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

George Diamond’s: A Northwest Indiana Classic

            In 1924, Peter Levant’s opened what was one of Whiting’s famous “perch palaces,” a place that served freshly caught perch right from Lake Michigan. They also advertised such menu items as steak, chicken, and, of course, this being The Region, frog legs—mostly likely from nearby Lake George.

            Indeed, frog legs were so in demand that Vogel’s—which was just down the street and totally classy—raised their own frogs for legs in the lake. But that’s a different story.

            Located at 1247 Calumet Avenue, Levent’s became the home of Juster’s Charcoal Broiled Steaks and then later George Diamond’s. Though my mom liked to cook, my parents were totally into eating out as well and though its been years and years, I remember going with them to George Diamond’s. It was the kind of place where everything was overlarge—the steaks, the salads, the charcoal flames, and even the menus.

            That Diamond (yes, there was a George Diamond) even opened a place in Whiting shows the town’s status as a food destination. Indeed, around that time, there were a lot of great restaurants–and I’m sure I’m leaving a lot of places out–Vogel’s, Phil Smidt’s, Margaret’s Geneva House, Al Knapp’s Restaurant and Lounge, and the Roby Café. But Diamond was international. Besides his flagship restaurant at 630 S. Wabash Avenue in Chicago that was said to have cost over $1 million to renovate in a style I call 1950s swank, all red velvet and red upholstery, he had places in Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Antioch, Illinois on a golf course, and Acapulco, Mexico.

            What I remember most was the house salad dressing which they bottled and sold on the premises. It was so unique that even now it has a cult-like online following with people  searching for the recipe.  It wasn’t Russian and it certainly wasn’t French or at least not the orangish French dressing we buy in bottles now. Diamond’s dressing was an almost translucent reddish pink. And if the recipe I found online is close to the original, it’s main ingredient was tomato soup.

  There’s nothing left of Diamond’s empire today. Diamond died in 1982 at age 80 and the building housing the Wabash Avenue restaurant went up in flames in 2006.  But people still remember that dressing.

George Diamond’s salad dressing

  • 1 (10-ounce) can condensed tomato soup
  • 2/3 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup each: white vinegar, sugar
  • 1 small onion, peeled and grated
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon each: salt, ground black pepper

Place undiluted soup, oil, vinegar, sugar, mustard, salt, pepper, onion and garlic in a blender or food processor fitted with a metal blade. Cover and blend or process on high speed until pureed, about 2 minutes. Serve chilled. Store covered leftovers in refrigerator.

            I’ll be signing copies of my book Classic Restaurants of The Region at Miles Books. 2819 Jewett Avenue in Highland on Saturday, August 21st from 11:30-3pm. For more information, 219-838-8700.

               Hope to see you there.

“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.

Trust: America’s Best Chance

Buttigieg, who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and then studied politics, philosophy, and economics at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, has also written his second book, the just released “Trust: America’s Best Chance “(Liveright 2020; $23.95).

Pete Buttigieg

If you’re wondering what Mayor Pete, aka Pete Buttigieg the former two term mayor of South Bend, Indiana has been doing since he dropped his bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination in May, the answer is a lot. Since then, Buttigieg has accepted a position as a Faculty Fellow for the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Advanced Studies (NDIAS) and launched “Win the Era,” a political action committee aimed at electing a new generation of leaders who bring new ideas and generational vision to down-ballot races.

“We are calling out to a new generation,” he says.

Buttigieg, who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and then studied politics, philosophy, and economics at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, has also written his second book, the just released “Trust: America’s Best Chance “(Liveright 2020; $23.95).

“I believe our country faces a three-fold crisis in trust,” says Buttigieg, listing those as the lack of trust in America’s institutions and in each other as well as trust in America around the world. His belief in the need for a global renewal in trust ties in with his work at NDAIS. Besides teaching an interdisciplinary undergraduate course on the importance of trust as understood through different fields, he is working on two research projects–exploring how to restore trust in political institutions and another focusing on the forces distinctively shaping the 2020s.

The book is another way of starting a conversation about trust and how we can, as he says, “move on from this pandemic, to deliver racial and economic justice, and how trust can be earned and how it can  restore America’s leadership role in this world.”

