30 March 2011

Monument to the Homefront & the other Lloyd Wright

Kingsbury Ordinance Plant Employment Office & Medical Examination Building

Probably the most architecturally important building remaining at the KOP

I am working through a project right now that has required a great deal of research in advance on a bit of an unsung architect who practiced in Indiana during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. John Lloyd Wright, who changed his middle name to that of his famous architect-father's, Frank, grew up in the business bouncing off his father's studio walls in Oak Park, Illinois. John at first rejected the notion of following in the trade but after moving to California and working side-by-side with his brother in a related field he understood he just had to follow his heart and began training under his dad. That led him back to Oak Park. Wanting to be out from under his father's shadow, John moved to Long Beach, Indiana in 1923. Long Beach was a resort community that developed along the Lake Michigan beach just north and east of Michigan City, Indiana. John created a home and studio, and more importantly, relationships with others for whom he would create home plans. John's work at first followed some of his father's styling with the Prairie influence, but after a trip to Europe he began to create his own mark on his architecture. John Lloyd Wright completed only about two dozen designs during his time in Indiana from 1923-1946, and only a few of those were not residential in nature. He created two schools, one in Long Beach and the other for Coldspring Township. The Long Beach school remains today. He also created probably his best known public work-the Long Beach Town Hall, which was recently restored. He created one apartment house, still existing in Michigan City, and a hotel for the Indiana Dunes, which was razed. All but one of his home designs were located in Long Beach, the one other was located in Michigan City and is still there.

Fire & Guard Station, KOP

Now, for the most part, I knew about his career in Indiana and about the handful of projects he created in Long Beach. But I didn't know that during the years of World War II John was contracted by the federal government to design buildings at the Kingsbury Ordinance Plant south of LaPorte.....in fact, I've yet to meet anyone who did know this. I found it listed in an early book written about his projects. So while the kids were home over spring break, and wanting to return to the Bass Pro Shop in Portage, we drove by way of Kingsbury and took a little tour. Once I turned off Highway 35 onto Hupp Road I saw the building pictured at the top and thought to myself-that has to be a John Lloyd Wright design. We saw a second smaller building (above) with the same design as well.

Finished ammunition storage warehouses, three of dozens at the KOP

If you've never driven through the former Kingsbury Ordinance Plant, I would highly recommend it. It is a relic of the war years that likely will soon disappear from the Hoosier landscape. Today it stands as a fading & eerie monument to those who served on the homefront, the Rosie Riveters of Indiana. My dad's parents both worked there during the war, but because of plant rules against husbands and wives working together my grandmother worked under her maiden name. With this new-found information on the plant's connection to John Lloyd Wright, I have a new appreciation for the place. John's drawings for his work at the "KOP" are archived with the Chicago Historical Society and I am planning a trip to get more information about his architecture remaining at the plant. As this project develops I will be sure to post more on JLW, KOP, and the other work he did at Long Beach.

27 March 2011


Now this boy's got talent! Proud to say I know the face behind those ivory ticklers.

22 March 2011

Here come the Irish

My Great Grandpa and Grandma “Lem” short for Lemuel and “Berthy” for Bertha, Crothers were my Grandma Hochstetler’s parents. They lived in a small old farm on the Saint Joseph County side of the Marshall/St. Joe County line, just west of Kenilworth Road. It was from their lines, solidly Irish, that I got my curs'ed curly hair. They were incredibly frugal, and seemingly strict. Their farm consisted of a working outhouse, chicken coop complete with chickens, an old barn, a windmill and well house, and an old house that from my recollection never had any paint on it. I remember going with my mom to visit them fairly often.

There was an old wood porch that led to the kitchen door. It had an old screen door that went “whap” and creeeeak. The inside of the home was straight out of the 1930s. I don’t believe that anything had been changed in the house during that time, including the wallpaper. Because they heated with a wood burning pot bellied stove in their living room, the whole house had that wonderful old smoky smell to it. Grandma Berthy would offer us candy….which was always those chewy orange circus peanuts. We would sit in the living room, quietly, around the stove. I remember grandpa always sitting in the same place at the end of a dark green couch from the 1950s. We weren’t permitted to look around the house. There was another room on the first floor that had a pair of French doors that always remained shut and I often wondered what was behind them. Once I caught a glimpse of shelves full of glassware. Nor were we ever allowed to go upstairs-to this day I have no idea what was up there. We were, however, permitted to go to the outhouse, because there was no indoor plumbing, or peek in at the chickens through an old door frame covered with chicken wire. A small mowed path through tall weeds led to the privy and coop.

