Orginally published in the New Castle Courier-Times.
By DONNA CRONK
KNIGHTSTOWN — It’s early Tuesday evening at Christ Fellowship Church, 4833 Ind. 109, north of Knightstown. Inside the building, lively Christmas music plays. Tables brim with school supplies and shoes, clothing and toys. Children and adult helpers are busily moving from one table to the next, filling plastic shoebox-size containers.
The reusable containers are destined for under-served children around the world in more than 100 countries who will open boxes loaded with small gifts.
The project is more than a random act of kindness, it’s an operation – Operation Christmas Child, (OCC) a ministry sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse.
Late October through middle November is crunch time, as the boxes are collected from individuals and churches throughout the land, and dropped at 4,000 locations throughout the U.S. to go on to global distribution.
Leads the county
Last year, Christ Fellowship Church filled the most boxes of any Henry County church with 233. Pastor Matthew Norman said the project is led by volunteers; Hannah Cordle in particular.
“It’s Hannah’s heart do do this,” he said Tuesday night.
Cordle, a Shenandoah High School and Ball State University graduate who is a chef at Primrose Schools in Fishers, is a children’s leader at Christ Fellowship, a church that she has been a part of nearly all her life.
She’s taken part in OCC for a long time and has led the project for three years at her church. She didn’t realize that the church was the highest contributor in the county until The Courier-Times told her.
Her reason for believing in the OCC project is this. “It spreads the gospel to the countries, to the children,” says Cordle. “Gifts are fun and all that but it’s temporary. It’s about them knowing the Lord and feeling loved.”
The number of filled boxes this church provides has increased on Cordle’s watch. This year’s goal, despite the challenges provided by COVID-19, says Norman, is to fill 300 shoeboxes.
Cordle explains how each box ideally contains a wow item (a bigger toy, for example), smaller toys, school supplies and a personal note. The boxes are filled with items appropriate to a given child’s gender and age with the boxes labeled accordingly.
Christ Fellowship’s technique is to view the project as a year-round endeavor, not merely a seasonal fall project. Cordle and her friends collect quality items for the boxes year-round when they go on deep discount.
For example, she found a great buy on cute sandals at a buck a pair. She spent $35 and saved $500 on full retail for the shoes. Another example is finding a buy on nice shirts for $1 each.
Cordle says it’s important to her that the children receive quality items. That’s where buys on seasonal-clearance sales come in.
A year’s worth of finds are collected, then spread out on tables as they were Tuesday when the church’s kids and parents arrive to enjoy a packing party.
A couple of the kids there commented. Said Kristian Tompkins, “I like helping children who are in need.”
Said Jackson Smith, “I like how we get to give people gifts that can’t have gifts.”
Pastor Norman said of the project, “It’s a good cause. We’ve been to Africa. We’ve seen where these boxes go.”
He explained how he would see a child who had never seen a crayon try to eat it before being shown how to use it, for example.
There are two local drop-off sites for individuals or churches to deliver boxes.
Both churches have various hours from Monday, Nov. 16 through Monday, Nov. 23. Call the individual churches for those hours.
They are: First Baptist Church, 709 S. Memorial Drive, New Castle, phone 529-2687 and New Testament Church of Christ, 752 W. Main St. Hagerstown, phone 489-5762.
All boxes dropped off at any of the collection sites will be collected by helpers outside the facilities, as COVID precautions dictate.
...Pack another box
Area Coordinator of Operation Christmas Child is Sue Bousman, 84, of Yorktown. She’s been serving in this role for 26 years. It’s been a ministry she and her late husband, Bill, enjoyed together, and her son plans to take it over.
“It’s been a passion of mine and my husband’s, especially his,” she says. In fact, instead of flowers for his funeral, people were asked to bring shoeboxes.
Last year, in the East Central Indiana district alone, 12,000 boxes were processed. They fed into the 10.9 million boxes that were distributed to children in more than 100 countries.
Bousman family members got together this year to remember Bill a year after his passing by having a packing party for OCC. Sue said 39 family members including Bill’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren came and packed 85 boxes.
Sue told her grandchildren, “Your grandpa would not want you to cry. He would want you to pack another box.”
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.
It’s amazing what you can adjust
to when you have no other choice’
Second in a three-part series in the New Castle Courier-Times about local people who deal with special challenges during this time of quarantine. Their stories are about how they cope and hope not only now but routinely, and their advice for us. Tomorrow: Wanda Jones.
