“Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.” John Adams
The cellar-dwelling Engineers swept three games from a team of 200+ bowlers named Write That Down, as Dick Maloney and Robbie Robinson finished the night 70 pins above their averages. Stringing together a four-bagger, I rolled a 202 in the only close game, which we won by ten pins. Their ace, lefty Mike Novak, who has several dozen perfect games to his credit, left seven-pin after seven-pin on apparently perfect hits. Rather than gripe, he was philosophical about it and quite friendly.
In 1979, recently tenured, I taught a History of Journalism course and became adviser to IUN’s student newspaper, the Northwest Phoenix, which had published a single issue the previous semester. Under my tutelage, one came out each week, often causing controversy. It was invigorating, and I became friends with several in the class, including SPEA secretary Michele Yanna and the Nommensen brothers, Neil and Mike, whom I first knew as neighbor kids. At Country Lounge following the final class Michele presented me with a drinking mug inscribed, “Write It Up.” The phrase had become my mantra whenever someone pitched a good story. In “Educating the Calumet Region,” Steel Shavings, volume 35 (2004), I wrote:
“Mike Nommensen’s cartoons in the student newspaper gave new meaning to ‘Airin’ My Beef.’ Neil and Jeff Vagnone [son of Arts and Sciences administrator Helen Southwell] house-sat our pets during a family trip to the Bahamas with some of the Porter Acres softball gang; the walls shook during their Nerf basketball games, Neil admitted later.”
The brothers Nommensen: above, Mike as santa; below, Neil
Titillatingly titled “Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood” by William J. Mann investigates the unsolved 1922 murder of actor-director William Desmond Taylor. Police questioned a dozen suspects, half of them women; one unconvincingly confessed 40 years later. Mann has written biographies of Barbra Streisand, Liz Taylor, and Katharine Hepburn, as well as “Behind the Screen: How Gays and lesbians Shaped Hollywood.”
At lunch Chuck Gallmeier and I exchanged badinage about campus characters, and he introduced me to Natalie Haber-Barker (above), an IUN grad and niece of former Nursing professor Donna Russell, who went on to earn a PhD in Sociology and is now an adjunct. Board president of the North Central Rural Crisis Center, Natalie recently visited in Durban, South Africa, which gave me an opportunity to talk about being there ten years ago prior to an oral history conference in Pietermaritzburg. I stayed in an oceanfront hotel and called home from a pay phone, using a special card that required me to dial 30 numbers. First day I walked around in search of a sports bar until it became obvious the area was dangerous, a fact later confirmed by a tour guide who took a group of us to the Maloti mountain range in the landlocked kingdom of Lesotho.
Communication adjunct Alex Semchuck dropped off two copies of his documentary “Stagnant Hope: Gary, Indiana,” one for me and the other for the Calumet Regional Archives. If critics thought “My Name Is Gary” was negative, it was downright cheery compared to “Stagnant Hope.” Describing “The city of the century . . . a century later,” Semchuck stated:
“It took Gary, Indiana less than 20 years to grow from a fledgling company town to a mini-Chicago. After several decades of prosperity, it took roughly the same amount of time to resemble a post-industrial ghost town. For decades the place known as the ‘Miracle City of the 20th Century’ has been plagued with a series of social, economic, and perceptual problems that is keeping it fighting for its life in the 21st century.”
IUN librarian Tim Sutherland invited the Archives staff to a Holiday lunch. With plenty of meat choices, I opted for a juicy beef sandwich, salad, scalloped potatoes, and chocolate cake. I sat with feisty Anne Koehler, who earlier in the day had ordered William Mann’s “Behind the Screen: How Gays and lesbians Shaped Hollywood” for me through interlibrary loan. I told her about Alissa’s recent visit to Berlin, where her sister lives.
Dr. William Scholl
At Lake County Welcome Center John Davies hosted the tenth annual Legends Wall of Fame ceremony with customary enthusiasm and panache. The inductees included astronaut Frank Borman, inventor Neil Ruzic, Medal of Honor recipient Frank Ono, and podiatrist William M. Scholl, founder of Dr. School’s, one of the most successful businesses of the twentieth century. I had on a pair of Dr. Scholl’s shoes for the occasion. Like me, Tim Sutherland attended, in part to validate Steve McShane’s invaluable participation in the selection process and preparation of the plaque citations.
The only honoree still alive, Frank Borman, 88, resides in Montana but lived in Gary the first six years of his life until his family moved to Arizona because the polluted air from the steel mills cause Frank to suffer from chronic sinus infections. Nearly a half-century before Gary’s birth as a company town, Borman’s great-grandfather Christopher Bormann moved to Tolleston, a German community later annexed to Gary. A native of Hanover, Germany, he had found work as a tuba player in a traveling circus. Anxious to avoid conscription during the Civil war, he planned on moving west and boarded a train. According to family lore at the Tolleston depot a conductor bellowed: ‘All immigrants get off here.’ Bormann dutifully obeyed, perhaps thinking he had reached his destination, Texas. He eventually opened a trading post that housed Tolleston’s first post office.
