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THE SOUTH SHORE IN 100 OBJECTS, DAY 57: Statue of Flick
THE SOUTH SHORE IN 100 OBJECTS, DAY 57: Statue of Flick

The way the statue of Flick beckons fans of "A Christmas Story" to the Indiana Welcome Center in Hammond all year, you'd think Christmas never ends there.

Even on a muggy August day, the bronze statue of the young boy's tongue stuck to a flagpole drew steady traffic.

A visitor from Louisville, heading to Chicago on business, said his wife asked him to photograph the statue for her. He's returning with a photo of himself standing beside Flick.

Jean Shepherd's classic story of life in Hammond in the 1940s, told from a child's perspective, has become a Christmas classic not just in the region, but also far beyond.

Admit it. You've been tempted to lick a flagpole in winter to see if your tongue sticks, right?

The South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority is capitalizing on that famous movie moment, and other "A Christmas Story" scenes not only with the bronze statue sculpted by Oscar Leon but also a series of holiday events inspired by the movie.

Last year, the annual "A Christmas Store" Comes Home exhibit drew a record 32,289 visitors. 

The Louisville visitor is returning home after his business trip with hopes of bringing his wife back to Hammond in November, weather permitting. And it won't take a triple dog dare to bring the movie fan to Flick's flagpole.

2 hours ago Photos

Photos

Highland transfers $225,650 for E-911 funding to county

HIGHLAND | The Town Council has approved a resolution to reduce $225,650 from the town's tax levy as Lake County's new E-911 emergency calling system replaces the town's current system.

The money would be transferred to the county's operating levy.

In May, the council signed onto the countywide system, which was mandated by the state.

The council also set a public hearing for Sept. 8 on a tax abatement for an OSHA training facility to move from Hammond to an existing building at 8516 Henry St.

Clerk-Treasurer Michael Griffin noted that this property must be incorporated into an Economic Development Target Area to qualify for the tax abatement.

The council also introduced an ordinance to create the area.

2 hours ago
Road closings loom in Hobart; motorists advised of detours

HOBART | A storm sewer installation project will close portions of 49th Avenue and LaSalle Street beginning Tuesday through Nov. 21.

LaSalle Street will be closed between 49th Avenue and 3rd Street, and 49th Avenue will be closed between Liverpool Road and LaSalle Street.

Detour signs will be posted to direct traffic around the closure area.

The city will include 49th Avenue in its paving project as part of restoration associated with the storm sewer installation.

2 hours ago
Hammond's hydrant flushing starts Tuesday; it lasts weeks

HAMMOND | Hammond begins a hydrant flushing program on Tuesday.

It starts on the north side of the city and heads south over four to six weeks.

The Hammond Water Works Department said some residents may experience water discoloration during the flushing. If that happens, run cold water for a few minutes and the problem should disappear.

The water will be safe to drink during the flushing, the department said.

2 hours ago
Highland Town Council meets Thursday in special session

HIGHLAND | The Highland Town Council meets in special session at 7 p.m. Thursday on a variety of topics.

The meeting is at Town Hall, 3333 Ridge Road.

2 hours ago
Evansville firm will help Lowell save on plastic bench costs

LOWELL | The town wants residents to save their plastic caps and lids for the annual CAP-A-THON.

The Lake County Solid Waste Management District, in concert with Green Tree Plastics of Evansville, will sponsor the cost of a bench made from every 400 pounds of caps collected.

The program deadline is March 23.

2 hours ago
Crown Point panel approves two police officer promotions

CROWN POINT | Police officers Jacob Burkholder and Jonathon Halloran both were promoted recently to 2nd Class patrol officers with the Crown Point Police Department.

Burkholder and Halloran successfully completed a one-year probationary period and were recommended for promotion by Chief Pete Land.

The promotions were approved by the Board of Public Works and Safety, effective today.

2 hours ago
Crown Point trash collection contract extended six years

CROWN POINT | The Board of Public Works and Safety has approved a  six-year extension of a contract with Republic Services for trash pickup for Crown Point residents.

The current monthly rate of $13.26 per household remains in place for another year, according to the contract.

The monthly rate climbs to $13.66 in year two of the contract, $14.07 in year three; $14.49 in year four; $14.92 in year five and $15.37 in year six, according to the contract approved by city officials.

The rate to city residents is below market share, Mayor David Uran said. Republic Services has been under contract with the city for the work since 1999, officials said.