By DONNA CRONK
SPICELAND – In 1998, at age 31, Amie Thornburg was a young wife of Pat Thornburg and mother of their little girls, Emily, 6, and Lindsey, nearly 2.
The Tri graduate who attended both Purdue and Ball State also worked in exports for SMC Pneumatics in Indy. It was then that she was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“ALS basically causes your muscles to quit working. Eventually, all of your muscles,” Amie says, adding that she was able to work for several years after the diagnosis, as well as do many things because the disease has been slow to progress in her, “which is usually not the case,” she adds.
“Most people are told to expect to survive 2-5 years after diagnosis,” says Amy. There remains no cure.
For sure, Amie and family have had to adapt to her disability. Yet today, she continues to lead a full life where the name of her blog, “An incurably happy life,” says it all. (Visitors are welcome: https://incurablyhappylife.wordpress.com/).
The couple’s daughters are now 27 and 23, and the empty-nester couple even travels together via RV where the equipment Amie needs is easily accessible. Amie even has her own etsy shop where she enjoys selling vintage items in her store, called Zuzues Petals (at https://www.etsy.com/shop/ZuzuesPetals).
“I type and am able to use my laptop through the use of a computer program and eye gaze system called Tobil,” says Amie. “I spend a lot of time on my laptop since I cannot physically do anything by myself.”
As normal as possible
Amie says she and her family live their lives as normally as possible. “Doing anything with a disability requires lots of extra time and lots of planning and extra work, but most things are doable,” she says.
Several years ago, she planned a family vacation to Ireland. “I was in a wheelchair then too, so it was tricky, but we did it and had an amazing trip,” Amie says. “My husband and I go on vacation, these days usually in our RV. We have started spending part of our winters in a warmer climate, like Florida, except this year, unfortunately.”
The RV makes travel easier with ready access to her wheelchair, BiPAP machine, shower chair and other supplies. While the trips are a welcome break, mostly, Amie is at home.
“Adapting to always being in my house, due to my disability, came slowly,” she says. “As I was able to do less and less on my own, I stayed in more and more. It didn’t happen overnight, luckily, unlike the COVID-19 virus, where everyone was suddenly told to stay home. Adapting is also easier when you have no choice. I can’t physically go out on my own, so, unless someone helps me, a lot, I don’t go anywhere…”
Amie is at higher risk when it comes to the pandemic, which includes a decreased lung function, “so if I got this virus or even any pneumonia, I don’t know that I would survive it. Likely not. This is serious stuff, yet I don’t think we can stop living our lives.”
She says she possibly feels a bit safer due to widespread caution. “I don’t know how I’ll feel once everyone is back to work, and living their normal lives, probably a bit nervous because it would be so serious if I were to get sick.”Amie and Pat have reduced contact with people as much as possible, including not having family in as per usual.
“My husband still has to go out fairly regularly just to get supplies for us and our animals,” Amie says. “He tries to be cautious. It’s tough because I do need help with every daily function and a patient life.”
She speaks of the effort and help required for every trip to the bathroom, bathing, dressing and eating. “I have to have someone else come over to help me when my husband isn’t available, virus or no virus.”
Amie says she is fortunate that sister-in-law Jennifer Wolski is nearby and usually helps when Pat can’t, as well as daughter Emily. Amie’s mom, Sharon Day, also helps out.
“So, I have to take some risks just to live,” Amie says. “I really don’t think about it that much. We all just have to take precautions and be cautious, but keep on keeping, on, as the saying goes.”
Doing the at-home thing
Amie says she has “been doing this stay-at-home thing” for a long time. “I have learned that we can get by with way less than we think we need, no matter what the situation. I would never have thought that I could stay in my house and not go out for literally months at a time, but I have found out that it is very doable.”
“I would have said 30 years ago that I couldn’t imagine living without being able to move my arms or walk around, but it’s amazing what you can adjust to when you have no other choice.”
Do it yourself: Amie says If you keep your mind and brain active, along with your body if able, you find that you don’t need to go out daily, “that’s just what you are used to doing.” She mentions things people are accustomed to such as various aspects of grooming and how people can do those things themselves. She suggests YouTube videos for how-tos.
