Donna Cronk photo // For The Courier-Times // Magician Marcus Lehmann prepares to "saw" Fayth Koontz in half. But the gag was much more campy than scary, and Koontz reported afterward that she loved it and never misses the magician's return to the fair. She's been attending the show since she was 1.
It happens every August, at the same time the Indiana State Fair is under way, and long after all the county 4-H fairs have wrapped up. It's not 4-H based and there's no corporate sponsor, unless you count the corporate efforts of volunteers on the fair board who run the big show in a seamless manner. These are farmers and retirees, working folks and more than anything, their qualifications are hard work and a love for Mooreland, Indiana and its annual fair.
The Mooreland Free Fair, to be exact, although I often refer to it fondly as The Mooreland World's Fair.
When you enter the fairgrounds on the southern edge of this small northeastern-Henry County town during this festival, you might think you've arrived inside a time capsule and the year is 1952. Oddly, I could get no phone service on my cell from the grounds. Maybe it is 1952 and cellphones have not been invented.
Fairgoers can enter their pumpkins, eggs and other agricultural products. Or, they can enter their kids or grandkids in kiddie pedal pulls or baby contests. You can enjoy the finest bowl of ham and beans with a side of cornbread this side of heaven, prepared by the local Friends Church volunteers. There's a carnival, a building filled with local and state politicians and business people and moms with side jobs selling various goods. There are the Cornfield Cloggers to watch, or the magician, parade or talent shows.
There are queen and princess candidates, tractor and truck pulls. There are couples who appear to have been married for decades walking around holding hands. There are overall-clad farmers right out of central casting filling benches to watch the crowd. People just seem to flat like The Mooreland Free Fair. They like it a lot.
It is a throw-back festival with no sign of dying.
And of course, my newspaper, The Courier-Times, covers the Mooreland Free Fair.
This year I had the opportunity to work two things I have never done before, in 35 years of community reporting. One was an antique tractor pull; the other a family-friendly magic show. I decided to approach it the way I approach anything I cover: Why is this activity important to these people? Why does the community at large care?
So I called the magician early and got some background. He left me a saved seat for the show.
And I talked to the tractor pull guys before it was time to start their engines. What interested me was how they had more to say about the relationships with each other than of boasting of their mutual competitive drives.
Here's the tractor-pull story which ran Wednesday in The Courier-Times.
I'm almost 60 but when you work in community journalism, there's always something new. Even if it's something old and charming such as The Mooreland Free Fair -- no, make that The Mooreland World's Fair.
Antique tractor pull: 'It's a friendly competition'
By DONNA CRONK - email@example.com
MOORELAND — For Ron Peavler, who lives near Mechanicsburg, the antique tractor pull at the Mooreland Fair is not so much about winning as it is about enjoying friends and reliving memories.
“It’s a friendly competition,” he said. “Everybody knows everybody.”
Monday night, he entered his 1953 Oliver Row Crop 88.
“It’s what I grew up with as a kid,” said Ron of the vintage model. “We helped different farmers and we had these kind of tractors.”
The pull brings back memories. “I came here as a kid and watched them (pulls),” he said.
But now he’s making new memories. His son, Ron Peavler Jr., was the team’s driver Monday night.
“I like to be able to hang out with my dad and my brother,” the younger Peavler said of his favorite part of participating in the pull.
Their tractor is 150 horsepower now, a far cry from the 36 to 42 it contained new out of the factory. While he’s participated for several years, the senior Peavler jokes that he’s “still a rookie.”
Definitely not a rookie is Richard Winter, originally from the Sulphur Springs/Middletown area and now of Yorktown. He’s been coming to the Mooreland Fair since he was a little kid.
“The town’s not changed much and the fair’s not changed much either,” said Winter, who’s won a few pulls. In Monday’s show, he entered a 1954 McCormick Farmall 400.
“I’ve been doing this off and on since I got back from Vietnam in the ’70s,” he said of pulling.
He and his brother used to team up but now, “I pull when I feel like it. I bought this thing. It looked terrible,” deadpans Winter, adding that the tractor is “all beefed up” now.
