I anticipate this day all year long. It's my birthday. But that has nothing to do with the much-anticipated day. The birthday part is merely coincidental with the truly exciting thing that happened today. I found my paper planner-calendar for next year.
Of course, next year is no ordinary year. It's 2021! It has a lot going for it without lifting a finger. Mainly, it's not 2020!
2020 has been ... let's see, how do I put this? Memorable? And here is the good it has done inside me: It has made me tremendously grateful for the great memories, including the incredible vacations we've had in recent years to such places as Washington, D.C., Boston, Hyannis, Minneapolis, New York City, Houston, and amazing, unique experiences within them all.
It has made me treasure my family and friends as I miss and can't wait to see them.
It has made me anticipate such seemingly simple tasks as putting up a new Christmas tree this year and cleaning out our attic. My heart is grateful. But it's also doing something else. It's yearning for a fresh start called 2021.
I have several years' worth of well-thumbed calendars and no two of them are alike. Some years I choose a tiny version that will fit smartly in even the smallest of the purses I carry. Others are so large and in charge, they need to be hand-carried outside the purses as one might an Egyptian princess. When I'm good and tired of pampering the princess, the next year I'll go back to the mini.
Last year's calendar is more scribbled-out dates and appointments than it is anything. It's fairly pristine and if it weren't for all the dates being wrong, a slight problem with a calendar, I could carry it again next year.
Today while on my errands, I decided to swing into Office Depot and peruse the calendars. There was a nice selection in a variety of sizes but when I spotted this little number, it was game over. The cover is a flannel-like-texture in gray, with a leather-like brown binding and a sturdy ring binder. There are two ways to handle the dates inside; one with a quick jot, and another for more extensive notes and details. There's lots of space for contacts and in the very back, a clear plastic envelope built right in, in which to place paperwork. Oh yeah, mine all mine.
Why don't I get with the rest of humanity and use my cellphone calendar, you ask? The simple answer is that I do not travel lightly through life. I tend to carry a paper trail of scribbled notes on the fly about the person I'm to interview, flyers, coupons, you name it. I can have an event inked in and the planner put away while Brian is still asking me if that is 2 or 2:30 and, where again? -- to putunch into his phone.
Here's to 2021! It will be a while before we flip the page, but when we do, I'm all set. More details to come ...
Originally published in the New Castle Courier-Times in August 2020.
by Donna Cronk
MIDDLETOWN — When DeWayne and Marta King decided to leave town life behind 20 years ago, they wanted to live in the country where Marta could create beautiful gardens.
They looked no farther than rural Middletown, next to their best friends Tom and Kathy Furnish. “They said, ‘Come and be our neighbors,’” recalls Marta.
The Kings, married nearly 41 years, purchased the 10-acre property and never looked back. Up went her dream home – a farmhouse-style house with a wrap-around porch and plenty of space outdoors to create dreamy gardens to go with it. DeWayne even crafted a walking bridge over a wooded ravine, and they have outbuildings and a greenhouse.
The couple got a bonus right away, as there were a bounty of huge, beautiful boulders to place throughout the landscaping. It had been a desire of Marta’s to have a big stone at their property’s entrance. Now one is there, displaying the property’s name – Indian Summer Hill.
For the past 20 years, Marta has operated her own business, Hand Tied Memories, creating floral designs for weddings. She loved the work, using wholesale flowers but also adding special touches from her own blossoming plants. She’s retiring in October.
Rooted in family
Marta’s love for gardening was learned from her Pendleton grandmother, the late Jewel Mercer, who had greenhouses, gardens and dairy farms. Marta lived nearby as a child, walking through the cornfield to get to Grandma’s house.
“My thing is the dirt, digging in the dirt, putting flowers together,” Marta says.
She recalls how people would pull into Grandma’s drive to see her beautiful peonies, and she in turn would give them handsful of the spring flowers to use in decorating graves.
Years later, Marta would inherit peonies. A lady she adored had beautiful peonies and following her death, Marta was gifted with the woman’s peony bushes – all 75 of them – which she dug up and moved.
In fact, if Marta could have only one flower it would be the Indiana state flower, the peony.
But there’s plenty of love to go around and other perennial favorites include iris, heliabores, butterfly bushes, lilacs, Russian sage, Trumpet flowers and more. She says while hostas are notable in gardening for their leaves, hummingbirds love dining on the small flowers the plants produce.
“I love planting anything that attracts pollinators,” Marta says. She has a patch of milkweed to attract Monarch butterflies, which it does; and she has tons of hummingbirds which she is certain return each spring. She said when they arrive, they hover around her as if to say they are back.
Not only does she love perennials, but container gardens which she uses liberally on her porch as they bloom to the overflow from their good care with good soil, fertilizer, water, sunshine and a doting gardener.
