“A viable neighborhood is a community: and a viable community is made up of neighbors who cherish and protect what they have in common,” Wendell Berry
In the 1970s the entire IUN History faculty save for Dune Acres resident Jim Newman – John Haller, Fred Chary, Paul Kern, Rhiman Rotz, Ron Cohen, and myself - moved to Gary’s Miller district, joining department founder Bill Neil and numerous other colleagues. including Jack Gruenenfelder (Philosophy), George Thoma (English), Abe Mizrahi (Math), Bill Reilly (Business), and Les Singer (Economics), to name just a few. With many wealthy Millerites leaving for Munster and other suburbs in the wake of desegregation, houses became available at reasonable prices, even those near Lake Michigan. African-American administrators such as Ernest Smith moved there, too. Smith’s neighbors initially were standoffish, perhaps concerned about property values, as had adversely affected Glen Park closer to campus. In the spring of 1971 white liberals, including IUN’s Judy Eichhorn, formed the Miller Citizens Corporation (MCC) to encourage stability both by welcoming black families and discouraging panic selling. The MCC set up a “hot line” to dispel false rumors and convinced the city government to ban “for sale” signs.
Post-Trib columnist Jeff Manes wrote about Angela McCrovitz, a Gary native who claims she was born in the same hospital on the same floor as Michael Jackson. Her grandfather was the first owner of Flamingo’s Pizza. Recently Angela returned from South Carolina to operate the Chart House restaurant in Miller. The building used to be a Catholic convent. Angela said, “Our upstairs dining area is where the nuns slept in cots all in a row.” Her place was once the Baker House, so Angela kept the statue out front but gave him an anchor, oar, lantern, and old keys.
Emmanuel Lopez interviewed Davetta M. Haywood, who lived in Gary for more than 50 years. She recalled:
My father, Roosevelt Haywood, was part of the migration of African Americans who came north because the steel industry was booming. Finding out that there was a lot of racism in the mills, he decided to go back to school and then opened one of the largest African American agencies in Gary, Haywood Insurance. He’d work six days a week and go to the office on Sundays to clean up. My father was also a councilman-at-large for two terms.
I was one of the first students to attend West Side High School. It was a beautiful school, but on the third day of school, a young man was shot and killed. It opened in 1968 when I was a sophomore, and I graduated in 1971. I was in the senior class play directed by Mr. Boswell, “ The Day of Absence,” based on a town whose African Americans suddenly left. I was a phone operator. The play was so good that we performed it all over Northwest Indiana, including Michigan City Elston H.S.
After I become an adult, my husband and I moved to Miller, a beach community. I became a member of the MCC, created to prevent white flight from that area. It kept a good core group of white citizens in Miller. We wanted to work with our neighbors instead of pushing them away. I loved Miller and stayed there 30 years until my property taxes quadrupled and the city services deteriorated. I now live in Hobart, and if I want to dispose of a couch, someone from the city will come pick it up. In Gary, ii would sit in front on my house for a long time.
After I split with my husband, I worked at Bethlehem Steel for 29 years. The mills paid really good money; my job was to test chemical and steel samples. There was a lot of racism at that job. I would walk by a group of white workers and they would think I was a tramp. If black guys saw me talking to the white guys, they would say, “Oh, she’s a white lover.” Bethlehem Steel folded because of mismanagement, so I didn’t get my pension. Had I been there 30 years, I would have gotten some of it.
Michalae Dunlap’s mother, LaVelva Burks-Gibson (above), came to Gary in 1966 by rail because her dad, David Burks, had taken a job with U.S. Steel. Hers was one of the first African-American families to settle in Miller. In a paper for Steve McShane’s Indiana History class Michalae wrote:
Seven-year-old LaVelva started first grade at Norton Elementary, but within a year was living in Miller. This was a culture shock to young LaVelva, who recalled: “I was the only African-American in the entire school. I did not feel welcome. I was bullied. It was the first time that I heard the n-word, and didn’t even know what that meant. I asked my mother [Leatha] and she cried. She told me that it meant an illiterate person that could not read or write. The next day I told my classmates that I did know how to read and write. It did get better after that. However, people kept saying that I didn’t act like I was a Negro, whatever that meant.”
In third grade, LaVelva recalled: “We had to reenact The Night Before Christmas. I was the mother in an interracial relationship. That was the first time that race was not an issue. It was like the barrier disappeared, only to resurface when African-Americans became more prevalent in the Miller area. I had found my niche and was comfortable with it. I was the first African-American girl to wear an Afro. It was curly and everybody wanted to touch my hair. It made me feel odd.”
