“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage - to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness.” Alex Haley
Naomi and Dolly Millender
Dena Holland-Neal with her father the late Gary deputy mayor Jim Holland
I picked up Ron Cohen and First District Gary councilwoman Rebecca Wyatt and drove to the Majestic Star Hotel for a luncheon honoring Dolly Millender, founder of the Gary Historical and Cultural Society, at its fortieth annual meeting. I sat next to Dena Holland-Neal, who had just completed the final step toward being ordained a minister. A member of Gary’s Trinity United Church of Christ, she has been very active in both religious and uplift activities such as its soup kitchen. Mutual friend Carolyn McCrady told Dena that if she ever joined a church, it would be Trinity. Dena is not holding her breath.
Dolly’s daughter Naomi distributed certificates of appreciation to people, myself included, who have worked to continue Dolly’s work. Dolly was committed to diversity and reached out to Hispanic and white ethnic groups. In the 1970s she’d schedule events at Jenny’s Café across from IUN; if a Polish-American was the featured speaker, Jenny cooked Polish delicacies for the occasion. Many honorees had participated in a summer enrichment program at St. John’s Lutheran Church featuring classes in photography, science, poetry, sewing, science, arts and crafts, and music.
Naomi Millender’s niece raffled off my Steel Shavings with Dolly on the cover. I won Dolly’s children’s book “Crispus Attucks: Black Leader of Colonial Patriots” in Simon and Schuster’s “Childhood of Famous Americans” series. Attucks was the first person shot to death in 1770 during the Boston Massacre. Dolly reprinted this 1750 newspaper notice describing Attucks:
Ran away from his master William Brown of Farmingham on the 30th of September last a mulatto fellow about 27 years of age, named Crispus, 6 feet and 2 inches high, short curled hair, his knees nearer together than common; and had on a light colored beaver skin coat, plain new buckskin breeches, blue yarn stockings and a checked woolen shirt. Whoever shall take up said runaway and convey him to his aforesaid master shall have 10 pounds old tenor reward, and all necessary charges paid. And all masters of vessels and others are hereby cautioned against concealing or carrying off said servant on penalty of law.
What is fascinating is that Dolly had virtually a blank slate in which to create Crispus Attucks in her own image. She imagines a proud, close-knit slave family whose father was black and mother Native American. Original owner Colonel Buckminster sold Attucks to Deacon William Brown because Cris (as Millender called him) was dissatisfied as a carriage driver and desired to learn a trade. Deacon Brown appreciated his intelligence and gave him considerable freedom, but Cris escaped in order to fulfill an ambition to become a sailor. Millender’s book ends with the 1886 unveiling of a Boston Massacre monument at the site where Attucks died and these words by poet John Boyle O’Reilly:
And honor to Crispus Attucks, who was leader and voice that day;
The first to defy, and the first to die, with Maverick. Carr, and Gray.
Call it riot or revolution, his hand first clenched at the crown;
His feet were the first in perilous place to pull the king's flag down;
His breast was the first one rent apart that liberty's stream might flow;
For our freedom now and forever, his head was the first bid low.
Robert "Hollywood Bob" Pastrick
Dead at age 88: dapper, eight-term East Chicago mayor Robert “Hollywood Bob” Pastrick. Lake County prosecutor Bernard Carter eulogized him as an inspiration to many current officeholders. Hammond mayor Tom McDermott considered him a mentor. Sheriff John Buncich labeled him a true gentleman. Gubernatorial candidate John Gregg told the Post-Tribune: “You couldn’t find anyone who worked harder or had more pride in his community than Bob Pastrick.” Tarred by a so-called “sidewalks-for-votes” scandal, he cared deeply for the people of East Chicago and had many admirers. When Anthony Copeland became mayor in 2010, city attorney Carla Morgan recalled, Pastrick uttered a prayer on the African American’s behalf and said, “I can rest easy now knowing that the city is in capable hands.”
Jillian van Volkenburgh
Jeff Manes’ Sunday SALT column, “Local artist celebrates steel, Polish roots,” profiled 38 year-old artist Jillian Van Volkenburgh, South Shore Arts director of education. Jillian elaborated on her mother’s relatives:
The Grzych family business is on its third generation. My grandfather started it. It's a welding and machine shop called Leon's Fabrication. So, my life has been brooded in metal.
My bushia (grandmother) would often feed us what she called “chocolate soup.” There would always be a bottle of Hershey's chocolate syrup placed conspicuously on the kitchen counter while she served the soup. But there wasn't any chocolate syrup in the soup. It was czarnina. The brown color of the soup was from the blood of a duck.
She kept a lot of ducks, chickens and geese for slaughter. I'm vegan now. I think it stems from my Polish grandmother.
Jillian told Manes she sculpts with metal, adding:
Metal has been this common thread my whole life. It's the reason why we relocated [to Colorado when her father, a steelworker was laid off in the 1980s]. It's my grandfather's business. I remember the smell of metal on my dad when he would come home from work.
With metal, it's like this crazy circle. It's kinda like how my life has been dictated since I was born. Metal dictates this area. I love to travel, but the things that really inspire you, often are the things nearest you.
I make art because I don't know how not to. Whether it is through work or in my personal life, I advocate for the arts. I like to make people feel at ease with art and at the same time, challenge them. There is the misconception that art is upper crusty, but it is quite the contrary.
Two memorable students, Paulla and Elizabeth Grzych, lived in the small town of Roselawn and ruled the hallways of North Newton, according to Elizabeth. Paulla recalled her friend Petie:
Petie, whose nappy red hair and yellow skin complexion came from his biracial background, experienced some racism but thinks the fear of his strength kept people at bay, at least until 1994 when some girls who were his friends were victims of discrimination. They were called wiggers (white girls who acted black); it was too hard for Petie to stay focused, so he moved to Indy with his aunt.