Marta’s love for container gardens results from her love for good design. She sees each container as having its own design, much like designing a vase bouquet of flowers or a bridal bouquet.
There are also hanging baskets with cascading Boston and asparagus ferns and many other kinds of flowers, and something that may be her favorite annual – red geraniums.
Marta loves the red geraniums in white boxes that are found on Michigan’s Mackinac Island and duplicates the look on her porch.
She also had three fairy gardens last summer, has a garden filled with miniature versions of plants.
In her genes
“It’s in my genes,” she says of her hobby. “It’s relaxing. I can just get lost out there.”
She recalls times when she was so happy to get home from work that she would set her purse down and get busy working in her yard until 10 or 11 p.m. and then wonder where she left her purse.
While some women want jewelry, Marta says she wants to go to the garden center. Husband DeWayne is happy for her.
“He said he loves the gardens because I love the gardens,” Marta said. “He’s very willing to run me anywhere to find a new plant. We also plan trips around botanical gardens.”
The couple has a pet dog, Madi, and overnight trips must include her. They have two grown sons and two grandchildren.
A few of the certified Master Gardener’s insider tips for gardening follow.
1. Proven Winner fertilizer is her go-to. She also recommends Espoma Organic products.
2. Marta enjoys her morning coffee while viewing her favorite YouTube gardening star on a six-day a week program called Garden Answer. She highly recommends it. Bonus: the show host’s gardens are in the same zone as Indiana’s.
3. Through the years, attending gardening seminars and hearing speakers provide a bounty of information. Marta says she is “just like a sponge” soaking up ideas and tips from the programs.
4. Along with her lavish outdoor gardens, Marta most always brings some of the bounty inside with fresh flowers on her kitchen table.
5. She recommends reading “Indiana Gardener’s Guide,” by Tom Tyler and Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, and the magazine, Indiana Gardener.
6. Marta tells how to save geraniums from year to year. Dig them up; shake off the dirt; trim back the plants, place in brown paper bags and close the bags, store in the garage.
Six weeks before planting them in the spring, add soil in pots, the plants, and fertilize and water them, placing the pots in a greenhouse.
7. She has saved asparagus ferns for over 20 years. Cut them back even with the top of the containers they are in at the end of summer. Water lightly once a month, store in the garage with no covering, just the open pots, and come spring and summer, “They just pop.”
8. Marta also composts everything and recycles.
Note: A version of this column ran in the New Castle Courier-Times on Saturday.
by Donna Cronk
If you've followed recent columns, you know I'm in the midst of an extended home project. Because cleaning out our attic in one sitting is too overwhelming, we're doing it in slow motion.
That translates into one cardboard box, plastic tub, or prized relic a week. I find myself looking forward to that little jaunt up the ladder to see what memories are stirred.
Saturday before last, I delved into a container filled with memory clothes: A favorite blue sweater from high school that I wore to death; a junior-clothing, Brooks-store sundress worn to high school graduation; the "going-away" skirt Mom stitched for leaving our our wedding reception. (Those my age and older might remember the term "going-away" clothing.)
I can't fit into any of them and even if I could, I wouldn't. We parted company.
At the bottom of the tub was a Thom McAn shoe box. On the front in bold-black Magic Marker it read: Donna's tap shoes. I lifted the still-shiny patent-leather shoes and immediately, memories flooded in.
I never had a tap lesson in my life.
Half a century ago, the coolest girls in my hometown were Dixon Dancers, under the tutelage of dance teachers Rita and Joann. Surely those instructors were some sort of goddesses; so pretty, confident and capable of teaching those fancy dance steps. And the costumes! All tulle and fluff, sequins and silk, ribbons and ruffles.
My female relatives were Dixon Dancers, and each spring, Mom and I watched them sparkle in the annual dance review. Those sequin-studded costumes caught the light from a million directions as the girls bounced around the stage. There were square-dance and soft-shoe numbers, probably ballet and modern dance, but it was the tap-dancing that held me.
I loved the click-clack of taps hitting the floor, a sound you couldn't ignore if you tried. With every fiber of my being, I wanted to create those sounds from my own feet and put them to music.
The talent that filled that stage every year seemed as great to my young senses as that on the Dean Martin, Sonny & Cher and Carol Burnett variety TV shows of the era. Oh how I wanted to be not merely a Dixon Dancer, but a Dixon tapper!
It wasn't to be, as my parents wouldn't let me, despite classmate Starla Snyder's impassioned plea during Sunday school class for me to ask again about lessons. (Starla. Isn't that a perfect dancer's name?) But nope, it wasn't an option.