Winter said a stock tractor would “probably never get the sled going.” The sled is what contains the weight that the tractors pull as far as they can.
But the best part of the pull for Winter seems to come in the friendships.
“A lot of it’s just seeing the guys I’ve known all the years,” said Winters, adding that it’s like family. Working with him Monday night was his nephew, Al Winter.
When asked why he enters tractor pulls, Dick Gettinger of Springport said, “It’s in the blood.” Relative Brian Gettinger of Knightstown said, “Our family’s been pulling for 60-plus years.”
The Gettingers brought Dick’s 1957 Minneapolis Moline 445. Dick laughed about it, saying, “It’s a piece of junk. It wasn’t running when we got it. So we tinkered.”
Perhaps the tractor is not junk, after all. The Gettingers said it has placed in the top five many times.
Brian said of working on tractors, “Some of the new stuff’s easier, but I enjoy working on the old stuff more.”
Dale Marling and Delbert Hertel brought tractors from Liberty to enter in the pull.
“It’s just a neat place to pull,” Marling said of the Mooreland venue.
Yesterday a letter (and pop-up card) arrived from a woman named June whom I have never met, but who saved newspaper clippings of my articles as well as copies of her magazine for women, to share with a friend of hers, Linda, who lives in Liberty, my hometown.
I should say lived in my hometown, because June's letter yesterday was to tell me that her friend passed away in February. June had told me that Linda had been to one of my signings, and asked if I would send her friend an encouraging note. I did just that a couple times, wishing her well in battling her illness. I am sorry to hear that she passed.
In this throw-away as well as often paperless society we live in, I'm touched to know that someone would actually take the time and effort to save articles that I write and that someone else would be happy to get them.
Yesterday's letter, which arrived in the bright green envelope above, is the latest in my stack of reader snail mail. This stack was started when my second book, That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland, came out approaching two years ago. I filed away the mail that had arrived after the first book, up until summer 2016.
The envelope on top of the stack is what I mailed back to June. You'll notice a sticker of a bird. I like to put stickers on my mail because I like getting letters with stickers on them. I always tell them at work that when I get a handwritten envelope with a sticker on the back (or sometimes on the front in one or more corner), I know that person "comes in peace."
Often I'm asked if I'm working on a third book. I can't say it won't happen, or that it will. But I can promise you that not a day passes when I'm "not" writing one thing or another: features for the newspaper, emails to a variety of friends, upcoming programs and something new in recent months: Wednesday devotions for Ovid Community Church. I have the Wednesday slot and I'm trusting the Holy Spirit for continued inspiration. If you are interested in seeing them or other devotions and posts, let me know and I'd be happy to add you to the group. (Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Meanwhile, I invited June, and I'm inviting you too, to my free program at Senior Living at Forest Ridge in New Castle at 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 10. There's a free brunch, then program and the promise of a "lively discussion." I'm bringing a door prize and yes, a few copies of my books, if anyone is interested in buying signed copies or visiting with me after.
If interested, give Senior Living a ring at 765-521-4740 and tell them you'd like to attend. If you don't know where it is, put 2800 Forest Ridge Parkway in your GPS. The program is for the monthly Social Society and community members are welcome.
Meanwhile, let me say I'm grateful to those who continue to read these posts, take The Courier-Times, read my books or inquire about what I'm working on. Read on and I'll write on, good Lord willing.
Back in the winter, (don't you like using the word winter in the past tense?), LauraLisa out at Senior Living at Forest Ridge invited me to speak to the April brunch of the Social Society. It's free to any retiree who would like to come by. Just call to let them know you are coming so they will have enough food.
I decided to switch things up and do a new program for those attending. I've selected three posts from right here on my Home Row blog, and tweaked them for a "live audience." I'll be talking about basketball, newspapering and grocery shopping with the husband. There's time for questions about these or other topics, and yes, I'm bringing along a door prize. Best of all, it's free! So come on out to beautiful Senior Living at Forest Ridge, the place I tell folks that I'd like to be put in layaway.
