, a Valparaiso Restaurant that was started by Adams’s grandparents on the site of their turkey farm and for more than 75 years was a favorite stopping point for dinner no matter what time of year. Adams recalled when Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda came into the kitchen to see what was going on. He’d ordered a turkey sandwich and told Russ to “load it up! And make it like you’re making it for your brother.”

              Russ also told him about the time his Grandma Bess was at the hostess stand sometime in the late 1950s and came face-to-face with a portly man waiting to be seated, who looked very much like Oscar winning actor Charles Laughton. When Bess mentioned how much he resembled the famous actor, he told her, in a very cold and stiff English accent: “Madam, THAT is because…I AM CHARLES LAUGHTON.”

              Interestingly, Colonel Harlan Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, frequented the Strongbow Inn whenever he was in Northwest Indiana visiting his key local fast-food franchises says Potempa. Popcorn King Orville Redenbacher of the popcorn powerhouse ate there every year when he’d return home. In all, the restaurant served more than 250,000 pounds of turkey a year but one of the most requested recipes from the place that Phil received was for their Blue Cheese Dressing.

              Phil wrote in one of his columns that he never expected to get the dressing recipe with its secret combination of ingredients because the Strongbow Inn restaurant used to bottle and sell their dressing in their lobby waiting area, displayed on a rack near a small freezer where a frozen version of their signature turkey pot-pies and gravy could also be purchased. But with its closing that changed and the recipe is below as are several others.

Phyllis Diller’s Chili

Serves six

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 pound ground beef (chuck is good)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium bell pepper, chopped (see note)
  • 10 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Lawry’s Seasoning Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion salt
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 or 3 dashes tabasco sauce or to taste
  • 1 (28 oz) can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 (15 oz) cans s & w kidney beans, undrained
  • Garnishing – if desired
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 2 cups mild cheddar cheese, shredded

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, warm oil over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef, breaking it up, and cook, stirring occasionally, until beef is cooked through, about 10 minutes.

While the beef is cooking, peel and chop onion. Set aside. Core and chop bell pepper. Set aside. Peel and mince garlic cloves. Set aside.

Once the beef is cooked through, add the onions, bell pepper and garlic. Cook until vegetables are softened, about 3 or 4 minutes.

Stir in the seasonings and tomatoes. Reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer the chili until it begins to thicken slightly, about 20 to 30 minutes.

Stir in the kidney beans with their juices. Simmer an additional 10 minutes or until heated through.

Adjust to taste.

Peggy’s Easy Beef and Noodles Supper

  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds cubed beef stew meat
  • 2 quarts water (divided use)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cups sliced carrots
  • 2 cups chopped celery
  • 2 teaspoons mixed seasoning blend, like Mrs. Dash
  • 6 teaspoons beef bouillon paste (or equivalent using cubes)
  • 1 (16-ounce) bag of Amish egg noodles (grocery shelf variety, not frozen)

Heat oil in bottom of a large soup pot and lightly brown beef and onion. Add 1 quart of water and simmer for 1 hour. Add carrots and celery, beef base and seasoning blend and add remaining 1 quart of water and simmer 1/2 hour. Finally add dry noodles and cook according to instructions, about 1/2 hour. More water can be added as needed during cooking time.

Makes 10 servings.

Blondie Wappel’s Favorite Pink Champagne Cake

Makes 18 servings.

Cake:

  • 1 (16.25-ounce) package white cake mix
  • 1-1/4 cups pink champagne
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 egg whites
  • 3 or 4 drops red food color

Pink Champagne Frosting:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine, softened
  • 3-3/4 to 4 cups sifted powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup pink champagne
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 or 4 drops red food color

For the cake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together dry cake mix and champagne in a large bowl; add oil, egg whites and food color and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes. Lightly grease and flour the bottom of a 13-inch by 9-inch shiny aluminum pan. Note: The baking temp has to be adjusted for glass, dark or nonstick pans or alter baking times and pan prep according to the directions on the cake mix package.

Pour cake batter into pan and spread evenly. Bake for 25 to 29 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Allow cake to cool completely before frosting.

To make frosting, cream butter with an electric mixer in a medium bowl and gradually add the rest of the frosting ingredients, beating at medium speed until the frosting is of a smooth consistency. Spread frosting evenly over cooled cake.

Decorate as desired, including possible garnish with pink and white sugar crystals.

Forbidden Apple Cake

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 sticks Imperial margarine, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 cups unpeeled apples, cored and diced (a firm, slightly tart baking apple is best)
  • 1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped (optional)
  • 1 cup golden raisins (can be soaked in 1/2 cup good rum for one week for a “sinful” addition)
  • Powdered sugar for dusting.