Take a break: Amie has learned “that anyone will drive you completely nuts if you are around them too much, even the people you really like or love.” Her advice is to have your own space “to get away from everyone however often you need to.”
She says most homes have more than one room for more than one reason. “Take a break from whoever you live with and stay in different rooms (or garage and basement, etc.) for a little while every day…”
Gift of time: Amie agrees with those who think the virus has a purpose. “We’ve seen many horrible things with this pandemic, but there is a lot of good that’s come from it too.”
Says Amie, “I just hope people have used this gift of time to learn a few things about themselves and their lives. We can survive without many material things, but times like this make you realize what is really important in life.
“As we slowly return to our normal lives, I hope we can find a new more meaningful normal.”
First in a three-part series about local people with special challenges during the coronavirus quarantine. They share their stories of how they cope and hope at this time, and offer advice for you. Reprinted from the April 30, 2020 New Castle Courier-Times. Tomorrow's paper will feature Amie Thornburg of Spiceland.
By DONNA CRONK
Despite complications from cerebral palsy, and a prognosis that she would never see her fifth birthday, lifelong New Castle resident Lynda Alberson is 57 and due to the creativity of her friends, is in the process of “touring” the country.
One thing that doesn’t scare this virtual traveler is getting the coronavirus. Although at high risk due to asthma, Lynda says, “If I get it, I get it. I can’t spend my life worrying about dying. I was supposed to die before I was 5. I am now going to be 58 in November.”
What troubles Alberson is not what will happen to her, but she is concerned for others and that her loved ones will be OK and that small businesses will make it.
Reared on love
Raised in a family that loved her deeply, including her late parents Gene and Dayton Alberson, the daughter remains encouraged by her upbringing and the love of family and her community. She says if she dies, she feels it’s her time. She credits Granny for her outlook.
“I could not go outside and play like everybody else so I sat and talked to her,” recalls Lynda. “She talked to me like a person; told me when my time is up, it is up.” Granny told her granddaughter that she can either fret or live her life.
Lynda says she knows so-called “normal” people who are not as blessed as she is. “I have many, many people that care about me, plus when I was very young, my Granny told me I had a choice. I could be bitter, not have people like me and be unhappy – or, smile, laugh and always find the silver living. I picked B.”
In fact, Lynda enjoys laughter so much, and finding the humorous side to life, she says, “If not for my voice I would try my hand at stand-up comic – or in my case – sit down.”
The hometown woman claims two New Castle Chrysler High School classes as her own. As a proud member of the Class of 1981, Lynda looks forward to her 40th anniversary next year. She was originally to be in the class of 1982 but credits her teachers with getting her promoted a year early by having her work ahead in sixth grade and thus skip the perils of going to the seventh-grade building with no elevator.
Lynda’s teachers also encouraged her to stay positive with advice that yes, she does things differently, but she is still no different than “June, Steve or Cathy.” She credits many people for her positive outlook.
Chick on a stick
As for her hobby of travel, Lynda would love to see all of the nation’s 50 states. She came up with a way that just might let her meet that goal. She got the idea from someone on TV who had his or her photo taken out of state and emailed to a TV station.
“I thought ‘Hey, might be a way for me to say my head has been in 50 states.’” So she posted the idea on Facebook and her friends got on board. “My friend Judy jumped on it. She takes me everywhere,” says Lynda.
“Others like my friends Nancy and Liz ran with it. Had family take me to reunions. I so enjoy the creative way they do it,” Lynda continues. “Nancy walked up to people on the beach and said, ‘Hold my friend’s head, I am posting on Facebook. They said cool.’ Our mutual friend Liz got a race car driver to hold my head and sign it.”
Lynda goes on. “The joy I have got from one post, amazing. Guess it circles back to how I stay upbeat. How can I not with all the amazing people around me?”
Advice to others
Lynda has some thoughts on how others can get through tough times such as this period of extreme social distancing. She encourages people to set goals, to get up, dressed and know what day it is. “If you don’t, you fall in a dark well that even Lassie can’t save you (from),” says Lynda.
She encourages people to “Don’t visit your fears or judgments on others,” to maybe check on loved ones or keep busy for their health. She also says to be kind. Her comedic side suggests to not be the neighbor from (the old TV show) "Bewitched."
Adds Lynda, “Laugh every day, especially at yourself.” She says if she is dropped on her head, she doesn’t get mad, but laughs and says, “Retake.”