Neither was being a Brownie. I envied Christy Sweeney and her Brownie dress and beanie. She wore both on Mondays, if memory serves, prepared for those after-school meetings in the cafeteria. I missed out on the deep life lessons, but most importantly, on the refreshments and crafts.
I would have worn that uniform with pride!
My folks let me be in 4-H, and I suppose I made the most of that for the 10 years I maxed out my membership. Yet the yearning never waned to be a Dixon Dancer.
So I devised a DIY plan. I saved nickels and dimes (and I mean that in the literal sense as I got 15 cents for sweeping out and gassing up the school bus for my farmer-bus-driver dad). I also got a dollar a week for mowing the lawn; several bucks for the worst job of my life—picking up rocks in the fields for a couple weeks every spring. Summers meant odd jobs around the farm such as painting the white picket fence.
Finally, I had enough saved for a pair of authentic tap shoes exactly like those the Dixon Dancers wore. I walked right into Thom McAn and bought a pair. I must have been a fifth-or-sixth-grader. I didn't even need to prove that I was worthy of such a stately prize. Isn't America great?
If I couldn't be a Dixon Dancer, I could at least play one at home. I could also direct the variety shows my nieces and I put on where we sang songs from every genre we knew: "Put Your Hand in the Hand of the Man" (gospel); "This Land is Your Land" (folk); "The Charleston" (show tune, I guess); "If Ever I Would Leave You" (Broadway) or "Harper Valley PTA" (pop).
We combined song and dance with our own make-do costumes as well as my nieces' prized Dixon Dance wear. We invited neighbor kids over to view our shows. And of course, there was tap because I had to show off the shoes.
When I found the shoes in the attic, I immediately put them on. They were a little snug, but what's a cramped toe or two for the sake of performance art? So I clicked and clopped around the garage on that Saturday morning in my PJs, still relishing the sound of those taps.
Brian was inside the house, and I half expected him to emerge and ask what in the world was going on, that, "It sounds, oddly, like somebody tap dancing badly. I knew that wasn't possible!"
If he had, I might have broken into a rendition of "I Got You, Babe," and showed him my moves.
He would have thought I'd lost my mind. But I know the truth. I have a long memory lane.
I'm keeping the memories—and the tap shoes.
For the last 42 years, this little piece of (I suppose) 1950s luggage has been without work. It's been an outbuilding or attic accessory. But of course that's not why I've kept it. It's stayed with me because every time I see it, it reminds me of good times for the 20 years prior to these past 42.
This was the little traveling case into which I used to pack my nightie, toothbrush, hair brush and later makeup, along with a simple change of clothes for the next day. It was my overnighter to friends' or relatives' houses.
What it really was, I do believe, was the cosmetics' case in a luggage set. My folks had one or maybe two larger pieces that matched and I have no idea where they are now. I don't even know if they purchased the set or if was handed down from relatives who bought it for, say, a trip to Florida, or for some destination I'll never know about.
I was always a kid who liked to go, to have plans! I can't count the Friday-night sleepovers at my friend Cheryl's house. In elementary school we watched The Brady Bunch, then played with our Barbies until we couldn't change another outfit, and were about to drop over ourselves.
Everywhere I went in those golden days of youth, if I was staying, so was this travel bag. Tells you something about traveling light--one thing you'll never catch me doing now. Even if Brian and I are heading down to Indy or Carmel to see one of the kids, nine times out of 10, he's waiting for me to round up a stack of paperwork, a book I'm reading, a lesson I'm working on, a magazine, a Tervis full of iced water and maybe some other oddball object.
The travel case used to have a very distinct scent; the smell of fun! It no longer carries that; only memories. And that's why it's time to say goodbye. Now don't go and make this harder on me by saying what I could use it for, or store in it, or Pinterest it up, or learn to travel light and use it again.
You see, what I'm doing here is cleaning out our attic, one tub or box at a time, week by week. Brian and I found the idea of a one-day clean sweep of the place far too overwhelming. So instead, I told him about my idea to do it one container a week.
Today is week four. Last week my old prom dresses went. A friend wondered if I would give them to her for fabric to make doll clothes. Nope! They are far too faded and unfashionable. I parted with an old pair of my dad's work coveralls and another dear friend suggested I rescue them and use the fabric to craft a stuffed bear as an heirloom. Nope! I'd just fold the things back up, attach the idea to them mentally and --never do it.
I just need to say farewell to this sweet little memory companion. Now I've got the picture, and even the blog post. I still save many things. I just no longer want to save it all! I've reached a tipping point where there's more joy in the getting rid of than in the saving (and stacking, and putting away, and caring for or not caring for ...).
I'll carry it away one last time to the Goodwill.