Note: Seal rum-soaked raisins in a glass container at room temperature for one week, ahead of time. If using the rum version, omit cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray 10-inch bundt or tube pan with non-stick cooking spray. Beat oil with margarine. Add sugar, eggs and vanilla. Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add apples to flour mixture and stir a few times to coat. Add raisins and nuts, if using, to egg/oil mixture. Stir flour/apple mixture into egg/oil mixture until well blended. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 75 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Cool 30 minutes, invert onto cake plate. When completely cooled, dust with powdered sugar. Makes 10 slices.

Strongbow Inn Bleu Cheese and Garlic Dressing

Makes 5 cups

  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3 cups vegetable oil
  • Cheesecloth and string
  • 1 cup crumbled bleu cheese

Prepare a piece of cheesecloth cut into a small square.

Combine salt, pepper, sugar, oregano and garlic, wrap in cheesecloth, fasten, and tie. Use a mallet or rolling pin to slightly pound the contents of the tied cheesecloth.

Place the cheesecloth bundle in a large quart-canning jar. Pour 1 cup of the cider vinegar over the spice bundle, seal jar and allow spices to steep overnight on kitchen counter.

Remove spice bundle, squeezing out excess liquid before discarding bundle.

Add three cups vegetable oil to vinegar mixture to fill jar and drop in the crumbled bleu cheese.

Store dressing in refrigerator and stir well before serving.

Philip Potempa can be reached at pmpotempa@comhs.org or mail your questions: From the Farm, PO Box 68, San Pierre, Ind. 46374.

If These Walls Could Talk by Reggie Brooks

        “I wouldn’t have been so open if I had written my book five years ago,” says Reggie Brooks, author of the just released If These Walls Could Talk: Stories from the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Sideline, Locker Room, and Press Box (Triumph Books 2021, $17.95). “But Covid showed me how important it is to share. There were many people in my life who helped get me to where I am. I also learned that we’re here to serve others and not just ourselves.”

        In many ways his book is a behind the scenes look at the Notre Dame Fighting Irish but for those who groan at the thought of another football book, Brooks wants you to know it’s more than that. He discusses both the highs and lows of his life and career, offering a human look at being a gridiron star as he takes us on his personal journey, often peppering his book with humorous anecdotes. That includes the time he scored a 20-yard touchdown against the University of Michigan in 1993 while unconscious.

        “I didn’t even know I was knocked down,” says Brooks about the incident where, after catching a pass, he was able to break through six Wolverine tackles—the last knocking him out—and still managing to make it across the finish line before falling face first in the end zone.

“I didn’t really know about the play until I saw it on Sunday during our film session and team meeting,” he says.

        Brooks, a Notre Dame tailback, ended his senior year with  1,372 rushing yards, averaging about 8 yards a carry and scoring 13 touchdowns. He was named an All-American, finished fifth in the voting that year for the Heisman Trophy and was selected in the second round of the 1993 NFL by the Washington Redskins. But after a stellar first year in the league, his career started stalling, in part, he believes by a disagreement he had with the management over the team’s use of his image.

        Welcome to the NFL. For Brooks, it seemed that he had upset the wrong people and paid the price for doing so. But he’s self-aware of how he responded. Feeling as if he were drowning he retreated into himself and didn’t avail himself of the help he was offered.  Brooks’ experiences in the NFL reinforced his realization of how important Notre Dame had been in his life.

        “It allowed me to see more clearly how special my teammates at Notre Dame were and what it meant to be a college football player,” he writes. “It’s the maturity you have to develop and the care for the others—even if you do not consciously think about it.”

        He also saw the power of the Notre Dame network and how it opened doors for him when he was struggling—how the kindness of those he knew there helped him find his way.

        When I ask what impact he hopes his book will have on readers, Brooks responds that he wants to show how his life and Notre Dame intertwined.

        “I also want to get people to realize the value of ‘you’ and what ‘you’ bring to the community,” he says.

        His father was his first coach and taught him the importance of treating others well. The emphasis was not on football as a way make a lot of money (though no one is arguing that isn’t nice) but the impact you can have on others.

        “I still struggle with fandom,” he says. And we laugh about the old saw about never believing in your own press clippings—in other words not letting the hype change who you are.

“Those who are just starting are as important as the most famous,” he says.

Married to his college sweetheart, Christina Brooks, the couple have five children. Until recently Reggie Brooks worked for Notre Dame as the university’s Director of Student-Athlete Alumni Relations/Engagement and participated in after game shows. Recently he accepted the position of executive director of Holtz’s Heroes Foundation which precipitated a move from South Bend, Indiana to Prairie View, Texas. But that move was in part participated with his wife getting a job in Fort Worth and it was time, he said, to support her as she had always supported his career and many moves.