Great Grandma Berthy always called us, early in the mornings, to let us know if we had a school delay or cancellation due to snow. I don’t remember much else, except I do remember their funerals. I believe it was Grandpa that died while I was staying with my Aunt Nell in Van Buren, and we had to return early for the funeral. They were in their early 80s when they died.

19 March 2011

Heart, Head, Hands and....what's the 4th H?

One year. That was it. While 4H horse & pony ran through our family veins, I participated one year with rabbits (4th place) and chickens (1st place). And that was enough. But the county 4H fair became the thing of childhood legends as each summer we trekked to the fairgrounds hauling horses to and from and setting up camp in the horse barn. And whether it actually occurred or not, I cannot say, but it did seem like it always stormed on the night we were there late into the evening. It was at the 4H fair in 1980 that mom was summoned to the fair office to take a call that grandpa Hochstetler was in the hospital. He died the next day. I always think of this while at the fair.

Growing out of the 4H experience, I still returned, even in high school, with friends to see old friends. And it is of course, a tradition today to take our children to the 4H fair to give them some form of farm experience and an appreciation of our agrarian roots. And it looks like we’ll have a couple of junior 4H’ers this summer.

I think I blame the 4H leaf collection exhibits for another obsession that developed in childhood. I developed a pretty keen sense of the natural environment around me, and an appreciation for it and that lead to a leaf collection I started when I was about 10 years old. Soon it busted the seams of a scrapbook as my collection grew to include leaves from trees that I collected on vacations south and west. I had close to a hundred specimens and even a box full of nuts, seeds, and fruits from the trees I collected leaves from. The bizarre thing, yes-as if this isn’t strange enough, is that my mom kept these tucked away in our attic and recently pushed them my way. It’s true though that I impress my friends with my rather useless knowledge of trees and can identify them by about any means in any season. My favorite trees are beech and sycamore and I’ve long since felt that the sycamore should replace the poplar as Indiana’s state tree.

17 March 2011

the eagle has landed

I’m not exactly sure how being a "birder" became a part of my make-up, but the earliest I can remember having an interest in wildlife was when, under duress, I was encouraged to find something to do the first day of summer vacation after about my 5th grade year. I recall my dad making a statement something like this “you need to find something to do, outside…..you are not going to sit inside and watch TV all summer”. After that I began sketching wildlife out of encyclopedias. I think that may be where it started. Regardless, I kept a list for several years through the end of elementary school and into Junior High. And while in high school I may have no longer recorded what I saw…I certainly could identify what I saw.

Then, after college and the kids came along, I started keeping track again of the birds that we had at our place on South Michigan Street. Surprisingly, for living a block from the downtown, we saw quite a variety of birds. The highest count was, I believe, 27 species in one week. Then we moved to the country and that record was quickly shattered as we have found about the most perfect environment for birding-I think the count is 42 different species in one week.
But last week had a stellar moment for birding here on the Hill, and those of you who follow me on Facebook know what I'm about to say. Yes indeed, the Eagle had landed at Sycamore Hill.

I pulled into the driveway last Wednesday after a rather draining day on the road. As I got to the top of the lane and turned the corner to park I saw an enormous figure fly between the house and barn. Realizing this was too large to be our red tailed hawks, I assumed maybe vulture. I got out of the car and saw it perched in a tree by the creek just beyond the large sycamore. Something said to me-get your camera-but I ignored it. I trekked over to the tree it was in and noticed it had a rabbit, and that this was no vulture. It looked at me and with a woosh and whap of its wings flew within about 50' of my head, circled, and came back to roost. No doubt about it-it was an immature eagle. It headed to the fence line along the back 5 acres.

So when the family got home I told them what I saw and we all walked out to the back pasture with binoculars, and this time a camera. It was still perched in a tall tree, but the camera wasn't going to do it any justice. My wife, however, caught a shot of the birder. I know that eagle sitings are becoming more frequent in this part of the Hoosier state, even locally. Even so, this was pretty amazing.....even if my FB friends found the story a bit hard to swallow!