2 hours ago
The Week Ahead - Lake County

MONDAY

Parade steps off at 10 a.m.

LOWELL | Lowell's Labor Day parade steps off at 10 a.m. from the Lowell Dairy Queen, running west to Harding Drive. The festival runs until 3:30 p.m. with food vendors, a beer garden and activities for kids at the festival site at West Oakley Avenue and Harding Drive.

Fest has rides, entertainment

HIGHLAND | Highland's Labor Day festival continues from 1 to 10 p.m. with carnival rides, live entertainment and a beer garden.

FRIDAY

Golf outing raises stipend cash

HIGHLAND | Sociedad Cultural Civica La Reforma hosts a golf outing, Swinging for Scholars, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Wicker Park Golf Course, 8554 Indianapolis Blvd., Highland. The dinner and golf cost $100; the cost for dinner only is $50. It is served from 3 to 5 p.m. For more information, contact Salvador Bolanos, (219) 781-4898,scclr.lareforma@gmail.com. http://www.scclr.org.

Campagna serving spaghetti

SCHERERVILLE | Campagna Academy serves its annual spaghetti dinner from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at the academy, 7403 Cline Ave., Schererville. Carry-outs available. Tickets can be purchased by calling (219) 322-8614, ext. 453, or stopping by the administration building from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays and at the door. Proceeds benefit the at-risk youths at Campagna Academy. The cost is $8 before Tuesday, $10 after that date for adults, and $5 for children 10 and younger. For more information, contact Nikki Wielgos, (219) 322-8614, ext. 453, NWielgos@cahope.org. http://www.campagnaacademy.org.

Outreach Ministries benefit

HAMMOND | Community Fellowship Outreach Ministries hosts its annual fundraiser, Rainbow Beneath the Cloud, from 6 to 10 p.m. at Dynasty Banquets, 4141 Calumet Ave., Hammond. Tickets are $35. For more information, contact Bobbie Hawkins,(219) 378-1965, cfom801@yahoo.com. http://www.cfom801.com.

Troupe stages 'Spelling Bee'

CROWN POINT | The Crown Point Community Theatre presents "Spelling Bee" at 8 p.m. at the theater, 1125 Merrillville Road. It's offered weekends through Sept 21. Tickets available at CPCT.biz or by calling (219) 805-4255. Tickets $15 general admission, $12 students/seniors/military personnel with ID.

SATURDAY

Townwide garage sale in Dyer

DYER | The Dyer Recycling Commission hosts its 23 annual townwide garage sale from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Northgate Park, Calumet Avenue at Harrison Place.

Car show at Munster High

MUNSTER | Munster High School Bands hold an inaugural Car, Truck and Motorcycle Show fundraiser from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the south parking lot of the high school, 8808 Columbia Ave. The rain date is Sunday. The first 100 vehicles registered will receive a free show dash plaque and all vehicle entries will receive a free show shirt. Food concessions available. Vehicle registration is $25. For more information, contact Garry, (219) 689-0930, munstercarshow@yahoo.com.

Inspirational speaker slated

HOBART | Brett Eastburn, a man born with no arms, no leg and no handicaps, is guest speaker for the TradeWinds' Deaf Services luncheon from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Avalon Manor, 3550 E. U.S. 30. Lunch is served at 12:30 p.m. Tickets are $30. For more information or to register call (219) 945-0100,ext. 204.

Railroad group plans picnic

GRIFFITH | The Northwest Indiana Railroad Preservation Society has its annual meeting and picnic from noon to 6 p.m. at South Park, intersection of West Avenue D and South Griffith Boulevard. The cost is $10 per person. Food and beverages will be provided. Reservations are required and can be made by downloading the form from the website or contacting a society officer. For more information, contact Joseph Novosel Jr. at(219) 779-1979

Ballet dancer auditions set

MERRILLVILLE | The Indiana Ballet Theatre, 8888 Louisiana St., Merrillville, is holding auditions for "The Nutcracker." They are from 1:30 to 3 p.m., ages 13 through adults, pointe and nonpointe males and females will be auditioned, from 3 to 4:15 p.m. for ages 8 to 12 and from 4:15 to 5:30 p.m. for ages 4 to 7. Wear rehearsal clothing with hair pulled back and secured away from face. Arrive 15 minutes before audition time. For more information, contact Michelle, (219) 755-4444, INFO@IBTNW.ORG. http://www.ibtnw.org.