Buttigieg believes that America offers a type of leadership that the world needs.

“Not just any kind of American leadership,” he says. “But America at its best.”

This previous was published in The Times of Northwest Indiana.

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

Stefan’s Destiny

When Rosemary Gard was growing up in Gary, Indiana, she asked for and was given a typewriter for her 12th birthday—a Remington portable in a gray hard cover carrying case (in case you’re wondering).

“I’ve been writing ever since,” says Gard who graduated from Lew Wallace High School in 1956 and credits the patience of one of her high school English teachers with helping her hone her natural enthusiasm for story telling into a long lasting ability to convey the unique tales of growing up in Northwest Indiana, a richly diverse region of the ethnicities and race.

              Gard has recently completed Stefan’s Destiny, the tenth and final book in her “Destiny” series. Growing up Croatian in an ethnic enclave, Gard’s books explore the lure of our roots and her own unique childhood.

              “I was born in the mid-town section of Gary at 2625 Van Buren Street in an area known as The Patch back then,” says Gard. “It was a poor neighborhood and some people even had pigs and chickens. I spent my school years in the Glen Park

              But there was a close knit solidarity one in which, in Gard’s case, people from the country of origin stuck together in order not to lose their heritage, sometimes to the point where intermarriage was frowned upon.

              “My parents didn’t want me to marry anyone who wasn’t Croatian,” she recalls, noting that her boyfriend Robert Gard was English, German, French and Irish and to avoid the romance from getting more serious, sent her to live with relatives in a small village near Zagreb in Croatia.

“I had lots of marriage proposals there, but as my cousin told me, it wasn’t because I was beautiful but because marrying me guaranteed U.S. citizenship,” laughs Gard.

She lived the peasant life while there—a straw mattress for sleeping, dirt floors in living quarters and cooking done on a clay stone—and developed a deep respect for the devotion people had for their family, land and traditions, but she remained steadfast in her love for her boyfriend back in Gary.

Of course, there’s a story behind their young romance too. She was only 13 when a friend of a friend introduced them.

“But I lied and said I was 16,” she recalls. “When he found out how old I was, he was ticked. But I was so darn cute, he came back, and we saw each other from then on.”

After three months in Croatia, she returned home, her parents relented and the two married in 1957 and have two children.

“He’s still my boyfriend,” she says. “After we married, he got drafted and went to Italy and I followed him. We lived at the very top of a hill, the most expensive gown I owned was an Anne Fogarty dress—you’re too young to know what that is—and we went away for a few days and when I came back, I noticed the hem of my gown was ripped. I went across the street to my neighbor and said to her, now the only one who had a key to our place was your housekeeper so she must be the one who tore my dress. I found out later that the housekeeper was a prostitute so when people ask, I tell themI didn’t work in Italy, but my dress did.”

Ironically, the garrulous Gard says she didn’t speak that much to adults when growing up.

“The community in which I was raised, the young were not encouraged in conversation,” she says.  “I played puzzles while the adults talked, but I listened. I knew who was having an affair with whom. Also, when I was young you could take a child into a tavern, so I grew up in a tavern and you hear a lot there as well.”

“Rosemary is a natural storyteller,” says Carrie Napoleon, managing director of the Lake Court House Foundation Inc. which was founded in the 1970s to save the historic Lake County Courthouse, which is on the Register for National Historic Places, from being demolished and preserve the 141-year-old building for future generations to enjoy.

 “She keeps me spellbound with all her stories and she has the ability to carry that over to her books. It’s no wonder people love them so much.”

Napoleon notes that those attending the book launch/fund raiser will also have the opportunity to view a display of turn-of-the-century Slovak and Region history by the Lake County Historical Museum, including one-of-a-kind pieces from Gard herself. During the event, Gard will share some of her personal experiences of life as a youngster in both Croatia and Gary that helped form the characters for her series.

Gard tells me she’s taking a break from writing but then in the next breath, says she’s planning on calling her next book, I Shop in Dead People’s Closets because of her propensity for sales.

When I tell her, I need to go as I have an appointment, she says she has one more story to tell. Who can resist?