While I'm plugging an upcoming program, here's a run down of some places I'll be speaking this busy spring. As I've said before, I could never have guessed that the "tour" continues, but it does, and it takes on new aspects. Maybe I'll see you on the road. We have a good time.
Donna Cronk / New Castle Courier-Times photo // Karen and Eric Haler are interviewed by CBN 700 Club Producer Shannon Woodland in their New Castle home Tuesday. The 700 Club is doing extensive interviews for an upcoming segment on the Halers' son, Joel, and what is credited as nothing less than a miracle that he is walking.
Note: I wrote the following article on deadline for the New Castle Courier-Times Tuesday. It appears in today's newspaper.
The C-T has previously written about Joel's sudden healing. This time, I was invited into the home of his parents, Eric and Karen Haler, to watch the taping by the Christian Broadcasting Network's 700 Club program which airs internationally.
It was a treat to sit a few feet away from the taping and take notes on what unfolded in the interview. It's a much simpler process than one might imagine.
From CBN were the producer / interviewer Shannon Woodland and two technical professionals who handled lighting and sound. A few large lights were placed in the room as what you might find in a professional photography studio. Sound equipment was put in place, including small microphones on the Halers. The technical twosome stood in the back of the room with cameras.
Shannon, wearing casual jeans, boots and sweater, and holding a coffee cup throughout the segment, sat in front of the Halers, who were seated on chairs from their home in the middle of the living room.
The producer had no problem with me covering the session, I just couldn't take photos during the interview. I took them during equipment checks moments before the taping.
CBN had been in Indy Monday as the producer vetted the story, and had been to interview Joel, who now lives in California. Today Shannon is interviewing the young boy mentioned in the story.
Meanwhile, I had an email out to Joel with a list of questions for the story, and got some photos from his folks to use right before deadline. You never know when you put together a story if there will be space for one, two or several photos so you have to be ready, complete with captions.
The CBN staff and the Halers were all great to work with and I am grateful for the experience with "big-platform" faith-based media. Shannon wanted to read my story when it was printed and I had an email from her first thing this morning that she thought it was well done.
As a small-town reporter / editor, you never know what stories might fall into your lap. It's one reason I have always loved what I do.
Halers recall 'day of great joy'
By DONNA CRONK
As a college athlete, 2012 New Castle High School graduate Joel Haler was in great physical shape. Yet he suddenly found his legs totally paralyzed one October day in 2013.
Doctors and rounds of testing yielded no apparent medical reason for the paralysis. True, he has degenerative disc disease, diagnosed at age 14, and heard a pop in his back before the paralysis. But those things did not explain to medical professionals why he suddenly could not move or feel his legs.
Yet three months later, on Jan. 23, he woke up, felt excruciating pain run through his legs, and then, he could walk again.
Joel’s story has been told in The Courier-Times as well as in big-media platforms such as Inside Edition and Guideposts magazine. On Tuesday, the internationally-viewed Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) arrived in New Castle to unpack the story with Joel’s parents, Karen and Eric Haler, and his brother, Abraham. A sister, Rebekah, was unable to be there.
CBN 700 Club Producer Shannon Woodland interviewed Joel separately as he is pursuing a master’s degree in divinity at Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding, California.
Joel offered an update on how he's doing. These days, he’s feeling “perfectly normal and thriving.” When asked how his sudden ability to walk again changed him, Joel said, “It has shaped my worldview into the reality that Jesus is the center of it all. He wants to heal people today and he’s looking for ordinary people to take a risk for him. It has catapulted me into full-time ministry to see his kingdom here.”
Tuesday morning, the CBN producer and two technical professionals set up a remote-location studio in the Halers’ New Castle living room and taped the family’s story. The Halers were asked to speak about Joel’s life before the ordeal. They detailed how their son was never “the best” basketball player, but he had a strong work ethic and drive to always get better. In fact, he holds the state’s third-place all-time record for best 3-point percentage.
At 14, he was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease and often had back pain but worked through it. A scholarship took him to Hope College in Michigan and things were going well until the family got a call that October day of his sophomore year.