Still there was a sense of loss about leaving. Brooks had followed his brother Tony, who also played football, to the university after high school, played there throughout college and then returned. He loves the school’s values. When I tell him my brother taught accountancy there for 30 years and never ever was pressured to give a break to an athlete, he laughs, saying “You go to class, you do the work, that’s what makes it Notre Dame.”

He makes sure to complement the university’s accounting program as if wanting to assure me that it’s just as glamorous and important as their fabled football program. It’s just what makes him Reggie Brooks.

What:  Reggie Brooks book signing

When: Saturday, October 23 at 12:30pm CT

Where: Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore, 1 Eck Center on the Notre Dame Campus in South Bend, Indiana

FYI: 800-647-4641; http://www.bkstr.com/notredamestore

Tune in Tomorrow to Hoosier History Live as I Discuss America’s Femme Fatale: The Story of Serial Killer Belle Gunness

If you have time, tune in tomorrow Saturday, October 23rd when I talk to host Nelson Price of Hoosier History Live about my new book America’s Femme Fatale: The Story of Serial Killer Belle Gunness. The show airs live from noon to 1 p.m. ET each Saturday on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis. Or you can stream audio live from anywhere during the show.

“Central Indiana Interurban” chronicles the state’s electric trains

There was a time when electric railroads, called interurbans, crisscrossed the state, connecting the small villages and large cities of Indiana.

“I was about 10 when my mother first started letting me take the interurban on my own,” recalls Lorraine Simon, who was born in East Chicago in 1911. “My mother would put me on the train and I’d go to Chicago and get off and walk to where my grandmother worked sewing linings into hats for a millinery company.”

Interurban in Valparaiso. Photo from the Steve Shook Collection

Also, according to Simon, the interurban she rode, known as the South Shore, also served food — for awhile. “But that didn’t last long,” she says.

Interior of the Muncie Meteor, Courtesy of Internet Archive Book Images.

With names like the Marion Flyer and the Muncie Meteor, the electric-powered interurban railway was the first true mass transit in Indiana in the 20th century. Coined interurban by Anderson, Ind., businessman and politician Charles Henry in the early 1900s, the name meant between towns or urban areas.

Photo courtesy of the Shore Line Interurban Historical Society.

“Before the interurban, public transportation in central Indiana relied upon mules or horses to pull crudely fashioned passenger wagons,” says Robert Reed, author of “Central Indiana Interurban” (Arcadia, 2004, $19.95). The interiors of these passenger wagons were piled high with straw for warmth in the winter and candles were used after sunset to light the interior. It was, as can be imagined, less than an optimal way to travel.

“The genius at work was the idea of using electrical power, on the pavement beneath the tracks or on overhead lines, to power existing traction cars,” writes Reed in his book.

Muncie Meteor. Courtesy of the Internet Archive Book Images.

Though the book’s title would seem to indicate a focus on the interurbans in Central Indiana, Reed points out that it encompasses many of the interurban lines that ran through Northwest Indiana.

“Indianapolis may have had the busiest interurban terminal in the world early in the 20th century but Chicago laid claim to the busiest corner in the world at State and Madison streets,” he writes. “Clearly interurban and cars were jammed in with all other traffic. The Chicago and Indiana Air Line Railway was established in 1901 at a cost of $250,000. Through reorganizations and acquisitions it grew from just over three miles of coverage in the beginning to nearly 70 miles of routes as the Chicago, Lake Shore and South Bend Railway, a decade and a half later. Eventually, encircled by its transportation lines were East Chicago, Indiana Harbor, Gary, Michigan City and Hammond.”

Photo courtesy of the Steve Shook Collection.

The Gary and Interurban Railroad provided 50-minute service between Gary and Hammond, according to Reed, and 60-minute service between Gary and Indiana Harbor. “In the years before the 1920s,” writes Reed, “one of their major routes began at Hammond and continued on to Indiana Harbor, Gary, East Gary, Garyton, Woodville Junction, Chesterton, Sheridan Beach, Valparaiso, Westville and LaPorte. Variations of the Gary and Interurban Railroad routes commenced at Valparaiso, Chesterton and LaPorte. Typically more than 20 different interurban cars from that line arrived and departed from Gary each day.”

From the Steve Shook Collection.

To highlight the popularity of the interurban throughout the state, Reed mentions how in 1908 the French Lick and West Baden Railroad Company connecting the West Baden Springs Hotel and the French Lick Resort & Springs, about a one mile route, carried 260,000 passengers.

From the Steve Shook Collection.

The book, filled with black-and-white photos from the interurban era as well as timetables and postcards from the routes, came about after Reed, a former magazine editor, wrote a book called “Greetings from Indiana” which showed the state’s history through early postcards. As Reed collected the postcards, he noticed that many were of the towns on the interurban route. “

From the Steve Shook Collection.