Lynda says that “Laughter is a gift. Use it often. Lastly, remember you are not (the) only one. Treat the ones helping you kindly. They don’t have to help.”
It was only fitting that I met up with my friend and writing colleague Janis Thornton of Tipton yesterday on "Spring Forward Day."
There's no writer I know with more energy, drive and spring in her step than Janis. She is inspirational.
Not only does she have a day job, she is a prolific author on her own time with a love for research. She has written a number of books, including her 2018 "Too Good a Girl: Remembering Olene Emberton and the Mystery of Her Death," relating to the still-unsolved death of her high school classmate.
On a special day at the Tipton Library in 2018 I had the pleasure of being the emcee for a standing-room-only crowd where the very law-enforcement professionals who worked the case in the late 1960 shared the mic with Janis to discuss the cold case. It was quite a day. The Indianapolis Star devoted a huge chunk of page one to the book and the case, along with a video with Janis showing readers around sites of the mystery.
She has also written or co-written local-history books, cozy mysteries and more.
In late 2019 I had the honor of reading her manuscript for the upcoming "No Place Like Murder: True Crime in the Midwest," published by Indiana University Press. The gripping stories inside the book take place, largely in Indiana, between 1869-1950. The book is described in a pre-release as "A modern retelling of 20 sensational true crimes."
I wrote a blurb for the book which Janis said is included in the book! How nice. It's available for pre-order now on Amazon.
Retirement is not on the radar nor even in the vocabulary of this talented author. She said she wouldn't want every day to be Saturday. In fact, she's yes, springing forward yet again in looking toward penning a sequel to the IU Press book.
Janis, thank you for always managing to stay in touch and including me on your ride. We share a mentor in the late, great newsman Ray Moscowitz. Ray discovered Janis and for a period, although we didn't know it nor know each other at the time, we both worked at sister newspapers, she the editor of The Frankfort Times, and me in New Castle.
We connected, oddly enough, in the gift-shop line at the Indiana Historical Society during its annual author fair in 2014. She's helped me out in numerous ways showing up twice at my author programs, designing this website five years ago, and sharing vendor booths together as well as being on panel discussions together at several venues.
Janis I admire your forward approach to your writing and life. Thank you for keeping us in contact. You are inspirational. Keep writing and mining for gold in those newspapers at newspapers.com.
Until next time ...
Seated in the heart of downtown New Castle in the newsroom of The Courier-Times, I hear pounding and machines, trucks and working men and women just beyond my windows.
It's the sound of progress.
It's a relatively new sound. I've sat in the newsroom most weekdays for the past 30 years and only in the recent ones has there been this sound.
I've always heard talk of a downtown renaissance. Those who remember the good old days of busy streets on a Saturday night, of bustling department stores and one-of-a kind housewares and clothing shops have often spoken of how great it all was and wondered why it couldn't be that way again.
I figured they were longing for something that could no longer be. After all, the past several decades the trends were toward fleeing downtown for the busiest street in town that took you north to Muncie or south to the interstate and Indy, and big malls were where it was at.
But something has happened. Things are swinging the other way. Some of the malls are dying. Dead is the Anderson Mounds Mall, for example.
And one by one, the unique shops run by entrepreneurs with a vision and love for this city are locating back downtown. Consider 1822 Vintage and Dance Studio, Unique Boutique, the classy Twin Lions, and more are coming. I see the 1400 Plaza with its entertainment venue and parking spaces. The healthy smoothie shop, an ice cream shop on the way.
It's exciting to see the young people claim downtown. It's pretty amazing and beautiful! They have become the community leaders who always pined for the way things could be. Only it's happening!
And part of the trend is found in Carmen and Scott Cash. This is their story. And I thank them for letting me tell it in a recent Courier-Times article, reprinted here.
The move of their business to downtown New Castle began three years ago this past October when Carmen Cash had something rare – a day all to herself with no plans.
The busy working wife and mother of four rarely gets such a thing.
On this one, while reflecting and praying, she heard this inside her spirit: “Go downtown and drive around.”
The impression was so clear that she did it. The New Castle resident hadn’t been downtown for a while, and hadn’t seen the transformation unfolding.
“It was almost like I was being introduced to a new city,” she recalls. Yet after driving around for a while, she still didn’t know why she was there.
Then she saw it.