When Richard Hatcher ran for mayor of Gary in 1967, Leatha got her children to campaign as well. LaVelva held up signs and made posters that said, “Hatcher, Hatcher! He’s our man!”
LaVelva and best friend Toni Holiday went shopping together and to the movies on weekends. They were like other girls - talking and laughing in between classes, having sleepovers, and spending time with other friends. Middle school was not all fun and games though. LaVelva’s parents separated, and Leatha started worker as a caseworker and then a teacher. When LaVelva was in seventh grade, her dad was shot and killed during a robbery at his parents’ home in Bessemer, Alabama.
At Wirt High School LaVelva stayed away from cliques. A lot of times she found herself being the only African-American at social events. Some black students called her an Oreo and Uncle Tom. She recalled: “I was the first African-American president of the Girls’ Athletic Association. I did Y Teen, which was a group of African-American girls trying to make a difference. I was also involved in the African-American Club, and the French Club. I worked the concession stand at football and basketball games. Homecoming was a big deal. We’d have the entire street decorated. We built floats. We hung posters in store windows. We’d always lose, but the point was to have pride in your school no matter what.”
LaVelva (second from right) prom picture
LaVelva’s senior year she was a cashier at Wilco Grocery. She recalled: “I’d walk to work, and the neighborhood dogs would all follow me. Then, when I got to the store, they’d turn around and walk back.” LaVelva graduated from Wirt in 1977 and moved to Birmingham to attend Bessemer State Technical College. She lived with her grandmother Velva Green, and worked weekends at Princeton Medical Center to put herself through school. After graduating in 1980 with a Nursing degree, she moved back to Gary and worked at Methodist Hospital Northlake for over 30 years.
In 1982 LaVelva’s mother got married to Elijah Ross. LaVelva was maid of honor. She and Leatha (above) wore matching suits and blouses with white flowers in their hair. Leatha’s cousin Theuroux Barnes officiated. Elijah treated LaVelva as if she was his own flesh and blood.
In 1993 LaVelva married Michael Dunlap. I came along two years later, and two years after that, my parents split up. LaVelva began dating Remick Gibson. In December of 1998 my brother Tre’ Gibson came into the world.
In 2012 LaVelva’s stepfather Elijah died. He’d been battling heart issues and developed a cancerous tumor in his stomach. A couple years later LaVelva left Methodist Hospital and started working at a methadone clinic in Gary. She sees hundreds of people each week. Her job is to assist them in relapse prevention and help them eventually detox off the methadone. She said: “It’s definitely a new experience. There are no night shifts, so I always get off at the same time. Patients know each other. When you see them every day, you build relationships with them. You know them by name and they share things about their lives.”
LaVelva Burks-Gibson is a Godly, intelligent force to be reckoned with. I was fortunate to be the daughter of such an incredible woman.
Amy Miazga interviewed Curtis A. Remus, born on December 17, 1946. Fourteen years earlier, his grandparents, William and Orla Remus founded Remus Farms north of Route 6 and west of County Line Road. Remus Farms supplied produce to Tittle Borthers Market on Route 20 in Miller and other area groceries. Amy wrote:
The Remus family grew corn, wheat, oats, soybeans, hay, and fruits and vegetables on the 40-acre property. William also raised draft horses for farm duties and rode his prize thoroughbreds in local parades. In 1970 he purchased a wooden sleigh, which transported children on rides around the property.
In 1946 Curtis’s father, William Remus, Jr., a U.S. Steel pipe fitter, took over the farming operation. He added flats of flowers, potted plants, and hanging baskets and went into the egg business. Eggs were sold from refrigerators placed on the back of the hundred year-old farm house on Route 6. If nobody was home, there was a till on the back porch for customers to pay and make change. Starting with 300 poultry, in time over 10,000 chickens were laying approximately 7,500 eggs a day destined for area groceries and restaurants.
Young Curtis learned to pick corn by hand, drive a tractor and take care of pigs, chickens, geese, horses and cows before school. In the summer he’d go with grandfather William to Michigan to pick up fruit and vegetables. On the way home they’d go door-to-door in Portage, Chesterton and East Gary saying, “The fruit man is here.” Payment was lunch at Home Haven on Route 6 and County Line Road, which his grandfather owned.
After attending Indiana State, Curtis and brother Randy joined the family business. A pipefitter like his father, Curtis farmed all day, slept a couple hours, and then went into the mill. In 1970 the first of 22 greenhouses was built; by this time the amount of farmable land doubled. Today Remus Farms has Indiana’s largest selection of rare perennials. The farmers market is open year round.