Joel told his father that he had heard a loud pop while exercising . Then came tingling toes and leg pain. An MRI found nothing wrong. But the next morning, his legs were completely paralyzed.
A physical therapist friend expressed real concern for Joel. Eric decided to go get his boy. When Joel’s friends placed his wheelchair in the truck for the ride back to New Castle, Eric recalled with tears, “His legs were dangling. That’s when it hit hard for me.”
Joel spent 11 days in the hospital where doctors had no explanation for why he couldn’t walk. But Eric recalls his son’s faith that he would walk again. He left college and moved back in with his folks, dependent on a wheelchair. His mother could see he was not himself.
“I could just tell it was eating at him,” she said.
The producer said Joel told her in an interview, '“He just gave it to God. Jesus came in and really did a major work.”'
“His faith was going to a whole new level,” Eric added.
Karen said she always believed her son would walk again, but didn’t want his expectations to be shattered. “We’ve seen prayers answered the way we would not want them to be answered,” she said.
Then some mysterious things happened. Joel had a dream that involved a calendar with J23 on it. A little boy at New Covenant Church where Eric is pastor, told Joel on a Sunday morning he would walk on a Thursday. Eric dreamed that he was on the phone getting Joel admitted to a rehab center when in the dream, Joel walked out of his bedroom.
Then, in the early morning of Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, Joel woke up to severe pain in his legs. Moments later, he was able to walk. Just like that. He got up, made coffee and went to stand in the doorway of his parents’ bedroom. His mother thought it was his brother Abraham, but got a surprise when she heard, “It’s me, Joel.”
The family members burst out of their beds and started hugging, celebrating and crying in awe.
“That was a day of great joy,” Eric said.
Joel has walked ever since.
“There are many people that have reached out to me explaining to me that my story has brought them hope, filled them with joy and allowed them to be touched by the love of Jesus,” Joel said.
He was able to return to college and graduated in 2017 with a major in communications and minor in leadership.
Eric said the healing has demonstrated God’s goodness, adding, "God is still alive and he does great things.”
The 700 Club piece, which will air at an undetermined time within weeks, is the latest in the media attention and speaking opportunities Joel’s experience has generated. He said it has been thrilling to see God move through his story and see people healed, find hope, “and experience a joy that only comes from him.”
It’s spring 1973. I’m in eighth-grade at Liberty Junior High School.
There was no high school-orientation night to plot our high school courses. I don’t remember signing up for freshman year other than my mother’s strong feelings about one thing.
She said I should take typing; that I would use it.
That fall I learned that everything in typing begins on home row, and soon our sweet business-skills teacher, Ethel Sharp, helped us expand our range to other rows on the keyboard.
My friend Cheryl Rodenburg also took typing that fall. One weekend, we decided to borrow her step-grandmother’s portable typewriter and practice our Typing I skills.
We thought it would be fun to create a weekly newspaper in Philomath, the farm community where she lived.
Philomath, in the northwest tip of Union County, Indiana, isn’t an incorporated town, and there are no businesses. But there was a street light outside the Rodenburg home (actually, a security light, no doubt billed to the family). There were several houses in the neighborhood and a lot of cars and tractors passing through the main drag. City life when compared to our much more isolated farm.
I felt so alive that weekend; in love with our newspaper project. Whereas three years earlier we spent weekends in marathon sessions playing with Barbies, this was a new era and I knew it.
I felt as though I could work on our little newspaper 24/7 and I would never tire of it, ever, ever. The power of the press had reached Philomath! And I knew that whatever stories we came up with about the neighborhood, the people would read them. They might have suggestions for more stories, and feel a sense of pride at being in print.
But with only home row under our belts that weekend, we weren’t yet skilled enough to pull off a weekly newspaper, or even one issue.
I ached with a desire to type fluently, stringing not just pecked-out words but sentences, and paragraphs together, to doing something I couldn’t quite verbalize the significance of, but it amounted to making that keyboard sing with the poetry of everyday people’s stories.
