My Town: Memories

July 15, 2008

"All of these people are connected"

LADOGA, IN
Pop. 1,031
Hometown of David Bix ’70

You’re driving down Main Street in Ladoga on a warm summer afternoon in the early 1960s, past Burnette’s Grocery, Bouse’s Drug Store and Soda Fountain, and the farmers gathered at Hy Vail’s barbershop.

You turn right at a three-story Victorian house—the home and office of Dr. Fred Blix—to see a 12-year old boy riding his bike up the tree-lined street, shouting the name of a famous German composer at the top
of his lungs.

"Wagner! Wagner!"

That was David Blix ’71, now professor of religion at Wabash, moments after hearing "The Prelude" and "Love Death" from Tristan and Isolde.

"The music is this surging, glorious stuff that finally reaches its climax through this ascending scale, like the universe is exploding." Blix recalls. "It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve heard in my life. I thought, This is amazing—how come nobody is talking about this?"

Professor Blix had to wait for his student days at Wabash for that conversation. But the self-described "dorky little kid" found plenty to learn, and love, in his hometown.

"The memories I have from Ladoga, with few exceptions, are very rich, and very warm, with a sense of extended family," Blix says.

Here are a few of them:

Everyone Kept an Eye Out for You

In my strongest memories, Ladoga is leafy green, it’s summer, and my best friend, Joe Fuller, and I are riding our bikes all over the place.

Even when I was as young as five or six, Mom could send me a block down the street to Burnette’s Grocery to get milk. Everyone kept an eye out for you.

The Town Doctor

My dad was the town’s general practitioner. His office was on the main floor of our house, and he made house calls; I can remember him coming home very late, then going out again.

Dad was not only a physician to their bodies, but he listened a lot. There were poor people in town, and he gave them medical care for free. My mother would also get calls and visits from various ladies in town who were having problems, and she would listen.

A Place to Ask Questions

The Ladoga Presbyterian Church, another part of my extended family, was a sensible church, neither very liberal nor very conservative. We were inculcated in traditional Christianity, but at the same time were encouraged to question and ask about things.

Such questioning in school led to an interesting moment in first grade. My parents had told their
children that there was no such thing as Santa Claus; we were told straight out that Santa was the "Spirit
of Christmas." So when my first grade teacher said, "Let’s all take out paper and pencil and write a letter
to Santa Claus," I raised my hand and said, "But Mrs. Harbison, there’s no such thing as Santa Claus." With 20 little kids about to break out in tears, she looked at me with this forced smile and said, "Of course there is." And I said, "No, there’s not."

So she scooped me up out of my chair, took me out to the cloakroom and said, "Listen, I know there’s no such thing as Santa Claus, and you know there’s no such thing as Santa Claus, but work with me on this."

I tell my students that this was the moment I decided to study religion.

Tavern in the Town

My best friend’s dad ran the tavern, but it was a very mysterious place for us.

It wasn’t until I went back to Ladoga for my 10th high school reunion that I ever went in there.

My dad says that once he was walking downtown when one of the elderly ladies of our church was
standing outside the tavern with great consternation. She wanted to make a rum cake, and needed some rum.
"Doctor, I dare not go into the tavern," she told my dad. "Would you go in and buy me some?"

To the Big City

In the fourth grade, Mrs. Georgia Mann led us on a field trip to Crawfordsville on the Monon train. We visited the Lew Wallace Study and Wabash, and before we got to Waugh Hall, Mrs. Mann said, "We’re going to meet one of the professors; his name is Dr. Haenisch, and he is a big man." And he was!

Like a Dickens Novel

It’s like a Charles Dickens novel—all of these people come back around and are connected. These days my first grade teacher, Virginia Harbison, gets her hair cut in the same shop as I do.

One reason coming back to Wabash meant a great deal—I’ve been able to meet people who my father had taken care of, and have heard of things he did for them.

But most of my folks’ friends from Ladoga have passed on. Many of these people are icons of my childhood, and the sense of loss that I feel is not just the turning of the generations, but that sense of connection
to a place where people cared a great deal about each other.