It made sense that people riding the interurban would send postcards of their stops and that these postcards were often of the interurban terminals,” says Reed who specializes in writing about antiques and collectibles. “I really became fascinated with interurbans because they were so much a part of Indiana.”

Laying tracks for the interurban was an expensive proposition. “It eventually got to where it was about $144,000 a mile,” Reed says. “And they reached a point where it was too expensive to expand.” Besides, by then Henry Ford had introduced his Model T and people were starting to drive more and more. “A lot of old timers say that if the interurban had survived until after World War II, they would be popular today,” Reed says. The one interurban to survive, the South Shore Railroad, did so because Samuel Insull, the utility magnate whose holdings included Commonwealth Edison and the Northern Indiana Public Service Company, also owned the South Shore.

Tracks in downtown Gary, Indiana. Photo courtesy of the Steve Shook Collection.

In other words, he helped usher the South Shore into the era of public subsidies for passenger transport. That is considered to be the reason why the electric train, which still travels from Chicago to South Bend and back on a regular schedule, is the only interurban that successfully made the transition to a commuter railroad.

Central Indiana Interurbans by Robert Reed.

All the others are now just vestiges of history — abandoned track lines here and there, faded black-and-white or sepia-colored postcards, a few timetables and even fewer fragile memories.

Beverly Shores Depot. Courtesy of Steve Shook Collection.
Beverly Shores, Indiana today. Jane Simon Ammeson.

Indiana Landmarks Rescued and Restored

“These places are all about the people who made them,” says Marsh Davis, president of Indiana Landmarks,“and the people who worked at saving them.”

The Restored Fowler Theatre


Once a glorious example of Streamline-Moderne architecture and one of only five theaters in the U.S. to premiere “Gone with the Wind,” in 2001 the future of the 81-year-old Fowler Theatre was bleak. No longer open, its owner planned to sell anything architecturally significant including the original marquee.  To prevent this, the non-profit Preservation Guild was formed to save the theater, purchasing the theater for $30,000 and obtained a $2000 grant and a $60,000 line of credit from Indiana Historic Landmarks Foundation.

The Fowler Theatre before restoration.

Today, the Fowler Theatre is a marvel, one of many buildings throughout the state that dedicated citizens and the Foundation have worked together in order to preserve Indiana’s heritage and also benefit communities. In the case of the Fowler Theatre, it was a way to keep low cost entertainment available and to help revitalize the downtown.

Vurpillatt’s Opera House in Winamac Restored

The theatre is one of 50 success stories highlighted in the recently released Indiana “Landmarks Rescued & Restored,” a lovely coffee table book with before and after photos showcasing what historic preservation can accomplish.

Vurpillatt’s Opera House in Winamac

“I want the book to be an acknowledgement of the wonderful people and partnerships that have made Landmarks as effective as it is,” says Indiana Landmarks’ President, Marsh Davis who wrote the forward to the book. “When we take the approach of working together, then we become part of the solution.”

DeRhodes House West Washington Historic District South Bend Restored

One of Landmarks most well-known projects was the restoration of two grand early 20th century resorts, French Lick Springs and West Baden Springs in Orange County. Returning them to their glory has made the entire area boom economically by bringing in an influx of tourism, creating local jobs and improving property values and instilling a sense of pride and vitality.

DeRhodes House West Washington Historic District South Bend

Landmarks, largest statewide preservation group in the country, saves, restores, and protects places of architectural and historical significance, including barns, historic neighborhoods such as Lockerbie Square in Indianapolis, churches and other sacred places, schools, bridges and even the Michigan City Lighthouse Catwalk.

Old Republic in New Carlisle Restored

Rescued and Restored also highlights other successes in Northern Indiana including partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Park Service in the restoration of the House of Tomorrow in the Indiana Dunes National Park, considered one of the most innovative and influential houses in modern architectural design.

Old Republic Before Restoration

The book, edited by Tina Connor, who worked at Landmarks for 42 years, retiring from her position as the non-profit’s executive vice president in 2018, 144 pages with more than 200 color photos. Hon. Randall T. Shepard, honorary chairman and long-time director of Indiana Landmarks, wrote the book’s foreward.

Statewide, Marsh says that he feels privileged knowing that Landmarks worked with the Lyles Station Historic Preservation Corporation to save Lyles Station Community School. Now a museum and the last surviving building of what was a successful African-American farming community founded by former slaves in 1849.

“These places are all about the people who made them,” says Davis, “and the people who worked at saving them.”

For more information, visit indianalandmarks.org

As published in The Times of Northwest Indiana

The Wellness Lifestyle: A Chef’s Recipe for Real Life.