For reasons that remain obvious, this COVID year has meant a good deal of time at home. I should be keeping a list of all the oddball jobs we've gotten done around here but the thing about having a house, or for that matter, a residence of any kind, means it's a never-ending battle to keep up with what needs done, let alone hit that list of wants.
So yes, some of our closets are tidier; some things have been gone through and donated such as a vintage sewing machine, or in the case of 40-something-year-old homemade prom dresses, trashed. Much remains to go through, especially in the attic, where such treasures such as those prom dresses (yes, sarcasm) lived for so long.
But because attacking the attic is overwhelming and there are all manner of sentimental, as well as practical, decisions to make, I have a new goal. Attics tend to be either hot or cold. Ours is not the easiest to access and even though I tell myself to beware of those beams, I still boink my head on one every time I'm up there.
I decided to approach the attack in a new way. Once a week, I will select one tub or box, bring it downstairs and decide what to do with the contents. This is week three. Brian even took part this week by bringing his childhood accordion downstairs. Don't ask me what will become of it. Figuring that out is on his list for this week and I will say, he's good about checking off the list.
You do find surprises when you tackle this sort of thing? I actually don't mind the chore because hey, what's one box? Even one full box?--in the scheme of things.
I solved a minor mystery. At my bridal shower 42 years ago, one of the sweet older ladies in the church congregation gifted us with a small painting. Her name was Gladys Rude, and she was well known in our community for her landscape paintings. We didn't have the funds or priorities back then to have such a gift professionally framed so I placed it in an inexpensive picture frame and somewhere along this 42-year journey, misplaced Gladys' handiwork.
For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what happened to it but in this week's edition of What We Keep, I found it tucked away in a box of miscellaneous keepsakes, half of which I tossed. But the painting? No way. I don't know that I'll frame it, but it looks pretty nifty propped inside our glass-front bookcase of my most treasured book titles.
I remember another handmade gift from that shower. There was a beautiful round braided rug made by the late Vivian Clevenger. We used it as a throw rug with little thought to it being a keepsake. It wasn't treated as such. It was made with rags from no doubt repurposed clothing. Truth is, if I'd kept it and washed it right, it would likely still be in service today.
There are other gifts from our wedding that are still used today. I think of the ultra practical yellow speckled plastic mixing bowl from the late Cleo Winters; an elegantly scalloped-edge aluminum tray with wooden handles from the shower committee (Pat Buell was on that committee and is still very much alive and well.) The late Dorothy Boggs gave us a set of place mats, napkins and napkin holders. The plac emats and napkins are gone but the wooden napkin holders remain. I still use the aluminum measuring cups and spoons from the late Barb Kaufman and the mixer from my SIL Linda Cronk remains in use when I need a hand-mixer for a boxed cake or muffins.
The surprises keep me going! Who knows what I'll find next week? A box a week, until it's done.
And now, an original Gladys Rude on display.
Member of The Greatest Generation hits the century mark
Reprinted from New Castle Courier-Times, by Donna Cronk. What better day to honor one of these amazing soldiers than today? It is my distinct honor to share these veterans' stories. Let us not forget how they saved the free world.
MIDDLETOWN — World War II veteran George H. Dunnington has a special birthday coming up, one that few experience. The Middletown resident will become 100 years old on Wednesday, July 8.
While unable to be interviewed by the newspaper, his family members Cheryl Spessert, Emily Spessert, Molly Spessert and Don Dunnington have documented his life and times in interviews through the years and provided their information to the newspaper.
Born in Slat near Monticello, Kentucky, Dunnington attended public school, finishing eighth-grade in 1935. He told daughter Cheryl Spessert in a written interview in 2001, “I quit school, that was the worst thing that happened to me ... I’d rather plow than go to school.”
His first job was farming sun-up to sun-down at $1 a day. Farm work continued, including a year in Iowa – for no pay.
“My biggest regret was that I never got a good education,” he told family.
In his teens, Dunnington moved with his family to New Castle. He worked in agriculture before getting on at Perfect Circle in Hagerstown. He lived in the New Castle area for years with all four of his children born in Henry County.
In the Army now – finally
Dunnington joined the Army in September 1942. He had tried to enlist several times but a crooked right arm from a factory accident kept him from acceptance.
Yet he wanted to go and kept begging officials to take him. Finally, he and another fellow said they should try again. This time, a doctor checked him and declared that his arm was “just right for an MI rifle.”
Dunnington told family, “I got the same arm shot up again when I got in there. I been shot a lot a places, a lot of times. Oh mercy. I got blowed up once with a bomb. It blowed my stomach apart. I been blown up from head to toe.”
Assigned to A Company of the 448 Anti-Aircraft Battalion, the soldier was trained as a gunner and became a company cook. His unit arrived in England in spring 1944.