I bring forward from all this a real strong sense of community. It’s something I learned growing up there. I learned that the bonds of community are fragile, and you must work to keep them strong and, conversely, be careful not to tear them apart with petty aimosity.


Something to Rally Around

ALAMO, IN
Pop. 137
Hometown of Charlie Bowerman ’61

When Wabash basketball legend and Indiana Hall of Famer Charlie Bowerman ’61 walked to school as a boy, his father followed.

"We lived only three blocks away from school, and I always walked there with my dad. He walked behind me and told me to keep my back straight."

A Sunday School teacher, school teacher, and basketball coach, "Pick" Bowerman had the respect of the town and, better yet, the keys to the gymnasium.

"My dad was the coach, so it wasn’t difficult for us to get into the gym. Whenever there was a function, a PTA meeting, or some event going on in the basement, all the guys ran up to the gym and played basketball. That’s what we did year round.

"I wouldn’t trade growing up in Alamo for anything in the world," says Bowerman, whose exploits on the basketball court earned him the nickname, "Wizard of Alamo."

Perfecting the Shot 

I started playing basketball at home as soon as I was big enough to walk. My dad built me a goal that was maybe five feet tall, and as I grew, he would continue to raise the goal, so when I got to grade school it was the normal 10 feet in height. We played on the dirt, we set up a light, and we had a lot of great games well into the night.

My uncle was a blacksmith. He cut about three inches out of the rim of my basketball goal, and then welded it back together. So my goal at home had a diameter of about 15 inches, compared to the normal 18, so that’s what I practiced on.

I still have that rim, and I show it to my grandchildren. They get a kick out of it.

The Big Games 

It was real exciting to see the whole community support the sports teams. Our gymnasium seated about 700, but it was filled to capacity for every game. Pretty unique, considering there were only 200 people in the whole town! I don’t think visiting teams really enjoyed playing at Alamo.

We had three general stores and one gas station, and people would sit out in front of those stores on
a bench and talk about sports. When school consolidations started, it really was the death knell for a lot of the smaller communities; there wasn’t anything to rally around.

Earning a Date 

My wife Corky and I grew up in Alamo, just a block and a half apart. We started dating in high school, and before our dates I’d be in the backyard shooting baskets. She’d throw the ball back to me after each shot, and we’d have to wait until I’d made a certain number of goals before we could go on our date.

Requiem for a Small Town 

I mowed yards when I was growing up to earn a little money, and all the people kept their houses and yards in good shape. It was really a great place. We rode bicycles, played kick the can in the evening hours. No one ever worried about their kids; it was just a great place to grow up.

The school is long gone.The gym is still there, though in disrepair. It’s sad to see it all deteriorating, but I still have roots in Indiana that will always be there.


The Front Porch

WINGATE, IN
Pop. 296
Hometown of Bob Quirk ’50

The house I live in today was built by my grandparents in 1891 for $3,000. I can imagine how proud they were to finally have this large two-story house with a large front porch.

In the years before TV, and even before radio, the front porch was a very important part of the house. It wasn’t just a place to decorate and look nice. It was a very important gathering place for the family.

Since it was the front of the house, the women made sure it was spotless. It was almost always painted white, with pots of geraniums placed on it.

Every porch would have a swing or glider on it, and children loved to get on the swing to see how high they could go—till their parents heard them yelling and warned them that the swing was not meant to go that high. Another no-no that the young children enjoyed was walking on the banister around the edge of the porch.

Most porches had chairs, brought down from the attic and re-covered. The chairs and swings were a favorite place for Grandpa to sit and take a nap on one of those "lazy, hazy, crazy, days of summer." If Grandpa or any of the adults wanted to cool off, they would fan themselves with a cardboard fan, usually from the local mortician. This was before the days of air conditioning and, in many cases, even before electricity, so those cardboard fans felt great on those, hot, muggy summer days.

Colliers, The Saturday Evening Post, and Grit would be in the magazine rack for the family to read as they relaxed. There would probably be a wicker table where the housewife’s sewing supplies were kept. She would sit in a wicker chair as she shelled peas, cleaned the green beans, or peeled the apples for a pie for supper. At that time you had dinner at noon, and the evening meal was supper.