“The Wellness Lifestyle is an all-in-one life-long wellness plan,” says Daniel Orr. “Dr. K and I wanted to create something that was a one size fits all in both understanding health and enjoying life. A lot of that is food. “

         It’s a place many of us have been in–counting calories, obsessing about what we ate and shouldn’t have and still seeing the scale tip higher and higher. There’s a different way according to Chef Daniel Orr, owner of FARMbloomington, an award winning restaurant in downtown Bloomington, Indiana and Kelley Jo Baute, owner of A Splendid Earth Wellness, a company she runs offering wellness coaching to individuals and businesses and workplace ergonomics consulting in Seymour, Indiana. The two, who are friends, melded their skills in creating MyTendWell Lifestyle Plan, a program focusing on eight different wellness factors — social, occupational, intellectual, physical, emotional, spiritual, environmental, and nutritional. That in turn led to writing The Wellness Lifestyle: A Chef’s Recipe for Real Life.

Daniel Orr and Kelley Jo Baute

         “We’re really unique because there are no books where there’s really an exercise scientist working with an international chef,” says Baute.

         When she says international, she means it. Orr, a graduate of Johnson & Wales University, a culinary school in Providence, Rhode Island, has worked in France at such restaurants as Auberge des Templiers, Restaurant Daguin and three-star L’Esperance, and Belgium’s three-star Restaurant Bruneau. After that he worked as an executive chef at several high end New York restaurants and becoming executive chef of the Cuisinart Resort & Spa in Anguilla, BVI in the Caribbean.

         For her part, Baute was working on her PhD at Indiana University Bloomington when she was diagnosed, at age 41, with Stage 2 breast cancer and embarked upon a rigorous regime of chemotherapy and a year of Herceptin treatments. Doctors also removed a tumor and surrounding lymph nodes and she underwent a bilateral mastectomy. Though ongoing tests showed her to be cancer free, for the next five years she had further biopsies, a hysterectomy, and other surgeries. Despite this, she managed to complete her PhD in kinesiology and start her own business. In other words, she says, she wasn’t going to let cancer define her.

         Pulling on their diverse backgrounds, Baute and Orr created an easy-to-follow book designed for those who want to enjoy food and also have a healthy and fulfilling life.

         “It’s about taking care of yourself and taking care of each other, reaching a handout to help others,” Baute says.

         “The Wellness Lifestyle is an all-in-one life-long wellness plan,” says Orr.  “Dr. K and I wanted to create something that was a one size fits all in both understanding health and enjoying life. A lot of that is food. The fresher your food is the more nutritious it is. Many of the antioxidants are most available in the whole raw ingredient of fresh fruit and vegetables. Growing and cooking your own food is the number one thing you can do to live a healthier lifestyle.”

         If you can’t grow your own, you can still cook fresh foods found at supermarkets and farm stands.

         It’s important to plan a schedule of exercise, wellness and eating healthy and stick to it says Baute.

         “Wellness is a lifestyle, so get started and stay committed,” she continues. “Encourage others to join you. Just keep moving.”

         “And just keep eating healthy,” adds Orr.

How Quickly She Disappears

            Intrigued by the tales his grandparents told of living in Tanacross, a small Alaskan village back in the late 1930s, Indiana author Raymond Fleischmann has woven a mystery set in that time frame and location.

            “I grew up hearing their stories about Alaska, the cold, the isolation, the long days and the long nights,” says Fleischmann, the author of the just released How Quickly She Disappears.  “So, the setting is very real though my characters are fictional and not based on my grandparents at all who were very much in love and married for over 60 years.”

            That part is probably good as Fleischmann’s novel is about Elisabeth Pfautz who is living in Alaska with her husband and young daughter. The marriage is joyless, but her daughter is her delight and, more forebodingly, a reminder and connection with her twin sister, Jacqueline, who when she was eleven, disappeared. No one has seen or knows what happened to her since then.

              Haunted by her lost sister, experiencing reoccurring dreams of 1921 and the circumstances of the disappearance and saddened by the state of her marriage, Elisabeth is drawn to Alfred, a substitute mail pilot who lands in Tanacross. Elisabeth, who grew up a small German community in Pennsylvania, feels a kinship of sorts with Alfred, who is also of German heritage. But then things turn distinctly weird and terrifying. Albert murders another man, apparently in cold blood. But he also knows, he tells Elisabeth, what happened to her sister, something he will reveal to her at a cost.

            Fleischmann says he’s always been drawn to novels that are propelled by relatively simple, often violent acts, but do so in a way that’s careful, human, and deeply examined. From Alaska in 1941, Fleischmann takes us back to 1921 where we meet Jacqueline as well.

            “I thought it was important for people to know about her as well,” says Fleischmann, who earned an MFA from Ohio State University, “To me, at the time of her disappearance, Jacqueline is a lonely and somewhat stunted child who is having difficulty navigating the transition from adolescent to adult, just like many of us. So is Elisabeth and Jacqueline’s disappearance has left a big void in her life. As an adult she still feels very much alone without her sister and appears to suffer in many dysfunctional ways.”