Writing about her rebel ’rousing teen experiences, Elizabeth Grzych recalled:
When I was ten, I was fat, poor, and had buck teeth. The older kids would call me “chuck buck.” It really hurt. Fortunately, I had a little accident, and my teeth were knocked out. I got slimmer, my teeth were fixed, and boys started paying attention to me. I was getting phone calls at all hours of the day and night.
Mackenzie was one of the only black kids in our town. We’d sit in my room and talk. We’d dance together at school dances and it was no big thing, but kissing was a whole different story. The first time, we were slow dancing to the Guns N Roses song “November Rain.” He put his hands in my back pockets and kissed me. Although only 13, I knew he’d be someone special in my life. At first my family didn’t take it well; but through all the subsequent bullshit they stuck by me.
I had my share of fights and suspensions at North Newton, but the real shit happened when Mackenzie got caught selling drugs and was sent to a different school. He has been the star football player and was respected by all, at least to his face. I never thought our relationship was an issue until I came to school the following year and he wasn’t there. I started being tormented, spat on, and called a “nigger lover” on a daily basis. Those who hung out with me got the same abuse. I went to night school in Merrillville and filed suit against the school, eventually settling.
My mother’s Pennsylvania Dutch great grandmother, Grace Frace, was born in the 1850s. She and my great-aunt Ida raised Midge after her mother died when she was 10. I knew Gramma Frace as a bedridden but spirited old lady whom we frequently visited in Easton, PA, where I’d been born. We played Parcheesi (igniting my interest in board games), with me moving her pawns after she rolled the dice. She had a box of toys that included a top that hummed and blocks of different colors with which one made patterns. Grace claimed to have been at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, the day President William McKinley was shot.
John Laue sought my advice on publishing articles about Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore residents whose leasebacks ultimately expired. I suggested he talk with David Canright or Kevin Nevers at the Chesterton Tribune. Since the park is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, they may go for such a series
Miller Historical Society’s Cullen Ben-Daniel organized a Halloween weekend tour of the old Swedish Cemetery. Actors and actresses dressed as Gary pioneers, including recluse Alice Mabel Gray (Diana of the Dunes), runaway slave Davy Crockett, and squatter Drusilla Carr, wife of a fisherman. The weather cooperated with the temp in the upper 60s.
In the Ayers Realtors Newsletter column “Home on the Range” Judy Ayers recalled going to the movies as a kid:
My sister, Jane, and I remember our mother taking us to the Palace and State Theaters in downtown Gary to see “Snow White” and Bambi,” and one of my first trips to Chicago was with Girl Scout Troop 148 to see “Ben Hur.” A movie date in high school often was followed by a trip to the A&W Drive-In for root beer. That’s the only kind of drive-in Judy Neal was allowed to go to on a date. Even though there was a drive-in movie theater on Route 51, parental guidance was enforced in an attempt to keep me within the straight and narrow boundaries of moral behavior.
Spaniels in 1957 (Pookie Hudson on right)
With Steve McShane’s help I previewed in his class a talk on Vivian Carter and Vee-Jay Records that I’ll be giving in Valparaiso and Munster. Because students were studying about Gary during the 1920s, I mentioned that Vivian’s parents, like many African Americans from the deep South, came north at that time to secure better opportunities for themselves and their children. Although they faced racial discrimination, opportunities existed for black steelworkers, teachers, and entrepreneurs. A student mentioned that the 49er Drive-In in Valpo would play “Goodnite, Sweetheart,” Vee-Jay’s first big crossover hit, at the conclusion of its program. The Spaniels version, he added. With the success of doo wop groups like the Spaniels, it was considered cool for teenagers black and white to harmonize on street corners or strolling down high school hallways. The Four Seasons, I pointed out, were initially mistaken for a black group. When I played “For Your Precious Love” by the Impressions I noted its link to gospel music and that lead singer Jerry Butler, like many of his contemporaries, grew up listening to church choirs.
Aroldis Chapman and Willson Contreras after game 5; photo by Patrick Gorski
Roger Angell, who has been writing for the New Yorker since 1944, composed these elegant words after the Cubs won the fifth game of the World Series, 3-2:
The Cubs, trailing three games to one, were facing winter, but now will have a day off and a sixth game, and maybe even a glorious seventh. Baseball does this for us again and again, extending its pleasures fractionally before it glimmers and goes, but, let’s face it, this time a happy prolonging has less to do with baseball than ever before. This particular October handful has served to take our minds off a squalid and nearly endless and embarrassing election - three hours of floodlit opium or fentanyl that can almost erase all thoughts of Donald Trump’s angry slurs or Hillary Clinton’s long travails. If I could do it, I would make this World Series a best eight out of fifteen.
Watching the home Wrigley fans through the two soul-chilling previous evenings was close to unbearable, as their guys put up nothing but zeroes in their 1–0 Game 3 loss, and then a lone pair in the 7–2 loss on Saturday. The mass silence, the gloved hands in prayer position, the averted gazes, the mouths slack in disbelief, the silly rally caps, and the rest made you want to put off thoughts of the silent late trips home afterward. For me, the familiar autumn pains almost did away with the suffocating local history- the 108-year wait since the last Cubs championship, or the 71 years since the last home Series. I was listing toward the Indians, my father’s home team, but by mid-innings last night wanted only a Cubs win, to avoid the pain and gloom of a five-game dismissal. But, as we know, everything shifts when a Series goes to a sixth or seventh game. Both teams have done themselves proud, and left all their fans with important things to talk about and think about until spring, such as: Why can’t Jon Lester ever, ever throw to first base to hold a runner? And this sustaining glow may even take us intact to Election Day as well.
Happy Halloween from Tom Coulter