Welcome Valley Grads and Friends of the Akron / Mentone Communities

Two thirds of 8000 alumni of Tippecanoe Valley -- and the schools that created it -- no longer live in the school district. This blog is intended to keep us all connected, to news of our hometowns and of each other.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fulton County Business Incubator Seeks Input

The Fulton Economic Development Corporation is conducting a survey on the feasibility of creating a business incubator in Fulton County. FEDCO Executive Director Terry Lee has invited the readers of the Our Valley Hometowns blog and newsletter to weigh in with their opinions.

Business incubators are buildings or business parks, often established with the help of state, federal, or private grants, that offer start-up businesses subsidized rent and access to shared spaces and resources (such as IT support, accounting services, etc.) They help launch small businesses -- both services and light industry -- not only by helping with start-up costs, but by creating the synergy and environment where entrepreneurs can exchange ideas.

We are particularly interested in the insights and experiences of Valley alumni who don't live in the community any longer. What have you seen work in your area? In particular, are you aware of any friends or family who would be interested in starting or relocating a business closer to "home," if the incentives were available? It only takes one or two to make a difference!

The survey takes only about ten minutes, and can provide valuable information to the community. Just click here:

FEDCO and Our Valley Hometowns thank you in advance for your participation.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

2011 Distinguished Alumni Named

Twelve graduates of Tippecanoe Valley High School -- from each decade of the school's existence and several walks of life -- have been named the Distinguished Alumni Class of 2011. They are:

Vernon Goodman '77

Greg Hoover '78

Sherri Miller Johnson '78

Kevin Deardorff '79

Todd Stokes '82

Jerry Meadows '82

Dean Trippiedi '88

Jason Bowman '95

Nicole Borem '95

Mikah Lukens '99

Jayme McCalla Parker '01

Rebekah Parker '04

(Click on their names to read their stories, as captured by Rochester Sentinel correspondent Ann Allen -- thanks, Ann!)

This is the second year for the Distinguished Alumni program, in which Valley graduates in a wide range of professional and civic endeavors are recognized for their achievement, and return to spend a day with current students and to be honored at a public dinner and reception prior to a home football game -- this year, on September 23.

The 2010 class of distinguished alumni can be viewed here.

Monday, July 25, 2011

"View of the Valley": The School Corporation's newsletter

Here's a link to the new edition of the Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation's quarterly newsletter, "View of the Valley:"

Click here.

The school corporation mails this publication to every household within the district. The alumni blog is pleased to use the magic of the internet to share it with interested Valley graduates around the state and world. If you see articles here that would interest friends or family who live outside the school district, please forward a link to this blog post to them!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mentone Alumni Have Annual Banquet

Photo and details courtesy of Deb Cooper Spencer MHS '71

The Mentone Alumni held their annual banquet at noon on Sunday, June 12 at the Mentone School. This year the honor classes included 50-year-graduates, Class of 1961, 60-year graduates, Class of 1951, and 70-year graduates, Class of 1941. The oldest member in attendance was Mary Shirey (former co-owner of the Mentone Drive-In) of the Class of 1935. Also attending were a former MHS principal from the 1960's and his wife, Mr. & Mrs. Gaylord Toll. A total of 116 alumni attended with many coming from out-of-state, one in particular from southern California. Entertainment this year was provided by the Hearn Family of northeastern Indiana, daughter of Mentone Graduates, Rex & Freda Witham, and her husband. The banquet is held on the 2nd Sunday of June each year and all Mentone High School graduates are welcome. Next year's entertainment will be a well-known local singer with many ties to alumni, Lonny Witham. For more information, Mentone alumni are encouraged to email mentonealumni@hotmail.com.

MHS Alumni Officers:
President - Lee Markley ‘58
Secretary - Alice (Surface) Keirn ‘57
Treasurer - Mary ( Wilson ) Boggs ‘49
Historian - Linda (Besson) Cochran '56
E-mail Coordinator - Deb (Cooper) Spencer '71

Below is a photo of the honored Class of 1961. All attendees -- and those that couldn't attend! -- are invited to share their thoughts in the comments section.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Valley Classes Meet Cubs Owner

A two-hour rain delay didn't wash out the tremendous experience that Valley teachers Ben Rogers and Darren Parker arranged for their students on April 22 in Chicago. Thanks to contributions from the community and alumni, the Sports and Entertainment Marketing and Accounting classes didn't just go to a Cubs game -- they got a business seminar from owner Tom Ricketts.