14 March 2011

Political DNA

I'm in the center-this was at FBI Headquarters while on a visit to my grandparents in 1986; funny, I had some Republican friends say this was too right-wing to include on my campaign website. Evidently not right enough!
Whether blood-borne, or married-in, I can't deny my political DNA make-up. This came blasting back into my consciousness recently when I invited former Governor Doc Bowen to the reception honoring my great aunt. You see, back in 1981 Doc remarried my great aunt's sister....and that would be my grandmother. And that led to over 10 years of insight that did nothing but whet my appetite for politics.

Swearing in ceremony for Health & Human Services Secretary, my grandmother in blue
I come from a long, long line of Republicans. It appears that since the dawn of the GOP on America's political landscape, my family in all of its lines has associated themselves with the party. My great grandmother (the mean one) was the first woman delegate to a presidential convention from Indiana-or the story goes. The family, though, always shied away from public office. In retrospect I think I understand why. I broke that tradition in 2003, and could very much see myself breaking with tradition again. The tough part is that I don't see much that I can identify with in today's GOP. It seems the pendulum swings so dramatically to the right and left that left is barely left of center anymore. Which makes me wonder where I am.....oh, and I know where some people think I am!
Meeting with Senator Lugar, above, and on tour with Lt. Governor Skillman, below on right

So last week, after some encouragement, we had a visit with Doc and I introduced my kids to their "ex-step great grandfather" (I think that's right). It was nice to catch up and we wished him well for his 93rd birthday. I would have loved to talk politics....like, "hey, what is up with that gawdoffal Mitch Daniels anyway?" I think most Republicans would be shocked by how he might reply. If you recall, he endorsed Mitch's opponent back in the day, before daylight savings time...sigh.... Instead we traded chit chat stories of life and business, and what our kids are involved in. And that seemed just fine.
I think what separates a true public servant from a politician is where their loyalties lie. I think a politician's loyalties lie with himself and his party. A statesman, a true public servant, has loyalties with only the public. So when a decision must be made, something in his core kicks in and makes a decision on what is right for the people. We don't have that today. I'd like to think that was my m.o., but I'll let others be the judge of that.

10 March 2011

service done right

I have written on HH before about my great aunt who lost her re-election bid for township trustee last fall in the wake of the national anti-Obama uprising. A whole lot of good conservative Democrats were voted out of office. My aunt was the most fiscally conservative elected official I have ever known. Despite that, and her years of experience, she's looking for something else to do now.

One problem....who would hire a 90 year old? My great aunt first started working as a deputy assessor for the township in which she was born and lived her entire life in 1962. In 1970 she was elected trustee and had won every election since that time. That 40 years, plus another 8-that's almost 50 years of service to the people of North Township. She was awarded the Sagamore of the Wabash in 2001.

A friend of mine "from the other side of the aisle" suggested we do something to honor her so we planned a small reception with a few surprises for her. And then she ended up in the hospital and we had to reschedule the reception. We finally were able to hold it a few weeks ago and to her surprise Congressman Donnelly was able to come and speak on the virtues my aunt has demonstrated as a servant of the public for the 40 years. And then he read a letter from President Obama commending her on a job well done. At that she wiped tears from her eyes-and I have to say I did too. I think maybe most stirring was the presentation of a flag and salute by officers of the American Legion.
That's our family with blue dog Democrat Congressman Donnelly

I don't care about political affiliation. I call things as I see them. I think I have a very keen insight on political maneuvering, jockeying, issues of integrity and duplicity. I am probably most critical of my own Republican party because I see tremendous results of power corrupting and whole communities, whole citizenry, suffering because party is treated more important than the public. Actions based on heady, untested, principles are being crammed down our throats with little thought to their ramifications, maybe true on both sides of the aisle. We are at a desperate loss of true public servitude in our country and I don't believe it will ever come back.

08 March 2011


We often get wild surprises around here. Like the pair of Red-Tailed hawks that have been hunting on the Hill. The red-tails seem to be staying lower to the ground as they fly past the house going from the woods across the road to their favorite perch on top of our barn. One afternoon a hawk decided to stop halfway and perch from a fence post just a few yards from the house.

Yesterday my folks stopped by and had coffee. My dad called from the living room and said there was a large group of Cedar Waxwings just outside the front door. We counted 19 of them. The waxwings have been here before, but never in such large numbers. We have four ancient red cedar trees that were planted when the house was constructed in 1865 that form a line between our drive and the front of the house. Cedar Waxwings love cedar berries, as their name would imply. And they were feasting on the berries that had dropped to the ground late last fall and have been covered by snow the last three months. I mentioned this to a fellow birder and he asked me if they were drunk. What? He then explained that often the old berries have fermented and the waxwings have been known to become intoxicated. I told him that must have been why one was wearing a lampshade and another kept telling me he loved me......