A for-sale-by-owner sign. It was for the 1872 Keiser Building. Although the space at 1321-1323 Broad Street appeared run down and perhaps nearing demolition, Carmen had found her “why.”
She wanted to buy it and relocate her family’s hair salon, Colour’z, inside the vintage space.
“It was God,” Carmen says of the experience. “It was a Holy Spirit moment.”
Another surprise came at husband Scott’s reaction. Scott, a 20-year employee of Draper, Inc., tends to think things over carefully and avoid rash decisions. This time, his reaction was quick. He was on board.
In fact, he says he knew it was of God.
When they toured the property for the first time, Carmen didn’t see a tired, old building. “All I could see when I walked in was this completely restored building.”
She says, “I love seeing things built from the ground up and being restored.”
At the time, the property was owned by an individual, then taken over by the not-for-profit Preserve Henry County, and then restored by the non-profit down to its good bones and interesting features. Those features include rare artistic glass windows over the front entrance, a skylight, brick walls and a brick arch.
The Cash couple closed on the building one month ago. Now the emphasis is on refurbishing and decorating the interior to honor the past yet meet demands of a busy shop behind the 1321 Broad St. storefront. It will provide working space for nine stylists and other support staff.
Carmen’s dad Greg Davis founded Hairitage in 1976. He and his wife, Carmen’s stepmom, Martha, changed the name to Colour’z in 2008. The couple lives in Greenfield, formerly New Castle. Her mom and stepdad are Nancy and Jim McCullers of Lewisville.
Scott is the son of Jerry and Ladona Cash of Spiceland.
The couple plans to change the salon and spa’s name to Selah and open it this summer.
What they know for sure is they want Selah to live up to the word’s meaning, “to pause and to reflect.”
Their mantra is “Pause, reflect, renew.” The salon’s name comes from the Bible’s book of Psalms.
Carmen says, “We want to stop the craziness of life and give them a space to take a break, pause and to relax.”
The shop’s offerings include hair, massage, eyelash extensions and facials.
Says Scott, “We’re simply at peace in the whole process. I feel like He (God) has a heart for this city.”
And so do the Cashes.
Tri High School sweethearts, she is from Lewisville and he from Spiceland. Both went on to Ball State University where he studied sales and marketing and her major was dietetics.
While he went to work at Draper, Carmen became interested in her father’s second salon in Greenfield. After a successful career in Mary Kay leadership, Carmen attended cosmetology school and worked in the family business in Greenfield. Then she became a stay-at-home mom to Kiela, Grant, Caleb and Luke until they were in school.
Then it was back to work, this time at Colour’z in New Castle, where she has spent a number of years and bought the business. She had contemplated relocating the shop when she heard the instructions to visit downtown.
The couple are thankful for the support they have received from the community and downtown merchants. They say everyone has been encouraging.
In particular, they have special praise for Jeff Ray of Preserve Henry County and for Carrie Barrett of New Castle Downtown who supported their purchase of the downtown building.
The property was first owned by the building’s namesake, Swiss immigrant J.U. Keiser. A professional jeweler, he constructed the building in 1872 during a prosperous period in New Castle history. It was there he sold time pieces of various kinds along with musical instruments.
Later, the building housed Allen’s Young Fashions and Cliff Payne Clothing, Inc.
In a previous Courier-Times article, Jeff Ray described the importance of restoring and repurposing the building. He said, “It is part of the only complete block left in downtown New Castle.”
The Cashes are happy to be part of that repurpose.
“We’re very passionate about bringing our successful business downtown. We excited to bring our customers downtown,” Carmen says.
And, they want to be part of something bigger than their own endeavor.
Explains Scott, “We want to help the other businesses that are downtown. We want to help revitalize downtown.”
They see the importance of community doing business as a community. They recognize a trend toward shopping smaller and inside specialty shops rather than in massive malls.
“We just want to be a part of it,” Scott says of becoming downtown merchants.
Carmen adds that her customers and staff alike are excited about the move.
They have a lot of space, more than one might guess looking from the outside. They anticipate a possible community-venue area and have some additional ideas in mind they are still considering for the space behind the 1323 storefront.
The two say they’ve been on a journey. And it’s still unfolding. “We just want community to happen,” she says.
But there’s more. “We want to glorify Him more than anything,” Carmen says.