It turns out there are two stories, one about how she was the Queen on the Croatia float in the 1956 Gary’s Golden Jubilee Parade and actor Mark Harmon’s father, Tom, who grew up in Gary and went on to win the Heisman Trophy when he played for the University of Michigan, was the grand marshal.

The next has to do with running into a GI at a party.

“The guy starts showing me his scars by pulling up his sleeves and shirt,” she says. “After he left my husband came up to me and said I’m surprised you didn’t pull down your pants and show him your new hips.”

Highland

A Greek immigrant with a love of books and a degree in engineering, Jim Roumbos decided to open Miles Books in downtown Highland in 1986. Since then big chain stores like Borders went bankrupt and closed their doors, but Roumbos remains open.

“My dad, who at the time, couldn’t speak English and worked 70 hours in the mill, used to take me to the library so I could check out books,” says Roumbos who grew up in Gary but has called Highland his home for the last 40 years. “Being in the book business, I love talking to people and finding out their interests and hearing their stories.”

Over the years, he’s heard a lot of tales of Highland and so several years ago, he approached Dan Helpingstine, a frequent customer, about writing a book about the history of the town.

“Dan has written a number of books and we’ve had book signings for him here,” says Roumbos. “So I said hey, Dan, you should write about Highland. I have lots of people asking for books about the town.”

In turn, Helpingstine, author of such non-fiction books as South Side Hitmen: The Story of the 1977 Chicago White Sox, Chicago White Sox: 1959 and Beyond and The Cubs and the White Sox: A Baseball Rivalry, 1900 to the Present, suggested Roumbos write the book. Finally, they decided to co-author Highland (Arcadia Publishing $21.99) which was published last December.

Part of publisher’s Images of America series, the book chronicles Highland’s history through images and captions.

“Dan did the majority of the text and I did text and caption editing as well as the full editing and technical work for the photos,” says Roumbos.

The majority of the 181 photographs in the books were from the archives of the Highland Historical Society and the rest provided by individuals.

While many writers often fail in their attempts to find a publisher, that wasn’t the case with Highland.

“Because Dan had written other books for Arcadia and they knew his work, all we did was fill out the application and within 30 minutes had the okay to go ahead,” says Roumbos.

The process slowed considerably and it took them about four years to complete the book. But their shared background, was an immense help. Like Roumbos, Helpingstine grew up in another city—Hammond—but has lived in Highland for three decades.

“The book starts off in the late 1800s and we did a chronological pictorial, with captions, ending up with a chapter on memories throughout the years,” says Roumbos. “The last photo in the book shows the fireworks at Main Square Park for New Year’s Day at midnight. The photograph itself is from the early 1960s.  The book embodies what Highland is, why people want to come to Highland and how welcoming it is. New residents come and they assimilate and Highland stays the same—a place offering a great town experience, one that is safe, friendly, charming with an emphasis on the arts.  The police and fire department are wonderful and the elected officials are motivated to make Highland better but still keep it as a place that people love and want to maintain.”

When asked if he could choose a favorite photo and text, Roumbos pauses to think about it and then says it’s the photo of President Calvin Coolidge speaking in Wicker Park.

“It was a big deal,” says Roumbos. “We had another president who spoke at Wicker Park and that was Barack Obama. That says something about Highland.”

Roumbos, a story teller at heart, likes to emphasize how independent bookstores reflect the values of the town.  He’s always one to share a cup of coffee and talk about whatever subject a person is interested in. And this summer, he was able to add one more tale to his repertoire.

“About two years ago a young Purdue student came into the store, she was studying to become a civil engineer and she met a guy here and they started dating and they’d often meet here on Friday nights,” he says.  “Last December, he comes up to me and says he’s going to propose to her and I say that’s wonderful, when, and he said in about ten minutes when she comes to the store. Last summer they walked in, she was wearing her wedding dress they’d just gotten married in Lansing and were stopping by between the wedding and the reception to say hi.”

Ifyougo:

What: Book signing with Jim Roumbos and Dan Helpingstine authors of Highland.

When: Saturday, November 10, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Where: 2819 Jewett Ave., Highland, IN

FYI: 219-828-8700; facebook.com/milesstore

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

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