05 March 2011

it'll tickle yore innards

A few days ago my little girl and I were walking the property looking for a suitable tree in which to construct a treehouse/clubhouse. Ever since she saw an American Girl Doll movie with Kit Kitridge and her treehouse/base of operations for her investigative journalism work, she's been fantasizing over having a treehouse of her own. I told her last year to give me a year so that we could settle in here on the Hill, and then I would build one.

Well, this is the year. And our scouting earlier this week produced about 4 potential treehouse tree hosts. As we walked along the bank of Brush Creek, the snow about half melted from the ground, I saw a dark green bottle glistening beneath the flotsam and jetsam of this and several past winters. I picked it up and read "Mountain Dew It'll tickle yore innards". I have a handful of old pop bottles that I found on my grandparents' property decades ago, but evidently they were not Mt. Dew fans, and frankly neither am I, because I hadn't seen this one before. And I could hardly believe the marketing image of a mountain man and the use of "innards" on something meant for consumption. But I loved it. Unfortunately the top was broken off. I looked at the bottom for a date and it was stamped with "65".

So I came back to the house and did a little research on Moutain Dew. And here it is: The name Mountain Dew was first trademarked by Ally and Barney Hartman in the 1940s, who coined the name from a colloquial term for moonshine whiskey. Early bottles and signage carried the reference forward by showing a cartoon-stylized mountaineer. The first sketches of the original Mountain Dew bottle labels were devised in 1948 by John Brichetto, and the representation on product packaging has changed at multiple points in the history of the beverage. Pepsi-Cola Company acquired the Mountain Dew brand in 1964, and shortly thereafter in 1973 the logo was modified as the company sought to shift its focus to a “younger, outdoorsy” generation.

Outdoorsy generation? Was the mountaineer not outdoorsy enough? And then I found this great link to youtube with an original Moutain Dew commercial-definitely worth watching:


02 March 2011

polar opposite great grandmothers

“Granner” or “Granner Grump” was my dad's dad's mother. As her name implied, she was a bit of a grumpy old woman. She had a mobile home located between our mobile home and my grandparents’ house on Lilac Road. Grandpa had moved her to the farm in the 1960s, built a small storage shed which remained on the farm long after the home was gone, and provided a small garden for her. She didn’t like us kids, and she hated cats, of which my grandparents had many. We thought it entirely harmless to walk back and forth in front of her house with the kitties from the barn. She would come out with a broom and shoo us away.

She attended the Assemblies of God Church in Plymouth and my grandparents would leave after church in LaPaz to go pick her up after her service. Sometimes we were allowed to ride along. You might wonder why we would want to, but it was because my grandparents could be talked into stopping at the A&W Rootbeer stand for ice cream….that made up for riding with an angry old lady. She was in her mid 80s when she died. Only the good die young.

Or maybe they don't. My Great Grandma Edna Hochstetler, we just called her Grandma Edna, had retired from the farm northwest of Bremen quite some time before I was born, and had moved with Great Grandpa to a small brick house on Montgomery Street in Bremen, across from the Salem Methodist Church, and around the corner from where her parents had retired to many years before. Grandma Edna had a particularly interesting way in speaking that I remember my grandpa mimicked some, but can hear it particularly well in how my Great Aunt Lorretta speaks. I wonder if it wasn’t from some German influence of her ancestors. Grandma Edna’s house was pretty sparse of furniture and d├ęcor. Everything seemed particularly clean and orderly when we would sit and visit with her. She had a few games that we could play, very old board games that she kept in a room off the kitchen. Grandma Edna would always provide us a little something for Christmas, near the end it was a card with a single dollar bill inside. I do remember one Christmas getting a marble track made of wood. And once while visiting she gave me an old metal toy road grader that had been my grandpa’s. Thankfully I still have that.

Grandma, along with her three sisters, were stalwarts of the Methodist Church across the street. All were involved in the women’s temperance society, and the suffrage movement. They all lived to be incredibly old and insisted the family all come together for the Ewald (their maiden names) Reunion each year. Grandma Edna died at 96 years of age when I was a freshman in college.

Gafill Oil Company in Argos

My great-grandfather (above) may have started our family in the fuel business with his employment as the agent for an oil company in ...