Lewis Miazga, back row, fifth from left
In 1955 Amy’s dad, Lewis Miazga, was a third grader at Gary Emerson. Near the end of the year Miss [Louise] Elisha took the class to her home at 2201 West 57th Avenue. They played games, walked in the woods, and collected sticks, leaves, and wildflowers. A garage tunnel took them to the basement. They had a bonfire, snacks, and homemade pizza with all types of toppings. Amy wrote:
My dad was in ROTC in high school. In Emerson’s attic was a shooting range. Cadets used to walk through the halls with loaded rifles on the way there.
After my dad got out of the service in 1968, he and my mom, who was from England and met him in Alaska, moved back to Gary. They lived in a trailer near Miller on Route 20 for a year or so before moving to Benton Street in Gary and ultimately to Wheeler.
My dad worked in the mill before going into business as an electrician. At age 50 he was re-wiring a house in Griffith and passed a house that he recognized. The mailbox said “Elisha.” It was the site of his third grade field trip. That night, sporting a full beard and long hair, he rang the doorbell. Miss Elisha opened the door and said, “Lewis Miazga how have you been?” My dad replied, “How did you know?” It was his big browns eyes, she claimed.
Some years later, my grandpa was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and needed a hospital bed and wheelchair. Grandma saw an ad in the paper and set up an appointment to view the merchandise. The owner was Miss Elisha, who had cared for her invalid mother and never married. My dad paid another visit to Miss Elisha to pick them up.
The trailer park where Lewis Miazga lived 45 years ago was one of several located on Route 20 east of County Line Road convenient for steelworkers. Gregory Nordyke’s interview with trailer park mom Joan Havlin appeared in my Portage Shavings (volume 20, 1991). Havlin told Nordyke:
When we moved to Ted’s East Town, there was no street, just an unpaved, sandy cut through. Then they put in a road and sidewalk and planted this tree in the yard. We paid $25 a month for lot rent. The trailer renters, we called them fly-by-nights. They’d move out in the middle of the night; then we’d see these pad-locked trailers. We saw the manager set families out into the street.
The trailer park had unevenly enforced regulations, like 5-mile-an-hour speed limits. You could work on your car but not leave it up on jacks. Kids were supposed to be inside when the lights come on. No loud music after 10 p.m. Behind us at 2 or 3 a.m. we’d hear loud music. We’d go ask them real nice to turn it down and they’d cuss you out.
At L.A. Nails a buffed, tattooed, bald, gentle Vietnamese immigrant cut my toenails and suggested a “pedi” next visit. Home by 3 p.m., I watched “Girls” OnDemand, much better this season than in recent years. The amazing Lena Dunham eulogized Julia Louis-Dreyfus, star of Veep, in Time’s “Hundred Most Influential” issue.
The Lee Botts documentary “Shifting Sands” debuted on Lakeshore TV, only the screen went blank for the first 15 minutes. That’s when I describe early Miller as a haven for fugitives, hermits, eccentrics, and nature lovers. Writing about squatter Drusilla Carr in “Gary’s First Hundred Years” I noted that in 1872 she moved from Valparaiso to a Miller fishery to join her brother as housekeeper and cook. Two years later she married Robert Carr and moved into a two-room pine cabin near the mouth of the Grand Calumet. Her neighbors were boat builder Allen Dutcher, a hunter-trapper of French and Indian descent named Jacques Beaubien, and former slave Davy Crockett. Corey Hagelberg and Kate Land have started a nonprofit venture, Calumet Artist Residency. Practicing artists will be able to stay in a cabin atop a Miller Beach sand dune just east from where Drusilla Carr a century ago rented out cabins.
I called Paul Kern to offer my condolences after he sent this post:
Our cat Allie died yesterday at home, age uncertain. She was found sixteen years ago in the snows of rural Indiana foraging at a bird feeder and we took her in. She may have been affected by malnutrition in her formative months because she was not as nimble as most cats and could not jump very well. Nevertheless, she led an active life in Indiana, venturing outside and occasionally getting into fights with the neighbor's cat, fights she always lost. She almost drowned when she fell into the neighbor's swimming pool, but Chris heard her cries and rescued her. After she retired to Florida, she led the sedentary life of an indoor cat. Sweet and cuddly, she was much loved by the entire family.
Rebecca Aldridge Bue replied, “So sorry for your loss. What a lucky cat to have found you. You gave her a long life.” Paul and Julie had the vet come to their place to put her down, knowing a car ride would traumatize her.
At Hobart Lanes Dennis Cavanaugh (Horace Mann, 1956) had nine straight strikes and finished with a 273. Robbie’s 209 could not prevent the Engineers losing game one, as Dorothy Peterson, with 51 after five frames, doubled and then converted three spares in a row.