This weekend I'm putting the finishing touches on a program I'm giving at Senior Living at Forest Ridge in New Castle Tuesday morning, Dec. 10. Won't you join me?
I'll be going down memory lane, as I share some of my favorite characters and stories I've written in three decades at the New Castle Courier-Times. The program is at 10 a.m. which includes a free brunch. All you need to do is let LauraLisa Stamper know by noon Monday by calling 765-521-4740.
I'll bring along some free copies of the current issue of our her magazine for women and other specialty publications.
Hope to see you there!
When the NFL football schedule comes out each late spring, it's a big day for our family. All five of us mull it over, and come to agreement about how and where to continue our annual tradition of creating a mini-vacation built around an away game. Then we spend weeks researching our many options -- flights and hotels, sites to see, special places to eat, quirky requests (Bucc'ee's in Houston, for example).
Two years ago we braved 50-below wind chills to see our Indianapolis Colts defeat the Minnesota Vikings. Last year we lost to the New York Jets and this year, it was the Houston Texans that defeated us in a tight loss.
While the games get us there, they are merely a part of the overall trips. It's fun to experience the unique cultural climate of each stadium and fan base. There's Minnesota loyalists with their braided toboggan caps, uber-warm boots and Vikings Skol chants in a beautiful indoor stadium; New York Jets with former Gov. Chris Christy in the parking lot, sans any kind of enterage, a nondescript, working-class feeling to their basic outdoor stadium in New Jersey and less than creative food options, and The Texans with their LOVE for football, the electric feeling of the sturdy crowd, and their A-plus selection of Texas burgers, brisket, huge loaded baked potatoes and other yummo choices.
This year's game was special as we had the fortune of sitting among the family members of a Colts player, EJ Speed. We had our own little island of blue celebrating big moments in the game.
But the crown jewel of this trip was the next day's visit to NASA at Johnson Space Center. After looking around Space Center Houston, which is a museum loaded with NASA memorabilia, including authentic space suits, capsules, a tour of the Space Shuttle, orientation films and more, it's time to see our family's two highlights of the entire vacay.
You load up into an open-air tram and off you go down city streets to the working NASA campus, Johnson Space Center. The buildings are basic, appearing to have been built in the late 1950s or early 1960s.
Bikes and deer
A couple cool observations unique to the campus: vintage Schwinn bicycles are all over the place. Many of these date back to the 1960s when the company donated them to NASA so the astronauts and engineers could ride them from one building to another. Schwinn company pays an annual visit to the campus to make sure the bikes remain in good repair.
Second, deer are free to run the grounds with no fence to keep them in, as a space-age, if you will, nature preserve. It's humorous to see them all over the place, and one wonders if they ever go out into the surrounding traffic and get hit! They look perfectly content in their surroundings and unaffected by the humans and trams going by.
My favorite stop of the entire trip to Houston was a visit to the Apollo Mission Control. The building is a National Historic Landmark inside this nondescript, functional building.
Inside, those able climb the 87 steps to Mission Control. A few needed to take the elevator -- which I overheard a guide point out is the original elevator.
We're ushered into an auditorium complete with original seating, including built-in ashtrays. We're behind a glass wall where on the other side is where top engineers sat at then state-of-the-art computers (now antiques) and worked their engineering magic with the equipment that landed men on the moon, including that first walk on the moon of Neil Armstrong 50 years ago in July 2019.
After some housekeeping announcements about cell phones and the like, we were told to sit tight as we are about to view 1969 straight before us and hear the voices of the engineers and astronauts who made history. The room is perfectly refurbished and preserved to what it was in 1969. And suddenly, magic:
Only it's not magic. It's rocket science. Screens light up, as do the boards in the front of the room. We hear tapes played of the engineers giving the "go" signs for the mission. Then we hear the voices of Neil and Buzz Aldrin, we see man walk on the moon. We relive history. Not just history for the ages where 100 years from now people will likely still be touring this space, but our personal history, as most of us in that audience were alive when it happened in real time.
I've been personally touched by the moon landing and walk this year. First, I remember with clarity how important it was in that my mom insisted I stay awake and watch Neil take that stroll on live TV. Then that fall, in Jeanne Sipahigil's fifth-grade classroom, I wrote an essay about how touched I was by the experience. And to think! Jeanne today is my Facebook friend.