SUNDAY

Philanthropist White honored

CROWN POINT | A Patriot Brunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in Maki Ballroom in the Old Lake County Courthouse. Tickets are $100 and includes prime rib carving stations, customized omelet stations, chicken crepes, mini pastries, muffins, scones, a Bloody Mary and Mimosa bar. Philanthropist Dean White will be honored. For more information, contact Marty Wheeler, (219) 663-0660, courthouse@airbaud.net. http://lakecourthousefoundation.org.

Walks aids NICK Foundation

CEDAR LAKE | Local Heroes for Little Heroes is a hero-themed, non-competitive and non-timed walk benefiting the Northwest Indiana Cancer Kids Foundation. Tickets are $15 and includes food, games, raffles, a bake sale, and vendors. For more information, contact Suzie Blissmer, 219-689-2162, kinsuz114@msn.com. https://www.facebook.com/events/513603192074034/.

2 hours ago
REGION RANTS: Lifting the gated life
REGION RANTS: Lifting the gated life

We had our theories.

"I heard Oprah lives there!"

"Jerry Springer does!"

"Michael Jordan owns a mansion in there!"

When I was growing up, Briar Ridge was a place of wonder and awe. What we could see from outside the gated community, which sits partly in Dyer and partly in Schererville, was impressive.

Houses were bigger than we knew could exist, with the type of landscaping straight off a Hollywood movie set. They had hedges squared off like an English garden and those twisty bushes that look sculpted by Edward Scissorhands.

They had grand entryways with arches and double doors. And, many had those cool circular driveways, an obvious sign of wealth, in the mind of a preteen.

The subdivision falls inside the Lake Central School Corp., which meant the children who didn't go to private school ended up with us middle class kids in the public schools.

It was great. Birthdays and graduations gave us an excuse to visit our Briar Ridge friends — all of whom were quite lovely and not snobby at all — and snoop around the neighborhood.

We would pull up to the guard shack and give a name, nervous until the gate lifted. Even though we were welcome, it still felt like sneaking in.

We drove extra slowly along the winding streets, stopping to shout things like, "Whoa! Look! That in-ground pool has a slide!" and, "Holy cow! That whole wall is made of windows!"

The houses didn't disappoint. They were loaded with extra rooms and sometimes connected by intercom because you can't hear the housekeeper yelling, "Breakfast is ready!" when you're asleep one floor up and seven rooms away.

There were kitchen tables and dining room tables. There were entertainment rooms and game rooms. There were libraries and dens and studies, which are sort of the same thing.

And they all looked pulled together by the eye of an interior designer.

I've passed that neighborhood hundreds of times since then. With age comes wisdom, and I'm not as awestruck by Briar Ridge.

I see it differently, as exclusionary and providing a false sense of security.

No doubt, there are still lovely and good people living inside. But, it's no utopia. They're not immune to crime, despite being protected by unsightly barbed wire in places, and despite the guard shack system.

Frankly, if the real estate pictures online are any indication, many of those half-million and million-dollar homes are outdated on the inside, with teal and mauve color schemes and marble all over the place.

Maybe it's sour grapes. Maybe I roll my eyes when I drive past the gates because I have an English degree instead of an engineering, law, business or science degree that would give me a job with a big enough salary to afford the Briar Ridge life. 

Or maybe it's because I'm older and I've learned that more is sometimes less.

Vanessa Renderman is a features writer for The Times. You can contact her at vanessa.renderman@nwi.com.

2 hours ago
FORUM: Rethinking the ink
FORUM: Rethinking the ink

Some bad decisions can be erased.

From misspellings and fads to love gone sour, the reasons people want to undo their tattoos are plentiful.

Recent findings by research firm IBISWorld show the growing tattoo removal industry is expected to earn $83.2 million during the next four years.

Cedar Lake resident Bryan Zabrecky is in the process of getting an old Army tattoo and tribal tattoo removed from his upper right arm.

"I got them when I was younger," he said.

The Lake County Sheriff's Department K-9 officer wants something more personal in its place — a tattoo of his German shepherd partner.

He turned to Bugaboo Tattoo for his new ink and to get rid of the old.

Don Frey, owner of Bugaboo Tattoo in Hammond and Hobart, said people come to the shops with old tattoos they don't like any more or tattoos of poor quality that need to be fixed or covered. 

"With the laser, we're not cutting the skin or performing surgery," he said.

