Monday, October 5, 2015

Ambiguous Liberation

“Liberation is not deliverance,” Victor Hugo

In a chapter entitled “Ambiguous Liberation” Molly Geidel, author of “Peace Corps Fantasies: How Development Shaped the Global Sixties” discussed how atrocities committed during the Vietnam War caused members of the Committee of Returned Volunteers, composed of former Peace Corps members, to advocate the abolition of the very organization they once served, believing it was doing more harm than good to indigenous peoples.

In the Archives Friday were four Valparaiso Technical Institute graduates looking through our collection of their alma mater.  When I first spotted them, I guessed incorrectly that they were from SOAR (Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees).  I had an appointment with VU English professor Allison Schuette to show her how to make use of Gary city directories, with listings both by name and street address, for a project tracing white flight during the 1960s and 1970s.  On my suggestion she first met with librarian Tim Sutherland to learn more about utilizing census data.  Then we toured Gary neighborhoods.
Allison Schuette

Driving through Glen Park on Harrison Street, I pointed out the house where Fred “Pop” Pearson, a press operator at Anderson Company, once lived.  The father of the kids’ Portage Little League coach, he was one of many longtime residents who resisted family pressures to flee Gary.  We passed shuttered Lew Wallace High School, and I described the once-viable Junedale and Morningside areas.  We passed the house on Adams Street where 74 year-old Ruth Pelke was murdered by several teenage girls – a deathblow for the area’s reputation.  Crossing Broadway, I drove by St. Joseph the Worker Church that was once a social center for the city’s Croatian population.  Heading south, I pointed out Michael Jackson’s old neighborhood near Roosevelt School and well-tended homes on the West Side, including near St. Timothy Church and where former Mayor Richard Hatcher lives.  Passing through Tolleston, I located the house on Fifth Avenue where Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas grew up and Dolly Millender now resides.  

Approaching Aetna, Allison and I ruminated about the many folks who bought starter homes there in the 1950s, including some Allison has interviewed from Valparaiso, and, on my end, former Post-Trib managing editor Terry O’Rourke’s family, and our good friends Jim and Kate Migoski.  Bowling teammate Melvin Nelson still lives north of the South Shore tracks in Glen Ryan subdivision.  Heading back to campus, I took Allison down Martin Luther King Drive and turned right on Twenty-First Avenue, pointing out 4 Brothers Market and the Delaney housing projects across from a more recent one.  On Thirty-Fifth the bungalow where Congressman Peter Visclosky grew up looked to be in decent shape.  Next time, I promised, we’d go to the site of Wilco Foods, owned by Jon Costas’ parents, and to my Jay Street neighborhood that, up and down Third and Fourth avenues went from all-white to virtually all black in what seemed a matter of months.  We used to shop at Wilco on Miller Avenue, which became Ralph Foods before being boarded up, like the Dairy Queen across the street whose milkshakes I loved.

Looking up Jay Street in Gary city directories, I noticed our neighbors the Demkos, Polizzottos, and Mokrises, who moved away before we did.  When we purchased a house within the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in 1977, the only original neighbors left were the Withams, Blandos, and Arellanos across the street from us.

After 10 people were gunned down at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, Republican Presidential candidate Jeb Bush, pandering to Tea Party fanatics and the NRA, said, “Stuff happens,” adding: “The impulse is always to do something and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.”  After being criticized for being “tone deaf,” Bush claimed he wasn’t referring to the Oregon tragedy.  The GOP Establishment candidate has no credibility and trails anti-politicians Trump, Carson, and Fiorina in the polls.

On Saturday grandson James bowled a personal high 188.  IU put a scare on number 1 ranked Ohio State, losing 34-27 in a contest that came down to the final play, an incomplete pass in the end zone.  Had the Hoosiers scored, Tom Wade and I are certain that Coach Kevin White would have gone for the win and attempted a 2-point conversion.  That evening Dave was one of four finalists nominated for best East Chicago teacher of all time.

Sunday Patty Heckler invited friends and members of the orchestra formerly known as Rusty Pipes to a party at son Mike’s home in Hebron.  A train buff, Mike actually had a miniature model in working order that folks rode around his property.  Due to the chilly weather, Mike kept a big bonfire going.  Brother Bob, a Merrillville H.S. science teacher who performs gigs at a Wrigleyville bar, sang while playing an organ and accordion.  Beforehand, Dave, Marianne Brush, and I guessed what his first number would be.  I thought it would be something by Lynyrd Skynyrd, his dad’s favorite band.  Having seen Bob perform many times, Marianne nailed it, but I was close because the second number was “Sweet Home Alabama.”  Bob was in Voodoo Chili along with Dave and Missy Brush’s dad, “Big Voodoo Daddy.”

At the party was Tom Johnson, for eight years a football coach at Andrean along with Ted Karras, Jr., Brett St Germain, and Wally McCormack, who went on to become head coaches at Walsh University, Lake Central High School, and Portage respectively.  Johnson recalled linebacker George McGuan, one of the 59ers stars and the son of good friends of ours.  When he heard Horace Mann High School was closing, Johnson took his mother in a wheelchair for one last look.  They were amazed how well maintained the building was and how respectful the students were to them.   What a shame a purpose could not be found for the jewel of Superintendent William A Wirt’s work-study-play progressive educational system.
                                       Harvey Jackson; photo by Jeff Manes
Jeff Manes interviewed Teamster Local 142 recording secretary Harvey Jackson, who played football and swam at Hammond Gavitt High School.  He told Manes:
  I grew up in Columbia Center.  It’s a housing project.  That area has changed for the better today.  The houses we lived in were all red block buildings.  My dad left when I was 2.  It was just me and my mom.  She was one of 14 kids from Decatur, Alabama.  She kind of migrated up here with her brothers who got jobs in the mill.
Paula graduating in 2001 being hugged by sister Rhonda Labroi and with Archbishop Tobin

The Post-Trib also ran AP writer Sharon Cohen’s heartbreaking article about suicide victim Paula Cooper entitled “No Escaping Brutal Past.”  After serving 27 years in prison for murdering Ruth Pelke, Paula seemed to have made a successful transition to life on the outside.  She had a boyfriend, a job as a legal aide with the Indiana Federal Community Defender’s Office, and friends who believed in her, including Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph Tobin.  Nonetheless she felt unworthy of the love she was receiving and guilty over what she did as a 15 year-old.  While she ultimately learned to cope with life in prison, the real world proved too much for her to handle.  She was prone to fits of temper and may not have trusted her inner demons.  Before she shot herself, Paula bought a new outfit and wrote notes to her sister, mother, fiancé LeShon Davidson, and close friend Ormeshia Linton.  Paula wrote: “This pain I feel every day … I can’t deal with this reality … I must have peace, peace of mind, peace in my heart.”  At a memorial service Archbishop that Ruth Pelke’s grandson Bill attended, Tobin asked the “angels of God to lead her to paradise.”  So, so sad.  Abused and molested as a child, Paula deserved a better fate.
Legal Aide Paula Cooper, 2015

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