Also this summer, in my job as a New Castle Courier-Times reporter, an email arrived from a man in his 90s, Earl Thompson. Earl grew up in New Castle, but lives in Florida. Florida, as it turns out, is where he made his living as an engineer working on all the Apollo projects, specifically working in communications areas on the lunar modules and rovers. He worked directly with the astronauts, knowing all of them.
Earl and I worked together via phone and emails in detail after detail for a week or more on the two stories I would put together in conjunction with the historic 50th anniversary of the moon landing. I even went out and chatted with his New Castle siblings! Here I am with them from this past summer:
It was surreal to meet with Earl's family in New Castle, shown with The Courier-Times from half a century ago. Little did editors or reporters know then that one of their own from the city helped engineer this successful mission. It only came to public light this summer and I had the privilege of telling the story.
I also love it that Earl gave a special shout out to his New Castle High School math teacher who nurtured his natural bent toward math. The story of America: Ordinary people from ordinary towns everywhere do extraordinary things -- both that math teacher and her pupil, Earl Thompson.
All these things passed through my mind while touring Mission Control.
Then it was back to Space Center and aboard another tram. This one took us to a nondescript building, one we Hoosiers would call a gigantic pole barn, where we would step inside and see the rocket that was ready to launch Apollo 18 to the moon. This one never made it as the program ran out of money but the rocket remains. Holy cow:
I'll say it again: HOLY COW!
Can you imagine the POWER generated? The fire descending from those babies?
It was a day out of this world.
The following is my article reprinted from today's New Castle Courier-Times. I had the pleasure of seeing Ron Keaton's show and meeting him in Indy. It was well done on every level.
New Castle native and professional actor Ron Keaton is bringing his signature adaptation, “Churchill,” to Richmond for one show at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 29. It will benefit two theater groups that remain near and dear to the actor: Richmond Civic Theatre, venue of the performance, and Nettle Creek Players.
Nettle Creek Players Board President Jeff Dickey said proceeds from the $25 tickets will be split between both theater groups. Tickets are available at the RCT box office at 765-962-1816 or the RCT website at gorct.org.
“This production of ‘Churchill’ is Ron’s way of giving something of himself back to our organizations,” Dickey says. “All of us have been involved with the performing arts since those days with Nettle Creek Players.”
Keaton worked with both theaters in his early years, but the Chicago resident says that while he has been fortunate to work in front of many people, he hasn’t “worked back home since the mid ‘70s. Should be a lot of fun.”
Since its debut in August 2014, “Churchill” has been performed an estimated 350 times around the country.
When asked how he feels about bringing the production to his home turf, Keaton says, “Nervous. Excited. And ready as I can be.”
A 1972 New Castle graduate, where he served as class president, Keaton says he has been a full-time actor since performing with Nettle Creek Players in 1971, which amounts to his entire adult life.
Dickey says he is looking forward to having Keaton back in town for what he calls “an amazing production,” and also looks forward to spending time with old friends and reminiscing about the theater’s early days “under the tent” in Hagerstown.
“Plus, Ron will be meeting with our cast and crew for this season and talking with them about what the summer ‘under the tent’ will mean to them and the lessons and skills they will learn and develop during the season,” Dickey said.
In a file Courier-Times article about his career, Keaton says, “I mark my beginnings from the old Nettle Creek Players tent in Hagerstown, an organization that thrived there for 30 years. I was part of the first five years or so; it taught me so much about my own abilities.”
He wrote the solo “Churchill” play based on a teleplay by a Churchill scholar that played on PBS in the 1980s. “I also did endless research on my own of the man and feel like I know him well,” he told The Courier-Times in a file story.
Keaton remarked that Americans loved British Prime Minister Churchill and he returned that love. “He was half-American; his mother was from Brooklyn. His father was a hard man – politician, military man who raised Winston and his brother Jack with an iron hand,” the actor says.
When asked what he has to say to Courier-Times readers about attending the performance, Dickey says “they should come to see ‘Churchill’ to see what their hometown native has done with his art. Then come to see the Nettle Creek Players and enjoy the show. I promise you won’t be disappointed.”
Says Keaton, “And to the hometown folks, I say what any good actor would say – come to the show! – and thank you for everything.”
For more about Nettle Creek Players and the summer schedule, visit nettlecreekplayers.com or call 765-312-2722.