Three employees, including Frey, are trained in tattoo removal at Bugaboo. Some customers want total removal, but most want repairs or coverings and need the ink lightened, he said.

Bugaboo also works with local courts to remove tattoos from hands, necks and faces of teens to help give them a fresh start.

"It's pretty hard to get a job at 18, 19 years old with tattoos on your face, neck and hands," Frey said.

The service is free for teens and discounted for adults.

Lasers blast the ink, causing the pigment to break up and be absorbed by the body.

For tattoos that are too big or too embedded to remove with a laser, Dr. Ahmad Fathi said cutting the tattoo out of the skin is an option.

Fathi is president of Skin, Vein & Cosmetic Surgery Clinic in Munster.

The military has new tattoo requirements, which is bringing in patients, but his typical clients want to get rid of unsightly tattoos or ones that celebrate now-faded love.

"People go through different stages of life," he said.

Many just want to look more professional and rid themselves of youthful indiscretion.

"People make judgments with people with tattoos," he said. "Right or wrong, that's the reality."

Kay Valentine, a master laser specialist and owner of Indy Laser Tattoo Removal in Indianapolis, is seeing an uptick in business.

Valentine said military regulations about tattoos are part of the reason for the bump. Other companies, including hospitals, are taking a stance against visible tattoos, she said.

"It's taboo," she said.

Every Monday, she gets two or three phone calls from parents whose teens unlawfully received tattoos over the weekend, often using a fake ID to get inked. In Indiana, tattoo recipients must be at least 18 to get inked on their own. Those under 18 can only get inked if a parent or guardian provides written permission and accompanies the recipients to the tattoo parlors.

"These parents are very upset that the kid made this decision," she said. "Parents know the stigma of tattoos."

Some customers have a lot of tattoos and want to replace them with new ones, so they need to fade their existing ink first, she said.

When she opened her business, Valentine thought she would see a lot of "hoodlums and gang bangers. But such customers account for less than 3 percent of her business, she said.

Most are in transitional programs, trying to get back into the work world, she said.

The most commonly removed tattoos are wedding bands and the names of significant others inked across the neck, with about 20 customers a month asking for such removals, Valentine said.

2 hours ago
EDITORIAL: Hammond should rethink halting full-time participation in Region STOP Team

Hammond's reasoning behind a recent decision to pull its full-time presence from a team of region law enforcement agencies has all the earmarks of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.

Now Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. and new Hammond Police Chief John Doughty should reconsider pulling the plug on full-time participation in the Region Stop Team.

East Chicago Police Chief Mark Becker, who also heads the STOP Team, announced earlier this month that Hammond pulled out of the team, citing a manpower shortage in its police ranks.

We understand the need for police departments, under the specter of ever-tightening fiscal belts, to make strategic decisions based on such shortages. But being short on manpower is precisely the reason why Hammond should continue full-time participation with this very promising regional law enforcement team.

Hammond police Lt. Richard Hoyda said the department is short nine officers from its budgeted force of 211 cops.

"We are hoping to fill most if not all of those positions by sending personnel to the Northwest Academy next January," he said. "However, these personnel would not be ready for street duty by themselves until the end of the academy and completion of an in-service, on-the-job training program until later in the year 2015."

Hoyda said the department currently has three officers assigned to other regional task forces.

But regional partnerships to share in the physical challenge and expense of tackling complex and expensive issues are the way of the future. They make good fiscal sense.

As the city with the largest municipal population in the county, Hammond is now conspicuously absent from a full share of this regional initiative to share crime-fighting resources.

For his part in East Chicago, Becker attributes recent drops in crime there to the joint efforts of his city and the Region STOP Team by putting more officers on the streets.

The sharing of resources has increased traffic stops from 3,711 in 2012 to 10,600 last year, he said.

McDermott and his new chief need to go through the numbers again and figure out a way of making this work.

2 hours ago
Local districts give students incentives for perfect attendance

As students in Illinois return to the classroom for a new school year, regular school attendance is not only important so students don't fall behind in their studies and receive poor grades.

A higher attendance rate also means more money received by school districts in general state aid.

Lansing Elementary School District 158 is set to receive over $650,000 in additional state aid after it saw its daily average attendance rate increase from 2,269 students to 2,390 students last school year.

D.158 Business Manager Mark Crotty said a district's three highest months determine the attendance rate and the state contributes an extra $5,400 per student.

Attendance in D.158 spiked last year after it implemented a perfect attendance incentive program.