His battalion arrived at Normandy on D-Day plus one where they supported the 35th Infantry Division. His gun crew served near the front line where they repulsed counterattacks and the liberation of Saint-Lo.
Also, the soldier was injured in the Battle of the Bulge and was evacuated to an English hospital. His injuries prevented his return to the U.S. with the 35th in September 1945, according to family.
He told family, “Being in the Army, that’s fun. When you’re in the war, that’s a different story. Man, I’ve had great big strong men lay down on the ground and cry. I said ‘Boy, get up out of the dirt.’ I said ‘We’re fighting a war.’ I never remember being scared ... I wasn’t smart enough to get scared ...”
The veteran says he escaped being killed many times. “I was pretty lucky I got out of the war as good as I was,” he says. “That old war, the funny thing to me, we went over there and we won the war. We was in the last battle, called the Battle of the Bulge, one of the worst battles there was …that’s when I was hurt and they rushed me to the hospital. The war was over when I was in the hospital. I didn’t get to come home with my boys…”
So many memories abound and paint a picture of varied experiences. He remembers surviving when his helmet was shot and he fell to the ground without injury. He also speaks of providing food to hungry French kids.
Dunnington shared with his family about a Christmas Eve in Paris during the war when the soldiers were put up in a hotel and enjoyed a massive feast. But during the night, they were spotted by Germans who blew up the hotel.
On Dec. 26 that year, he and other soldiers were taken to Bastone for two months of heavy fighting. That March, he fell on his elbow, which swelled and froze in position. At the hospital, he met a man from New Castle.
Dunnington went on to have surgery. During that time, he befriended a nurse who let him slip out and go gamble.
“They drank but I didn’t, so I really cleaned them out. I never wanted for money in London,” Dunnington told family.
After the cast was removed, he started cooking again for troops until November even though the war had ended in April.
Other memories include a terrible battle in the Argon Forest. The enemy heavily bombed their ammunition depot which fell on the soldiers. The force blew soldiers from their foxholes.
A war buddy, calling him by his nickname said, “Hack, we’ll never see New Castle again.”
But both escaped without injury. He recalls that he later learned his sister Ora prayed for him that same night.
“She knew I was in trouble and woke up her husband to join her in prayer. She busted a blood vessel in her head, and they found her in a pile of blood.”
Dunnington said if not for Ora, his brother Lloyd and his wife, “I always believed I wouldn’t have made it through the war.”
But he did make it, and he believed in the cause.
“That’s the reason I went. I don’t think any of the boys wanted to fight, but what are you going to do? Either we went there or they came here, and they were pretty close a time or two.”
Despite his injuries, he is yet to receive a Purple Heart. Paperwork had been destroyed and family is working on trying to secure the award for their hero.
After the war
Dunnington returned to New Castle in 1945, returning to Perfect Circle where he completed 23 years before transitioning to full-time Christian ministry in 1963. He became an evangelist and then pastor for congregations in Shirley, Muncie and Corydon.
He met Lucille after the war, marrying her on Aug. 29, 1947. They were married for over 53 years.
“She was a sweetheart, oh mercy she was a sweetheart,” he says of his bride. “She loved her family and oh dear, she loved her kids. She loved everybody. She couldn’t see no harm in nobody, never could …”
She passed away with Alzheimers in 2001.
The couple parented four children: Don (wife Jane) Dunnington of Oklahoma City; Gary (wife Kim) Dunnington of Indianapolis; Joy (husband Steve) Broad of Middletown and Cheryl (husband Robert) Spessert of Augusta, Georgia.
There are 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Dunnington retired in New Castle in 1987 where he remained until moving in with his daughter Joy in 2016.
Son Don Dunnington says of his father, “Dad has modeled a deep faith and strong sense of personal integrity throughout my life. He emerged from a difficult background as a young man, was injured during the war and suffered other major setbacks along the way—yet built a strong and loving family and has lived a long life of service to God and others. I am grateful to be his son.”
The veteran became a Christ follower during a revival. “A lot of things changed in my life, it just turned around completely,” he said of his conversion. “But some of the hardest, hard men in the factory became some of my best friends. That’s all I want to do, see people get right with God. I’ve never lost that desire to this day, that’s what kept me going.”
For his birthday, family is asking for cards and photos from anyone who would like to send them. They will go into an album.
All four children will be there for his birthday and are making a memory blanket with all their family’s photos “so he can be covered in love when he sits in his chair,” says daughter Cheryl.
Greetings may be sent to George Dunnington, 4424 E. County Road 400 S., Middletown, IN 47356.
Story reprinted from the June 27, 2020 New Castle Courier-Times.
by DONNA CRONK
KNIGHTSTOWN — Although Robert “Bob” Garner is from Knightstown, with the historic gym the site of numerous community and school memories, once he graduated in 1966, he never visited the building again. Until 2015.