            All this makes her vulnerable to Alfred’s cat and mouse game as does the voice she seems to hear, that of Jacqueline urging her to “come and find me.”

Pete Buttigieg: Shortest Way Home

              In January 2011, Newsweek magazine published an article titled “America’s Dying Cities” focusing on 10 cities with the steepest drop in overall population as well as the largest decline in the number of residents under the age of 18. Among those listed such as Detroit and Flint, was South Bend, Indiana which over the years had lost or seen diminished several large manufacturing companies including Studebaker and an exodus of young talent.

              “What is particularly troubling for this small city is that the number of young people declined by 2.5% during the previous decade,” the article posited, “casting further doubt on whether this city will ever be able to recover.”

              Around that same time, Pete Buttigieg, who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, studied politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and had worked for the management strategy consulting firm McKinsey and Company—the type of resume that screams New York, Los Angeles or London, but certainly not his native South Bend—moved back to the city where he grew up and threw his hat into the ring as a Democratic mayoral candidate. He was 29 years old.

Buttigieg won his election. During his first term, as an officer in U.S. Navy Reserve from 2009-2017, he took a leave of absence to serve for a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan in 2014, receiving the Joint Service Commendation Medal for his counter terrorism work. Back home, he won re-election with 80% of the vote despite having come out as gay just four months earlier. Let me repeat that—a gay man was re-elected in Indiana with 80% of the vote.

              “I’ve found people are really accepting,” Buttigieg tells me when we finally connect on the phone—since we set up a time to talk it’s been changed numerous times because he’s been very busy since announcing he was going to run for president. He’s appeared on “The View,” “CBS This Morning,” and “CNN” and has been interviewed by Rolling Stone, the New Yorker and the New York Times to name just a few. Plus, his father, a Notre Dame professor, had passed away.

              The citizens of South Bend also like results and this city, which Newsweek had doubted could come back just eight years ago, is doing just that.

              Buttigieg, who is only 37, shares both his story and the story of South Bend as well as his views for creating a bright future for our country in his new book, Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future (Liveright 2019; $27.95).

              I live near South Bend, my brother taught at Notre Dame University for 30 years, my son went to Holy Cross College and I’m a big football fan so I’m there a lot. Over the years I’ve watched the city’s downtown empty out, morphing into a place of empty storefronts as retail and restaurants left either for good or for the area around University Mall, a large sprawling indoor shopping center surrounded by smaller strip malls, car dealerships and both chain and independent restaurants.

              Then came such Buttigieg initiatives as “1000 Homes in 1000 Days initiative,” which demolished or rehabilitated abandoned homes in the city. His “Smart Streets” redefined the downtown, making it both safer and more appealing. Two years ago, the city made the largest investment ever—over $50 million– in its parks and trails, creating the green spaces so valued by urban dwellers. 

              “There’s been an evolution in economic redevelopment,” Buttigieg tells me. “It’s not about smoke-stack chasing anymore. The coin of the realm is the work force—the people. A city is made of people and it needs to be fun and a place you want to live. We didn’t have those expectations before.”

              Buttigieg talks of “urban patriots,” a term he uses to describe groups of people who savor the challenge of turning a rust belt city around and making it a “cool” city.

              “It’s a type of militancy in how people are approaching it which is quite different than when people were leaving cities,” he says. “I grew up believing success had to do with leaving home, but once I got out, I missed that sense of place and I realized I could be part of my city’s economic re-development. So, I moved home. At a moment when we’re being told that the Rust Belt is full of resentment, I think South Bend is a reply, we’ve found a way of coming together, getting funding to make our city better. There’s a sense of optimism. I think people are beginning to look at politics and politicians and asking do they make life better or not and what do they bring to the table to help everyone.”

              Here’s what South Bend is like now. You can go white water rafting through the center of town. Vibrant neighborhoods consisting of coffee shops, eclectic boutiques, trendy restaurants and outdoor gathering places thrive in the downtown. Last fall, Garth Brooks performed outdoors in Notre Dame’s football stadium (its $400 million expansion which added several thousand premium seats as well as new academic buildings was completed just two years ago) in front of a sold-out crowd of 84,000 on a very cold and rainy October night. SF Motors started manufacturing at the old Hummer plant, producing electric cars. Walking trails, including one along the St. Joseph River, abound.  Eddy Street Commons located across from the Notre Dame campus continues to expand, a destination of bars, shops and eateries as well as condos and apartment buildings. Old neighborhoods with homes that once had sagging porches and peeling paint, are now pristinely restored.