At home, there sat an ancient typewriter in the back of a closet. Mom unearthed it, but it was heavy as a Model T, and the keys had to be pushed hard into submission to gather enough ink off the old ribbon to leave a print.
Back in typing class, we kept getting better. Every beginner’s goal became the chance to move up from the manual typewriter to the modern IBM Selectric. I still recall the hum and slight vibration of the machine under my fingers, and the way the keys clicked so easily compared to the clack of non-electric keys. When my fingers sat on home row of that Selectric, I felt as a race horse must feel, itching to get out of the starting gate and move.
The sound of typing became music to my ears, a symphony when others typed at the same time. As the years rolled on, I joined the high school newspaper staff, became editor my senior year, and then studied journalism in college.
It was there I was introduced to video display terminals (VDTs) that we used in 1980s and 1990s newspapering.
What had not changed were the sounds and appeal of creating news stories, just as we had attempted as beginner typists that fall in Philomath. Only by the early 1980s, there was a screen and a curser and it felt so space-age to backspace and delete a stray character rather than attempt a neat job with the typewriter eraser or correction fluid.
Of course computers changed everything. The keyboards were connected to nothing short of the world and all its information in the form of the internet. But it also meant that everyone else was connected to the world. Would they still need local newspapers?
At some point, the clickity-clack of newsroom Associated Press bulletins and breaking news, as well as features and stock reports that printed out of that magical AP wire machine became obsolete. Computers silently transmitted all that copy to us.
As the years continued, many smaller papers stopped using their own presses and instead, printed at centralized locations.
At one time, a newspaper office was a noisy place. The press rolled, the keyboards of first typewriters, then VDTs, then computers clicked. The AP wire machine cranked out copy. People came and went in open-concept newsrooms and advertising departments.
You learned to concentrate in the midst of much noise and many disruptions. You didn’t think about it. Or if you did, you thought it was great to be a part of the pre-deadline mix; that it would all come together, somehow, as if by magic, into a printed newspaper. And it would all happen again the next day.
Most days now, someone comes by the newspaper office and says, “Sure is quiet in here.”
It’s true, too. Our Mac keyboards are so quiet that reporters with light touches can’t even be heard typing. The silence is deafening to where sometimes I think: Are we really making a paper? It's all happening so quietly.
At some point, I trashed my mother’s typewriter, that jet-black, heavy-as-a-Model-T number. As Brian would say, I was in one of my cleaning frenzies.
In the newspaper office, we were gifted with the typewriter that belonged to long-time owner Walter Chambers. It sits on his desk that his family also gave us. They thought his things should be at the newspaper.
The only other typewriter in the building rests above our old-time morgue, where old stories were clipped and stored for future reference. The typewriter typed the name of the topics of those stories on small envelopes. We never use that typewriter anymore. But no one is inclined to toss it out either.
I think back to October 1973 and the craving to know how to make a keyboard sing. I wanted to type fast and make newspapers.
It’s fall 2017. I’m in my thirty-fourth year as a paid community journalist. I still want to type fast and make newspapers.
Maybe some things don't change.
This coming Friday, Oct. 16, has been 175 years in the making. We're throwing a party for the paper, one of Indiana's oldest continuously operating newspapers.
For months, we've written stories heavy on New Castle Courier-Times history, personalities and inside stories. For weeks, we've invited special guests, gathered some cool door prizes, and worked to spruce up the place at 201 S. 14th St., New Castle. Today's blog that follows is a reprint of my wrap-up article in today's Sunday paper. I can hardly wait for Friday! And I can't wait to see you, either! So come over, 10-3; free meal, sign up for door prizes and prepare to party like it's 1840!
In The Courier-Times photo are staffers Hope Stevens and Stacie Wrightsman who are pulling out the old landscaping on our front patio area. Tomorrow -- a landscaping crew is arriving and will be giving us a new garden.
Here's the story:
The Courier-Times is having a 175th birthday party and you are invited.
There will be food, a variety of door prizes, visits with community columnists and personalities, a reunion of former employees and visits with all current staff. The open house is 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday on the patio and inside the newspaper, 201 S. 14th St., New Castle. It’s all free.