Students who did not miss school in February and March qualified to win a bicycle in each of the district's five schools.

A total of 10 bikes were given away, at a cost of no more than $100 each.

Crotty said attendance figures in the district had not been so high since 2006.

D.158 Superintendent Cecilia Heiberger said the idea for the program came from Crotty.

"I thought, why not?,' Heiberger said. "Let's try some things to increase our attendance, because I'd love to have a 100 percent of our kids every single day for the next 175 days."

Heiberger said D.158 will definitely continue an attendance incentive program, but she is not sure if the incentive will be bicycles each year.

Dolton Elementary School District 149 Superintendent Shelly Davis-Jones said she never heard of a bike incentive program like the one in D.158, but she likes the idea.

"What a great incentive," she said. "And, also, what a great way to foster health and wellness for our children."

Davis-Jones said D.149, which serves students in Burnham, Calumet City, Dolton and South Holland, has had a Student of the Month program in place for years that recognizes students on a monthly basis for perfect attendance and/or achievement in the classroom.

Students who qualify attend a brief assembly in which parents are invited to watch their children receive certificates of recognition.

"And a caveat to that is they have a special lunch with the building principal," Davis-Jones said.

While Davis-Jones thinks the Student of the Month program has helped raise attendance, particularly in the primary grades, she also believes parental support for a healthy eating program that is in its third year in the district has had a positive affect on attendance.

"They appreciate the fact that we do provide that healthy breakfast, that mid-day snack and lunch and our kids have opportunities to have a healthy dinner at school, as well," she said.

Davis-Jones said the district serves no fried foods, and she sees a correlation between approval of the healthy eating model and an increase in average daily attendance in D.149 from 2,683 students in the 2012-13 school year to 2,800 students in 2013-14.

In Sunnybrook Elementary School District 171, serving Lansing and Lynwood, Superintendent Hughes B. George said there is currently no perfect attendance incentive program in place but that doesn't necessarily mean one won't be added.

"We're considering looking at anything that would improve our attendance," he said.

D.171 had a similar incentive program to the one in D.158 prior to George becoming superintendent. That was when Crotty worked in D.171 and started the program there.

George said he plans to communicate with Crotty to find out how the program was implemented and then talk to the School Board to determine if the program will be started up again.

"Nothing hurts to try to see if it would not increase our attendance," George said.

2 hours ago
MEDIA: Business investment driving sales forward
MEDIA: Business investment driving sales forward

Businesses are feeling confident again and looking to reach more customers through radio on both the airwaves and its digital platforms.

Health care, automotive, and help wanted are among the strongest performing sectors when it comes to buying advertising, with many companies now willing to enter into long-term contracts to raise their brand recognition.

"We have seen renewed interest in long term-investments from new and existing clients," said Jennifer Finnerty, director of sales at Adams Radio Group of Northwest Indiana. "They are looking to put money back into their businesses through advertising."

Adams Radio Group of Northwest Indiana had a breakout second quarter with revenues up 20 percent as compared to the same quarter in 2013, Finnerty said.

Nationally, the market has not been as strong as in Northwest Indiana, with the Radio Advertising Bureau reporting overall second quarter revenue was down 3 percent for the nation's radio broadcasters.

However, digital offerings continue to outperform, with those revenues up 9 percent in the second quarter. The Radio Advertising Bureau forecasts a stronger second half of the year for revenues across the board.

2 hours ago
Porter County meetings

2014

Sept. 1

BEVERLY SHORES

Planning Commission, 6:30 p.m., Administration Building, 500 S. Broadway

Sept. 2

BURNS HARBOR

Park Board, 6:30 p.m., 1200 Lakeland Park Dr.

CHESTERTON

Park Board, 6 p.m., Town Hall, 726 Broadway

KOUTS

Storm Water Board, 4 p.m., 210 S. Main St.

OGDEN DUNES

Town Council, 7 p.m., Ogden Dunes Firehouse, 111 Hillcrest Road

PORTER COUNTY

Porter County Education Services, executive session 8 a.m., regular meeting 8:30 a.m., SELF Board Room, 750 Ransom Road, Valparaiso

Porter County Board of Commissioners, 1 p.m., Porter County Administration Center, 155 Indiana Ave., Valparaiso

Sept. 3

CHESTERTON

Firefighters, 7 p.m., Fire Station

Sept. 4

KOUTS

Plan Commission, 6:30 p.m., Town Hall, 210 S. Main St.