It's amazing what one mom can accomplish--and then a community comes beside her. An update on the New Castle Miracle League, reprinted from this weekend's Courier-Times, Indiana Weekender.
by Donna Cronk
Eleven years ago, Cindy Brooks hoped to give her daughter, Hannah, a fun experience playing baseball. Hannah, now 26, couldn’t understand why her brothers got to play the game but she didn’t.
So the mom made a way, creating what is now a specialized league for children and adults ages 3 and up with cognitive and/or physical disabilities, where they play by T-ball rules, and have buddies helping them out on the field.
“I thought we’d just play that one year,” recalls Brooks.
But little did she know then that she had founded what is now a New Castle staple that last year served about 130 players, and 11 years later, is going strong. In fact, plans are under way to raise money for their own Miracle League baseball complex.
“It’s a lot of hard work ... but as soon as you see them, that joy and smile and high fives; it’s all worth it,” says Brooks, who is founder and league director.
League opening day is Saturday, July 27 with play on Friday nights and Saturdays for the seven-week season. Those wanting to sign up can do so on the website at miracleleagueofnewcastle.com. Buddies and other volunteers willing to assist a little or a lot can also sign up there. To register other ways or for information, contact Brooks at 765-524-5650 or email her at email@example.com.
It is not a pay-to-play organization, but the league requests a $25 donation per player if possible to help with expenses.
The payoff is this. Says Brooks, “It’s like watching the winners of the World Series every time they play.”
Dreaming of a new field
While the league currently plays on the girls softball field at Baker Park, organizers are hoping for their own field of dreams. Brooks explains that it would have two synthetic turf ballfields, an all-assessable playground and restrooms, concessions and bleachers.
She’s talking to the city to see if there is any ground available. She said of the 300 Miracle League fields throughout the country, none had to pay for their land, but it was provided to the leagues free of charge in the different communities.
The local league pays a membership fee to the Miracle League headquarters, based in Conyers, Georgia. As part of their membership, building plans for a new complex would be provided for no extra charge. Cost of building it and materials, however, would need to be paid by either a corporate donor or the money raised to fund it. Or, it may be a combined effort.
Brooks said it would be possible to host competitive travel games or even host an All-Star game. Such a thing is not do-able now, for one reason – because the current field is not totally wheelchair accessible. “We can use it but there are barriers there that slow things down some,” Brooks says.
Fundraiser has begun
Fundraising for the goal of a new complex is underway now with a bench made by Jaron Baker, who while a junior at New Castle Career Center, built a bench and his family paid for it to be power coated. He is now a senior at Hagerstown High School.
The idea came from Steven Vitatoe, welding instructor at the career center, who found the league’s abandoned cash register last year after it had been stolen in a theft that amounted to a total $700 loss to the league.
He offered to make a bench and chose the word HOPE to place on it. Brooks was taken aback by the word in a positive way because she said the word HOPE is a league theme word.
Vitatoe says of Miracle League, “I really think it is important for everyone to have access to fun activities. After I heard about the break-in I was really upset and wanted to help out.”
He said Mary Logan came up with the idea of a HOPE bench, “and we all got to work.”
The bench was donated to the league and the public is welcome to place bids on it now through July 27. It will go to the to the highest bidder, and be announced at noon, Saturday, Aug. 3 at the ballpark.
Miracle League is a club within a club as part of the Breakfast Optimists. Brooks says that all three local Optimists clubs help sponsor the organization, along with an anonymous sponsor that helps with uniforms and hats.
To place a bid, use the email in this article or go to the Facebook page of Miracle League of New Castle and private message.
Brooks says the cost to create a Miracle League complex – which could be done in phases, and one that would include lighting and bleachers – would come in around $900,000.
She would love to see corporate sponsors help with such a large figure. She says the city is working well with the league. “I would like to partner with Special Olympics to build a complex that would include a track, soccer fields, basketball court ...” says Brooks.
Miracle League Co-Director Tammy Rains thinks getting the complex is do-able. In addition to her player son, Mike Cole, 38, several members of her family are involved in various ways from coaching to offering support as volunteers.
“It’s just a joy to interact with all the players,” says Rains, who has been involved all 11 years. “Just to see the joy on their faces, the fun they are having ...”
While it might take a miracle to get a complex built here – that is, after all, the name of the league.
Says Brooks, “... We are praying that we can find a great place for this park.”