Courier-Times Publisher Bob Hansen said that the newspaper has a long, proud history in Henry County and that the staff works diligently to chronicle the county’s progress.
“Our open house will be a time to share with the community,” Hansen said. “We are happy that several of our business friends have decided to share the occasion with us by providing door prizes and some of the food for those who attend. We hope readers will come to meet with some of those whose work is featured in our pages.”
At press time, the door prizes include: a recliner and two glider rockers donated by Myers Furniture; a gift basket from Michelle Frazier / Edward Jones; a gift basket from Balinda VanHook / Mary Kay; oil changes from Goodwin Brothers; a 12x12 carpet remnant from Henry County Flooring; a gift basket from Glen Oaks Health Campus; a gift basket from Heather Drake / Rodan & Friends; gift cards from Montgomery’s Steakhouse; a gift basket from MainSource; a free pizza from Noble Romans; a basket of goodies from Temptations; a gift basket from Twisted Scissors; pillows from Mattress USA and a gift from the YMCA.
While guests need not be present to win, the only way they can sign up for the drawing is during the 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. event. Prize winners’ names will be drawn at 3 p.m. and notified shortly thereafter.
Lunch is on us
New Castle-Henry County Kiwanis will staff the grills on the newspaper patio for the duration of the open house and the sandwiches will be served free of charge, along with mac and cheese donated by KFC, cole slaw donated by Lee’s Famous Recipe and homemade birthday cake baked by C-T Missed Delivery Manager Tena Palmer. Iced tea, lemonade and ice water will be served with the meal. The Courier-Times is providing the hot dogs and Knightstown Locker donated the burgers.
The newspaper office is freshly painted in part of the building, thanks to Ace Hardware. The front garden is getting a landscaping makeover by Pro Green.
A variety of local guests and one Indianapolis media personality will be present to visit with readers.
Humor columnist and author Dick Wolsie, Indianapolis, will be at the paper starting at noon to meet and greet readers and offer some of his books for sale and signing. Wolfie, a syndicated columnist, is often featured in The Courier-Times.
Long-time columnist Chuck Avery of Hagerstown will be at the paper from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to visit with those attending. He will have copies of some of his books available as well.
New Castle historians and authors, including former Courier-Times Managing Editor Darrel Radford and historian Doug Magers, will be at the paper to visit and to sell copies of their book about New Castle history. They will be at the paper from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Courier-Times Neighbors columnist and artist Stacey Torres will display her art and have copies of her cookbook for sale from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Hagerstown artist Tom Butters will display art during a portion of the open house and frequent Courier-Times contributor and author Rex Bell will be at the paper with copies of his book from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Also attending is Lisa Perry, former Managing Editor of The Courier-Times and author of the book, “Looking for Catherine: Memoirs of a House That Spoke.” She will visit, sell and sign her book from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Perry will also host the evening Spirit Stroll, an event she created last year. The stroll is at 5:30 p.m. and those attending should call to sign up for planning purposes by noon, Wednesday, Oct. 14. Call: 765-575-4619.
Joining her at both the open house and the Spirit Stroll is Steve Miller, owner of New Castle’s Thornhaven Manor, featured on the SyFy series Ghost Adventures. Miller will accompany the Spirit Stroll tour and sell T-shirts at the Courier from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.. For more information on Thornhaven Manor and Halloween trick or treating activities there, like the webpage at Facebook.com/Thornhavenmanor.
“So what downtown building is haunted by an apparition affectionately known as ‘Margaret?’” asks Perry. “Do the courthouse elevators have unseen fingers pushing the buttons? Which location, a former morgue and funeral parlor, now hosts glowing balls of light that have been spotted floating from room to room?”
She says for the answer to these and many more questions, RSVP for the event.
Staff, past and present
While everyone is invited to the free meal during the entire open house, a special invite is issued to all former employees to make connections with each other at 11:30 a.m. when they can visit and share memories together.
Current staff members will all be present to chat with the public, readers and advertisers specifically from noon to 2 p.m. and at other times during the day when available.