Board of Zoning Appeals, special meeting 12 p.m., City Hall, 166 Lincolnway

VALPARAISO

Valparaiso Community Schools Board of School Trustees, 6 p.m., Administration Building, 3801 N. Campbell St.

Sept. 8

CHESTERTON

Town Council, 7 p.m., Town Hall, 726 Broadway

OGDEN DUNES

Water Board, 6 p.m., Town Hall, 115 Hillcrest Road

PORTER COUNTY

Porter County Drainage Board, 8:30 a.m., Porter County Administration Center, 155 Indiana Ave., Valparaiso

Porter County Sheriff's Merit Board, 4 p.m., Porter County Sheriff's Training Room, 2755 Ind. 49, Valparaiso

2 hours ago
Valpo awaiting RDA decision on TOD funding

VALPARAISO | The city hopes to learn in the next couple of weeks whether its plans for a transit-oriented development downtown will get a big financial boost from the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.

"We've been told it will happen sometime in a mid-September meeting," City Administrator Bill Oeding said.

The city went to the RDA in July with its proposal for the TOD to serve both the ChicaGo Dash express commuter bus service the city has provided for several years and the potential commuter rail service as well as provide space for retail and residential development to support the transit services.

American Structurepoint did a study for the city outlining the plan for about the area between the two sets of railroad tracks between Napoleon and Washington Streets and as far north as Monroe Street. The city asked for $7 million to $12 million to pay for extending Napoleon to the south, putting in street lights and stormwater detention, parking for 300 vehicles and a transit center for serving passenger and selling tickets.

"We can do a lot of work in that price range," Oeding said. "It depends on their appetite on what they have funding for and an interest in supporting. We are anxiously awaiting the result."

Although the city would only need about six acres for its portion of the improvement, the entire development could encompass 50 acres and would include property currently occupied by Von Tobel's, Smith Ready Mix and Lembke Glass. City Economic Development Director Patrick Lyp said the city has had preliminary talks with Von Tobel's and Smith, but the discussion will get more serious if RDA decides to fund the project.

Von Tobel's President and CEO Ken Pylipow said it's a little early to give the plan much thought but "I give the city credit for talking to us in advance and sharing thoughts about what they would like to do in the future."

"As a business and a citizen of Valparaiso, I definitely support the city administration and like what they've done to help grow the city," Pylipow said. "If they believe this is another logical step in that process and we can accommodate that without hurting our business, we will do so. I'm definitely not against it.

"As this develops further, we will do our best to work with them to accommodate their wishes to make it work. We are spread out over a couple of different city blocks, and it's not the most efficient operation or the easiest for our customers. If the opportunity is there to do the TOD and we found a suitable site to be more efficient, we would definitely consider it.

"In my mind, it's not buildings or the location that make Von Tobel's unique," Pylipow said. "It's the employees. We will continue to be part of the city, but we might do it from another location. I want Valparaiso to be a desirable place to live, If we can help that, that's what we want to do."

Spokesmen for Smith Ready Mix and Lembke Glass did not return calls for comment. Mike Brown, owner of Valpo Velvet, said no one has contacted him about the plan. Oeding said the ice cream business and restaurant should be able to remain as is if that is what the Browns want.

2 hours ago
State Prison Garden yields benefit community

MICHIGAN CITY | Fresh produce is being put on many dinner tables from a football field-sized organic garden tended by inmates at Indiana State Prison.

Ron Neal, acting prison superintendent, said six offenders do everything from planting the seed to harvesting the thousands of pounds of vegetables yielded by the huge garden.

More than 300 pounds of vegetables were given to the Salvation Army, Sand Castle Shelter for Homeless Families and Stepping Stone Shelter for Women.

The Salvation Army in Michigan City received three boxes Friday of tomatoes and cucumbers from the prison.

Since a vast majority of the food given out to the needy are in cans or boxes, "I always love when we have fresh items that we can give to people," said Lt. Bill Brutto, commander of the Salvation Army branch in Michigan City.

Other produce is sold to prison inmates to generate funds to purchase seeds and plants for crops that will grow the following year in the garden, said Pam James, an ISP spokesperson.

"This is a very worthwhile program for the offenders involved in the project and is an opportunity to give back to the local community," said James.

Collard greens, potatoes, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, okra and mixed herbs are among the vegetables raised in the garden inside the walls of the 100 acre prison grounds.