              “We’re calling out to another generation,” says Buttigieg. “There’s an energy here, people are proud of their city and are working together to make it even better.”

              Indeed. The other day, I was flipping through a magazine article about the best places in Indiana and paused at a magnificent photo of a downtown scene lit with colored lights reflecting on the sparkling waters of a river. Where is this? I wondered. Looking down, I saw the answer: South Bend.

Swedish Settlements on the South Shore

Northwest Indiana is famously known as a melting pot, a coming together of a vibrant amalgam of people from many countries and different cultures, making the area rich in diversity. But what may be surprising to those of us who grew up in the Region, the first non-English speaking people to move into the Indiana Dunes region and establish settlements were not from Eastern Europe, Germany or Mexico but were instead Swedish immigrants.Beam Street with a cow

“Many came first to Chicago which at one time had more Swedes than any city on earth except Stockholm,” says noted historian Ken Schoon, author of the recently released Swedish Settlements on the South Shore (Donning Company Publishers $30), noting that the legacy of these early Swedish immigrants can still be found throughout the Region even today.

“Swedes established more than a dozen local churches, most of which are still active today,” he says “They built homes out of logs, lumber, and bricks, cleared and farmed the land, worked for the railroads and the brick factories, and established businesses, some of which are still in business today.  Several of the early Swedes served in the Union army in the Civil War.  Nearly all got American citizenship, and some were elected to political office.”

Swedish settlements included neighborhoods in Hobart, Baillytown, Portage Township, Porter, Chesterton, and LaPorte as well as Swedetown in Michigan City. According to Schoon, Miller Beach, where Swedish families like those of my sister-in-law span five decades, was described in 1900 by Lake County historian Timothy Ball as mainly Swedish Lutheran.

Bethel Swedish Lutheran Church, 1907 low res

Other tie-ins with the Region’s Swedish past comprise Chellberg Farm, a historic farmstead, now part of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

“The Chellbergs were one of hundreds of Swedish families that immigrated to the ‘south shore’ area of Northwest Indiana,” says Schoon.  “They were the first non-English speaking immigrants to arrive in numbers large enough and lived close enough together to call the areas settlements.”

Close by to Chellberg Farm and further back in time, Joseph Bailly, a French fur trader who founded a trading post which is also now within the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. According to Schoon, Bailly’s son-in-law Joel Wicker hired recently-arrived Swedes to cut down trees and prepare them for the railroads to be used as rail ties and as fuel for the steam engines.

“Logs were also needed to build and heat their homes and for cooking,” says Schoon.  “When enough trees were cut down, Wicker then sold the land to his Swedish employees who then cleared the land for farming.  Other Swedes found employment as farm laborers, and working for sand and ice mining companies, and as blacksmiths and carpenters.  As the immigrants had more money, many purchased their own farms or started businesses in town.  The first licensed embalmer in Indiana was carpenter John Lundberg, a Chesterton Swede.”

Chellberg Farm (1)
Chellberg Farm Today Photo courtesy of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore 

Many of the churches founded by Swedish immigrants still exist and for almost 70 years or so continued to offer Swedish-language services. Now services are in English and their congregations encompass more than those of Swedish ancestry.

“Bethany Lutheran Church in LaPorte is the oldest Swedish-founded church in Indiana,” says Schoon.  “Until it closed last December, the Evangelical Covenant Church in Portage was the oldest Covenant Church in the state.  The Michigan Avenue Methodist Church in Hobart still uses its original 1889 white frame building and Michigan Avenue used to be called Swede Avenue.”

Other churches are Bethany Lutheran and Grace Baptist  in LaPorte, Zion Lutheran in Michigan City, Bethlehem in Chesterton, Augsburg (Baillytown/Porter), Hope (Crisman/Portage), Bethel (Miller), and Augustana (HobartNordikids circle dance lowres

Though Swedes, whose last names are similar to common  “American names” such as Anderson and Carlson, quickly assimilated into American culture, descendants of Swedes still learn Swedish songs and dances and celebrate the traditions of their forbears says Schoon and we also have assimilated into their traditional ways.

“Even non-Swedes know about Vikings and may eat Swedish meatballs,” he says, noting that in 1952, 100 years after its founding, Chesterton still had more than 23 Swedish-owned businesses. “Smörgåsbord has become an American word—though to Swedes it has slightly different meaning.  Swedes and their descendants helped build the Calumet Area.”

Swedes celebrate July 4th but also honor their own customs as well including Midsummer, the first day of summer and the longest day of the year, a holiday featuring a Maypole, singing, dancing, eating and drinking.