Today, as events coordinator of The Hoosier Gym, it’s his second home – and his passion.
The gym and its storied history, both personally and due to scenes from the movie “Hoosiers” filmed there, are so meaningful to Garner that he has published a book, “Hoosiers: Eleven Life Lessons.”
In it, Garner explains what he learned about life from the movie classic.
“When you played here – the last team that played here in 1966 – you wanted to go on the road,” Garner recalls, recalling his admiration for larger gyms. “You thought it was a dump. But now, you consider it a shrine.”
He’s far from unique in holding The Hoosier Gym in such high regard. Thirty-five years after the movie was filmed, some 60,000 people a year visit the landmark where guests can view and walk through the pristine gym as it appeared both as a functioning high school facility and as a set for movie scenes.
There, they can shoot the ball from the floor and sit the bench in the locker room. Garner and 25-year volunteer Mervin Kilmer will even give you insiders’ tours.
Why he returned to town
While life took Garner away from Knightstown, it never took Knightstown away from Garner. Through the years he returned to visit family, and when the film was shown locally for the first time at The Castle Theatre in New Castle in 1986, Garner was there.
It was a meaningful experience. “I really liked it but more importantly (was) seeing Mrs. (Peggy) Mayhill on the bleachers. She had been like a second mother to me. Seeing her was a cherry on top.”
His first job, coincidentally, was covering a basketball game for her husband, publishing icon, the late Tom Mayhill.
Garner spent his working years in the medical field away from the Hoosier state. His wife passed away in 2014 from Sjogren’s Syndrome.
As a result, Garner was asked by the Sjogren’s Society to coordinate a bicycle fundraiser, launched from The Hoosier Gym and ending in Colorado. Along the way, Garner would speak about the charity to raise awareness.
In August 2015, while starting that fundraiser in the gym, Garner’s life changed.
“There was something about being in the gym,” he recalls, “that maybe I should come back and be a Hoosier again.”
Two months later, he did just that.
Back home again
It didn’t take long for Garner to volunteer at the gym. He was impressed by efforts of local volunteers to keep the landmark so special following filming of the highly lauded movie.
And of course, there was all that personal history. Today, Garner points to the bench at the end of the gym. “I grew up sitting on the bench down there,” says the former Knightstown Panther. He tells visitors that he started center on the town’s basketball team. Then comes the punch line. “Started 20 games in the center of the bench.”
Inspired by Angelo Pizzo
Garner remains in awe of “Hoosiers” screenplay writer and producer Angelo Pizzo.
“When you talk to visitors, you notice the impact the movie has on a variety of people. Why is this movie so important all these years later?” Garner asks and answers his own question. “Angelo Pizzo was a genius. He had written a script that taught so many life lessons.”
Garner set out to capture the essence of those lessons that have to do with timeless values concerning community, faith, redemption, trust and more. He viewed the movie in five-minute segments over and over, taking note of the lessons he found in the order he found them.
“If you learn them at a young age, you’ll have a foundation for a great life. If you follow them, you’ll have a great life.”
He says, “If this book is meaningful to one person, that’s all I need.”
Even before the release, Garner found “that one person” in the form of a pre-reader, a 19-year-old Knightstown graduate who read the proofs and told him how the book helped her with something she had felt the weight of on her shoulders.
The book is about 11 different themes, including change and exploring the changes people need to make without changing their core values.
One of the 11 chapter lessons is that of the theme “Trust,” which Garner explains. Each of the 11 chapters offers a new life lesson.
Kilmer encouraged Garner to write the book. He said of the movie “Hoosiers” and Garner’s new book, “Eleven Life Lessons,” may change your life.
The book release is Wednesday, July 1. From 2-7 p.m. that day, the public is welcome to show up at The Hoosier Gym and purchase signed copies from the author. Those unable to attend may visit the author’s website at elevenlife lessons.com to order them.
Garner gives a special shout out to Knightstown graduate Zoe Huntsinger for her “brilliant” work editing his copy.
Long-term, the book will be available at The Hoosier Gym where a portion of sales will benefit the gym. The author can also be reached via email at rgarner@elevenlife lessons.com. The book is $25 including tax and shipping.
“I want people to read this with an open mind to understand the brilliance of Angelo Pizzo’s script,” says the author.
The Hoosier Gym is at 355 N. Washington St., Knightstown. Phone is 765-345-2100. Visit www.thehoosier gym.com for hours and updates.
When it comes to comfort food, June may be the last month you think of.
But I would say that given the year we're all in, comfort food is perfectly appropriate. I'm going to an outdoor pitch-in tonight with a salad-supper theme. My church life group, the Midlife Moms, or MLMs for short, are having our first in-person meeting since early March.