If you lived on a farm, the front porch was the perfect place to rest a few minutes after dinner before going back to work in the field. After a hot, humid day of hard work, what could be more perfect than to clean up and relax with family and friends in the evening on the front porch.

Before the days of Little League baseball and all of the organized activities we have today, the porch was the place where the kids could watch the clouds and imagine what the formations reminded them of. They could watch the fireflies and see who could catch the most.

The porch was also a favorite place for the teenage daughter to entertain that certain boyfriend. Of course, the girls’ younger brothers would sneak up on them until the boyfriend would have to offer some sort of bribe to get rid of them.

In late afternoon when the wife had finished her housework, the porch would be the place where she would relax by darning socks or sew on a patchwork quilt. She might drink some iced tea or lemonade and share it with friends who would drop by.

Another popular porch activity was to pack a wooden freezer with salt and ice and crank out a batch of ice cream. Kids hated the hard work of cranking the mixer by hand, but boy did they love to lick the beater and eat that homemade ice cream!

Reprinted from Real American Stories by Bob Quirk.


Riding Horseback Through Town

RUSSELLVILLE, IN
Pop. 344
Hometown of Division II Administrative Assistant Debbie Bartelt and Senior Administrative Assistant to the President Caroln Goff

Carolyn Goff grew up on a farm outside of Russellville and Debbie Bartelt grew up in the town. From two different generations, they share a fondness for their hometown and concern for its future.

When she was a little girl, Carolyn Goff moved to a farm near Russellville. The town had two banks,
a hardware store, two gas stations, an International Harvester dealer, and two restaurants.

"Of course, there was the grain elevator and the stone quarry," she says. "And my father owned a
feed store in town."

The most anticipated annual event was the Tri-County 4-H Fair, which brought together 4-H clubs from Parke, Putnam, and Montgomery counties for a weeklong series of livestock shows, talent and fashion competitions, and the best food of the year.

"When I was growing up, we had the Tri-County Fair. It was a wonderful thing for my children growing up, too. They’d block off the streets for a week. It was one of the better cattle and hogs shows in the area. They even had a carnival. People in the town could fry the most delicious fish you’d ever eaten, and homemade pies. Oh, people just flocked in there from the three counties.

"I could drop off my boys, even when they were younger, and feel completely at ease, knowing they were having the time of their lives. Then I’d go to the fair after work and there they’d be, sitting on some hay with their friends, or grooming their animals. It was a wonderful way to bring them up."

Debbie Bartelt had experience with a different kind of livestock. She lived next to an uncle who is a detective and exotic animal aficionado.

"He had lions, and he had tigers, and he had a bear." She smiles. "He had snakes, a camel, bobcats, a wolf, and a cougar. When I was growing up I’d feed the animals when he was gone.

"He had an alligator that was supposed to stay in the bathtub, but it got out and kept my grandmother trapped on her bed until she could call him to get it."

Bartelt had unpredictable animals of her own.

"We had horses—Midnight and Rio—we kept them in the backyard pastures and put them in the garage when it got too cold. Once I tied Rio outside to a cement block, and he dragged it down the street and went visiting through town before someone called me to come get my horse. We used to ride seven miles
a day through town and out to the saddle club. We’d show the horses, then ride back."

Both Russellville natives watched school consolidation damage the town.

"When you take a school out of your community, it has a real impact. People don’t come into town. They used to stop at the grocery, buy gas, go to the post office when they picked up their kids. But that traffic is gone," Goff says.

"My boys will tell you that the best times of their lives were growing up in Russellville. They would love to live in that Russellville, but this is not the town they knew. I encouraged them to go somewhere else. You have to go where it’s best for your future."

Bartelt and her sister came back to Russellville after living elsewhere.

"I stay because my family is here, and because I can walk around town and I know the people. I don’t lock my door. I didn’t used to lock my car.

"In a small town, everyone knows your problems, and if they don’t know, sometimes they’ll make them up! That doesn’t bother me, because I don’t care what they think. But it would drive some people crazy."

Goff and her husband Gary live in the house his grandfather built.

"Somebody has to take care of the family place. It means so much to us. The house is still the way his grandfather built it, three stories, with just the two of us living there. I wonder what’s going happen to it when we’e gone."

 


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