“At least in Sweden,” says Schoon about the drinking part,  “but not at the Chellberg Farm where Midsummer is celebrated.”Vikings in the Hallway (1)

But it isn’t all just history for Swedes and those of Swedish ancestry along the South Shore. The newest lodge in the Scandinavian Vasa Order of America was started in 2006 and sponsors “Nordikids” a very active organization for children and youth that teaches primarily Swedish songs, dances, and customs.  The group performs every year at many venues including Chicago’s “Christmas Around the World.

Ken Schoon, the author, is not descended from Swedes, but he is married to the granddaughter of Swedish immigrants. His earlier works include Calumet Beginnings, Dreams of Duneland, and Shifting Sands, all published by Indiana University Press, and City Trees published by Stackpole Books.

Ifyougo:

Ken Schoon book presentations and book signings.

Sunday, November 11@ 3pm.   Calumet City Historical Society, 760 Wentworth Ave, Calumet City, IL.  708-832-9390; calumetcityhistoricalsociety.org

Wednesday, November 14@ 6:30pm.  Augsburg Church, Augsburg Evangelical Lutheran Church, 100 N Mineral Springs Rd, Porter, IN. 219-926-1658; augsburglutheran.org

Sunday, November 25 @ 10:30.  Westminster Presbyterian Church, 8955 Columbia Ave, Munster, IN. 219-838-3131; wpcmunster.org

Saturday, December 8 @ 9:30.  Brunch including Swedish pancakes and lingonberry syrup  and book signing, Dunes Learning Center, 700 Howe Rd, Porter, IN.  219-395-9555; duneslearningcenter.org

 

 

Young Lincoln: Growing Up in Southern Indiana

Many people aren’t aware that Abraham Lincoln spent his formative years in Southern Indiana, moving there from Kentucky with his family at age seven, leaving with them when he was 21.Jan Jacobi head shot

It’s these years that Jan Jacobi, an avid Lincoln enthusiast and an award-winning educator who currently is teaching at St. Michael School of Clayton in St. Louis, chronicles in Young Lincoln (Reedy Press $16.95), his recently released book for readers ages 12 to 16.

Growing up in New York, Jacobi moved to St. Louis in 1992 to take a teaching job and says he quickly realized how close his new home was to areas where Lincoln had lived including Southern Indiana and Springfield, Illinois, inspiring him to read book after book about the president.

“One of my students asked me if there was a book he could read about young Lincoln,” recalls Jacobi who because of his towering height is frequently asked to portray the president.  “I said there really wasn’t one for his age range. And he told me that I should write one then.”

Jacobi’s publisher agreed but with one more stipulation. He should write it in first person, using the voice of Lincoln as a youngster.

“I thought no one can do that,” says Jacobi. “But then gradually the voice came to me—I just had to marinate in it.”

Spending time in Spencer County, Indiana where Lincoln grew up, Jacobi talked to some of the residents whose ancestors had been friends of the Lincoln family. They shared with him their views of the Lincolns that had been passed down generation after generation.

Thomas Lincoln has always been somewhat of a cipher—the youngest and least successful of three brothers who all witnessed the death of their father, another Abraham Lincoln, who was shot and killed by a Native American . When the future president was a youngster, Thomas Lincoln was a harsh father but that wasn’t unusual in pioneer days. Thomas also thought his son was wasting his time reading and learning and tried to discourage it. Young Lincoln, in turn, was contemptuous of his father’s illiteracy and failures to get ahead in life and sought the mentorship of other men  in the community who were learned and successful. Southern Indiana at that time was a wilderness where cougars and bears were always a menace, food was often scarce and life was harsh and often deadly. Lincoln’s mother died after contracting milk sickness as did a friend she’d been nursing for the same disease; his sister died in childbirth.

As an adult, when his father was on his deathbed, Lincoln, now a successful lawyer, refused to visit him despite the appeals of his step-mother with whom he was exceptionally close and his step-brother. When Thomas died, Lincoln didn’t attend his funeral.

“People in Southern Indiana are kinder to his father,” says Jacobi. “I’m a little harder on him.”

How did Lincoln develop the resiliency that would allow him to overcome his early adversity to lead the country during one of its most tumultuous periods is a question that Jacobi says he has longed tried to answer.

“Lincoln is a remarkable human being,” he says. “There are so many dimensions to him. We have to be careful not to turn him into a saint; but his essential goodness speaks to me.”

So much so, that Jacobi is planning his next book about Lincoln’s time in Springfield.

“Lincoln is endlessly fascinating,” says Jacobi. “He is the quintessential American. The only other person I put in that category is Mark Twain.”

Ifyougo:

What: Jan Jacobi discusses Young Lincoln. He will be joined in conversation by syndicated columnist Steve Chapman. A Q&A and signing will follow the discussion.

When: Saturday, September 22 at 3 p.m.

Where: 57th Street Books, 1301 E 57th St, Chicago, IL

Cost: Free

FYI: 773-684-1300; semcoop.com

 

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