I wanted to make something special for the occasion and thought of a 1970s classic, a Jell-O dish that is more dessert than salad, Strawberry Pretzel Salad.
I had been given the recipe in 1978 as a wedding or shower gift along with a piece of (if memory serves) yellow Tupperware. I feel sure you can find it on allrecipes.com or some other online site. I haven't made the dish in probably two decades -- or longer.
As an empty nester, my cooking these days is generally simple, and gravitates to recipes I could make in the dark. What I realized as I prepared to make this one is that it was a different time in the 1970s. First of all, when was the last time you found a recent recipe for something with Jell-O? There are three different steps involved with this recipe which involve a lot of bowls, an electric mixer, an oven, a fridge and a grocery cart full of ingredients.
I decided to gather what I needed in a separate trip to the grocery store one night after work. It's interesting how ingredients for this jewel come from a lot of different aisles. Canned goods: pineapple; Frozen foods: strawberries and Cool Whip; dairy: butter and cream cheese; Snacks: pretzels; Baking: sugar, and from another place (I don't remember the aisle for it): Jell-O.
My recipe said it's better made a day ahead so I got started yesterday and it's a good thing because I spilled the cup of pineapple juice I had set aside. So off to the store I went for another can of pineapple! (It was cheaper than a can of pineapple juice which we would never drink otherwise).
So yeah, a good thing I started a day early. Right now, the dish is chilling out and I hope my crew enjoys it tonight.
Brian and I got to talking about '70s dishes and he said he always liked that salad with lots of layers. I knew exactly what he was talking about: Seven-Layer Salad. On our regular grocery-store trip, also yesterday (the one before the one needed after I spilled the pineapple juice), we gathered the goods for that: cauliflower, green onions, Romaine lettuce, bacon, frozen peas and grated cheddar cheese. I told him the dressing makes it and I could lighten up the mayo-sugar combo it calls for. He said no, he'd rather have our Light Ranch.
I made it after I did the strawberry dish and we both loved it. This dish, too, requires a lot of ingredients. I think for the two recipes alone, you can expect a pretty full grocery cart.
Not dishes I would make every day. But that's OK. Sometimes a food trip to the '70s is refreshing, as are both these beauties.
What would be on YOUR list for a summer comfort food?
It's Memorial Day and I'm thinking of the untold number of soldiers who died so that we could keep our beautiful country, families, friends, and communities living in freedom! This nation has its flaws and has always been filled with flawed leaders and policies, but it's the greatest nation ever known to mankind. I am thankful and grateful to be an American.
I'm thinking of my two favorite veterans today, both having passed on, and remembering how much I miss them. There's my father-in-law Ray, who served in major European-front WW II battles and survived -- he didn't think he would.
There's my brother, Tim, who passed in March. I still can't believe I'm writing that sentence ... Tim served in Vietnam.
I saw something about the history of our hometown on a Facebook page and thought instantly that I needed to talk to him about the cool post... I will miss him every day of the rest of my life.
His ashes were buried in my hometown graveyard, surrounded by plots containing our parents, my brother David, his wife Janet, and precious infants of nieces who have gone on before him. The day after Tim's service, we were told at the newspaper to go home and stay there, doing our jobs from home, due to the virus.
I didn't know if I could. Any success I would have with working from home depended on the kindness of people in the communities we cover. Would people work with me in returning calls to a phone number they didn't recognize? Would they take the time and energy from their own lives as either essential workers or while undergoing challenges of isolation to answer email questions for stories? What about take and send me photos to go with stories?
So tomorrow will be the first semi-normal day I've had since the day after Tim's burial. I'll be back in the office, assuming my normal part-time workweek schedule, although we are still to work via email and phone as much as possible for a while longer.
A couple weeks ago we visited my SIL Jeannie, Tim's wife. She handed us a plastic bag brimming with books. On the outside of the bag it read "To DONNA & BRIAN."
It was from Tim. Tim was an avid reader of all kinds of books, and he would make a selection from his vast library regularly and almost every time we saw him, we went home with a bag of books.
Tim had prepared a final bag of eclectic volumes for us at some point before he passed on ... it felt at once incredibly sad, and sweet -- bittersweet -- to take home those last books he wanted us to have. I'm saving the bag and took a photo of the selection so I would have it and remember Tim's thoughtfulness. Of course I will forever remember Tim. No photo is needed for that memory. But I have some to treasure.
By DONNA CRONK
Reprinted from the Saturday, May 2, 2020 New Castle Courier-Times. Last in a series looking at how local people with special challenges cope and hope during the coronavirus pandemic and their advice for you.