In his autobiography, “Countdown,” Borman recalled that in 1933 his father paid five dollars o take his five year-old son for a ride in a biplane with a former barnstorming pilot. Frank recalled: ‘I sat next to Dad in the front seat, with the pilot in the cockpit behind us, and I was captivated by the feel of the wind and the sense of freedom that flight creates so magically.’
On January 14, 1966, Gary dignitaries honored the West Point graduate and NASA astronaut who’d completed a 14-day Gemini 7 mission months earlier. Mayor A. Martin Katz presented him with a key to the city. An estimated 50,000 spectators lined Broadway for a parade that featured marching bands from local schools. Prior to an evening banquet, Borman spoke to school children, civic leaders, and students at IUN. Thirty-four months later, on Christmas Eve 1968, Borman, James Lovell, and Bill Anders orbited the moon ten times, the first astronauts to do so. Their accomplishments, coming at the end of a turbulent year of assassinations, urban riots, and setbacks in Vietnam, earned them the honor of being named Time magazine’s people of the year. In 1976 he returned to Gary to accept an honorary degree from Indiana University.
Chancellor Dan Orescanin, President John Ryan, Borman, trustee Carolyn Gutman
At the end of the program four Portage High School junior ROTC cadets (including a Latino and an African American) performed a complicated rifle exhibition drill in honor of Private Frank Ono, a Japanese-American who grew up in North Judson and fought with the famed 442nd Regimental Combat team. During the battle for the town of Castellina Marittima in Italy he almost singlehandedly held off an attack on his unit’s position by German forces.
In attendance were numerous relatives of Ono and Rusic, plus Borman’s hippie-looking nephew. I was disappointed that Scott Bocock, who nominated Dr. Scholl. Filling in for him, Bob Carnahan mentioned that Scholl became interested in repairing shoes at a young age and practiced his trade as a young man in Cedar Lake. He invented and patented an arch support that was the secret to his initial success. Carnahan’s son Scott, a former student in my seminar on Cedar Lake and interviewed both beloved town historian Beatrice Horner and his dad, who recalled working at the Cedar Lake roller rink, staring at age 11. He recalled:
I put skates on kids and later did the announcing and floor guarding. I learned to set counters up and how top put paint on a wood floor. I even learned a little about plumbing and furnaces. It was a practical education.
I worked as a kid in a lot of places, including Kohler’s Bakery and Grocery Store, where they would stack cereal boxes all the way to the ceiling. They had this stick device that you would use to lower the boxes down.
Edgewater beach had a bathhouse where you could change clothes. One day in March the owner said he lost his fishing pole out in the lake. I jumped in the cold water and rescued the rod and reel. It actually had a fish on it when I pulled it out. That summer he let me operate his pier concession, charging folks a quarter to put their clothes in a basket. Many customers came from a picnic grove located across the street.
I used to caddy for Nick Schafer, the golf pro at South Shore Country Club. When we got to the refreshment sand, he’d buy me a hot dog and coke. The after we got back to the clubhouse, he’d buy me a hamburger, French fries, and coke and pay me two dollars for caddying 18 holes.
I remember Stan Kenton’s band playing at Midway Ballroom, where I parked cars as a kid. Sometimes they had live entertainment in all three rooms. One night they had the Everly Brothers in in the back section, Bobby Vee in the center section and a local group from Hobart called the Sundowners in the front section.
The United States is finally opening diplomatic relations with Cuba after 53 years, and a full quarter century after the end of the Cold War. Perhaps President Obama finally feels free to do the right thing. Predictably, save for libertarian-leaning Rand Paul, Republican presidential hopefuls are howling, but Colin Powell and Pope Francis are all for it. Shame on Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz for not embracing this new page in Cuban-American relations, which promises to improve dramatically the lives of their parents’ former countrymen.
I wrote Blandine and Frederic about wanting to subtitle my forthcoming Steel Shavings “My Name Is Gary” and asked for permission to use still photos on the cover from their noteworthy documentary by that name. Blandine replied:
“Hello Jimbo, it¹s good to hear from you (even if we still follow every post on your blog) and of course you can use “My Name is Gary” as subtitle and photos of the film and of us for the cover. In fact, we are really proud to be included in the new Steel Shavings. We are trying to think about the next documentary project, which is a little difficult for us for the moment because our mind and our heart are still in Gary! But we would like for sure to come back to the USA. I think that all the people we met in Gary, and you especially, gave us the desire to come back for a next film in the USA.”
Wouldn’t it be awesome if the French filmmakers next focused on the unique community of Miller Beach, Gary’s unique “jewel” by the lake? They have entered “My Name Is Gary” in film festivals in Toronto and Chicago and eventually will make a copy available to the Archives. Blandine invited us to come to Paris and stay at her apartment. I’d love to see them again.