Neal said the six offenders tending to the garden are serving lengthy sentences up to life with a passion for gardening.

They reside in the open dormitory section of the prison because they're classified as non-violent.

The prison gardeners were selected after background checks revealed some degree of farming or growing experience prior to being incarcerated.

"They take it seriously," said Neal, who added the offenders go to great lengths to produce a healthy crop doing things like testing the soil to determine if there's a need to balance the nutrient levels in the ground.

Brutto said the produce included with the bags of food received by the 800 or so individuals who come into the pantry each week goes quickly, he said.

He said there are other sources of fresh produce like farmers or gardeners who might donate if they have any extra, but he'd like to see a much larger supply chain of vegetables.

"As soon as it comes through the door it goes right back out," said Brutto.

Neal said the prison gardeners also benefit by having an outlet away from the general prison population to pursue their talents and passion.

There are pluses for the remainder of the offenders who don't get much of opportunity to obtain fresh vegetables throughout the year.

Neal said the prison gardeners are assigned plots to work in the garden and use strictly hand tools like shovels and hoes.

"It's obviously a positive event any way you look at it," said Neal

2 hours ago
SMALL RETAIL: Sales bump along in long recovery
SMALL RETAIL: Sales bump along in long recovery

Small retail owners are still cautious in this uneven economic recovery, even when it comes to stocking up for the busy holiday season.

"We want to sell what's there on our shelves rather than stock it," said Rosemary De St. Jean, owner of Rosemary's Heritage Flowers, in Crown Point.

The current recovery reminds her of the early 1990s, when the national economy came back ever so slowly from the recession that occurred at the beginning of that decade.

"It takes awhile to come back," De St. Jean said. "You don't just recover overnight. Like with an illness, you have to take your time to recover."

A silver lining remains inflation, which has remained at consistently low levels throughout the recession and recovery. The price of shipping flowers has gone up a bit, but the price of vases, ornaments, novelties and other items florists sell have seen little change, De St. Jean said.

2 hours ago
Today in History: Aug. 31, 1914

The state convention of the German-American Alliance opened yesterday in Hammond. The remaining time will be devoted to entertaining the visitors.

2 hours ago
BOB HEISSE: Chime in about voting, get ready to participate at the polls
BOB HEISSE: Chime in about voting, get ready to participate at the polls

Labor Day weekend signals the end of summer for some, the start of college football for others and the political campaign season for all.

It’s been four months since 13 percent of registered voters turned out in the May 6 primary election in Indiana. That marked the lowest voter turnout in any statewide regularly scheduled election.

All signs point to a higher turnout in the general election two months away. But coming off of these lows — 13 percent in Lake and LaPorte counties and only 11 percent in Porter County — you have to wonder about participation to elect candidates who hold key positions at the local and state level.

Now that we’ve reached Labor Day, you can count on those candidates to start delivering their message louder and with more frequency, and for voters to start paying attention.

We thought this would be the best weekend to present our special report on voting in Indiana. Statehouse reporter Dan Carden’s comprehensive report, which publishes today and Monday, includes a look at some voting practices used in states with good turnout.

Should any of those be used here? We welcome your thoughts on any of this through letters to the editor. If we get a group of them, we’ll run them together in an upcoming Forum section.

Do you vote every year? If so, we’re really interested in hearing from you. Tell us why in a letter, and we’ll share it with our readers as we shine a light on the candidates, the issues and the importance of voting.

The Times has begun its editorial board endorsement process, which in the spring included us posting full video of editorial board interviews with candidates. We plan to do the same thing this fall, giving you a chance to hear exactly what we hear in response to questions.

The Times also plans to send questionnaires to candidates and post their responses to issues online. By October, we will have an online portal where you can view candidates’ stances on individual issues at your convenience.

Our video interviews and issues database will be as complete as the candidates make it. I urge candidates to respond to the questionnaires as soon as they get them, so our readers have plenty of time to follow the campaign.

Think the elections are already decided in some cases? Think again. There’s still a long way to go. Some campaigns may shift on an issue or development, and races may go down to the wire with every vote critical.

It’s been this way for decades, whether for national or local elections.

Consider this quote from Abraham Lincoln on Aug. 1, 1856: “It is a long time till the election, and what may turn up, no one can tell.”

Enjoy your Labor Day weekend. And make it your goal to vote in November.

Thanks for reading us. Please contact me with concerns or questions about The Times or our many publications.

2 hours ago