When you walk into Hinsey-Brown Funeral Service, it might be hard to say which you notice first about Wanda Jones--her pleasant smile or her big heart.
While part of her job working in advance planning and aftercare is to support those who grieve, it's her empathy that extends beyond a paycheck. She's no stranger to personal grief.
The tenth baby born in 1964 to the late Felix and Lovie Dishman, Wanda's mother died unexpectedly at 54 when Wanda was entering her teens. Her father died in 2007 after a brief illness, and months later, her best friend lost her life in a car accident.
Recently, grief visited Wanda again with the sudden March 9 passing of her beloved husband of 35 years, Steve, from a heart attack.
World is upside down
"Now I find myself trying to navigate this same path that I have walked with others," says Wanda. "My world has been turned upside down. I am in the depths of my grief and reality is beginning to settle in. The timing with social distancing has not been my friend."
Steve's viewing and funeral were days before the COVID-19 restrictions began.
"I am so thankful we didn't have limitations at that time," Wanda says. "Our family is huge and we had family come from five-or-more states to support us. My heart goes out to those now who are having to do things so differently. It just complicates things so much more."
Wanda says social distancing is difficult in itself but combined with losing a loved one, "it can be completely devastating. The support of family and friends is so vital when you are grieving."
Together, the couple have four children, April Forrest, Erica Jones, Ashley Denton and Shane Jones; 10 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
Wanda has four sisters, Linda Loveless, Brenda Polston, Gale Poor and Joy Dishman-Harris; four brothers, Dave, Steve, Bob and Larry Dishman, and a stillborn brother, James.
Born in Springport, Wanda and family later moved to Winchester, then back to Henry County. She graduated high school at 16 via homeschooling.
Love of her life
"I met Steve when I was 19," Wanda recalls, adding that they married two years later on Feb. 15, 1985.
"He was 14 years older than me, and honestly, some of my family and friends were concerned that it wouldn't last but this past February we celebrated 35 years of marriage."
They loved to travel and vacation time was a priority. "I don't think we ever missed a year without one or more vacations," Wanda says. "Our family enjoyed many camping and fishing trips every summer."
Wanda came to respect and appreciate Hinsey-Brown while working with with staff there when she sold advertising for this newspaper.
Their services then brought her care and comfort when her dad and best friend both died within six months.
New fulfilling career
Ten years ago Wanda hoped to move into a part-time career that would be both enriching and fulfilling. She learned of an aftercare position at Hinsey-Brown.
Wanda said she had no experience "except for my own grief. They decided to give me a chance ..."
She became certified in bereavement care, and has additional training from grief educator-counselor, Dr. Alan Wolfelt.
"It soon became my passion to walk beside those who are grieving," says Wanda. "Not try to fix them or take away their pain, but just walk with them, be a companion to them, and stand witness to their grief. I have learned so much in the last 10 years from those who have traveled this journey."
Ways to help those who grieve
As for advice for those who grieving while social distancing, Wanda is willing to share what is getting her through.
"I can only think about today, how can I get through today," Wanda says. "I cannot at all look to the future. I am learning the meaning of one day at a time, sometimes it's more like an hour at a time or even a minute."
She continues. "Every morning when I get up, I know that God provided me the strength I needed to get through yesterday; he will do the same today."
Wanda finds working and a routine helpful. "Evenings and weekends are hard because that was our time together. But getting back to work has helped. I have been outside when I can, exercise helps, I planted some flowers this (last) weekend. But there are other times I just have to sit with the grief and let it in."
When it comes to helping those who are isolated, Wanda suggests phone calls. "You don't have to have any great words of wisdom. Just be a good listener and when this social distancing is over we all know your time is the greatest gift you can give someone."
Wanda finds comfort in all those who have reached out to say they are praying for her and in photos, stories, notes and cards that arrive when she needs them.
"I have been overwhelmed and amazed at the support I have received from family and friends and even older friends I hadn't seen in years, who will text or call and a few have stopped by just to talk a minute from their cars."
"I think sometimes people don't know if they should call or mention your loved one in a conversation," Wanda says. "I know from what I have learned from others and now what I know from my own experience is yes, we want to talk about our loss. We want to hear what you remember about our loved one and we want to tell our story. Yes I may cry, but that's OK."
Wanda continues. "I need to cry. I try not to apologize if I break down. I love my husband deeply and I want to grieve him well. This deep pain of grief is a sign that I have given and received love."
Seeking joy to come
Wanda says she will intentionally seek to find joy in the life she has left. "Sometimes it seems so dark, but then we are given a ray of sunshine through the laughter of a child, or the singing of the birds, or a sweet memory that comes out of nowhere."
She continues. "I want to savor these moments and thank God for his blessings."