First things first … Tippecanoe Valley has a Sports and Entertainment Marketing class? How unusual is that?

“It’s a year-long Career and Technical Educational (CTE) class, with vocational funding from the state,” says Rogers. “Darren and I took some classes at Bethel for our endorsement, and we met a teacher from Concord who had done a sports marketing class and suggested a book for us to use.”

Rogers, a Fort Wayne Northrup graduate who got into teaching in 2007 after starting his career in the business field (after a series of 17-hour days on the road away from his family, he says he thought “if I’m ever going to do this, I’d better do it now.”), expanded the concept to encompass entertainment marketing as well.

This year they’ve used video-conferencing technology to have “guest lecturers” like the Chief Marketing Officer of ASCAP, as well as the Vice-President of the pro football Hall of Fame. The class posted a video of a conference with video game designer Gabe Newell on YouTube and got 108,000 hits.

Parker, who is a ’97 Valley graduate (and son of former teacher and coach Jon Parker), teaches accounting and web design classes under the CTE program, and estimates that 75 to 80% of his accounting students will go to college. But college prep isn’t the sole goal of the program.

“The state is asking schools to put students on career pathways, thinking about careers as freshmen,” Parker says. “The goal is for them to be marketable in the workplace, OR qualified for college.” He cites other offerings in Facility and Mobile Equipment management, and entrepreneurship skills.

A scheduling innovation lends extra flexibility to the efforts of CTE teachers to create unusual learning experiences. Instead of following the same schedule of seven equal periods each day, Valley follows a traditional seven-period schedule on Monday, Tuesdays, and Fridays. Then on Wednesdays, the four “odd” periods (1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th) meet for 90-minute sessions. On Thursdays, the three “even” periods meet for 90 minutes, leaving an extra 90-minute period for student resource time or to allow clubs to meet during the school day.

And the entire school spends 15 minutes “every single day” on silent sustained reading.

Rogers used a little extra ingenuity to set up the Chicago trip. After an initial email to the Cubs marketing department to explore a behind-the-scenes tour got a tepid response, “I just ‘guessed’ at the email addresses for other people in the organization, and sent the same request.” Within five minutes, the Chairman, Tom Ricketts, responded, and cc’d the marketing department. Ricketts offered to meet with the class before the game, provided them with vouchers for souvenirs and refreshments as well as a ticket discount, and arranged for them to have their picture taken on the hallowed (albeit wet) grass of Wrigley before the game.

To complete the experience, the two classes took busses to Chesterton, then rode the South Shore and the Red Line to Wrigleyville. “A lot of these students had never been out of the area, let alone on a train.” They topped it off with dinner at Giordano’s.

The tickets, travel and meals were provided at no cost to the students or the school, thanks to gifts from Kosciusko County Community Foundation, BNW Industries, Nelson Beverage, Splendor Boats, Lake City Bank and Lake City Group, Symmetry Medical, Newlin Associates, and Warsaw Area Career Center, as well as individual contributions from Charles Smith, Rick Moriarty, and Greg Hoover.

Valley becomes first Indiana school powered by wind

Visiting opponents will have yet another reason to be intimidated this fall at the football field known as Death Valley – they’ll be playing in the shadow of a 321-foot tall, three-armed robot from outer space. Or maybe it’s a wind turbine. They still remind me of War of the Worlds ...

On Tuesday, May 31, local officials and State Senator Randy Head joined forty Valley students from the four main buildings in the district to turn the first shovels of dirt, in a groundbreaking ceremony for the first project in the state to provide wind-powered electricity and extra revenue for a public school system.

The tower will rise in a field south of the middle school and west of the north end zone of the football field this summer, and should be operational by October. Why Valley? Not every school building that is situated in a favorable location for wind power owns enough land to be able to clear the surrounding tree lines. And certainly, few school districts have $2.3 million lying around to finance the upfront costs of a project that will pay for itself in ten to twelve years and generate an extra couple hundred thousand dollars a year that can go into classroom education instead of overhead in the meantime.

Not that TVSC had $2.3 million lying around. But the district qualified for a federal Clean Energy Renewal Bond that advanced the money and pays all but about one percent of the interest while the bond is paid off. The Valley board and administration was willing to do the research, and the negotiating with the local utility, to make this project work. As Senator Head (R-Logansport) said in his comments – after a wince-inducing laundry list of criticisms that he’s heard about public schools being inefficient and not innovative – “I’m proud to represent TVHS -- and point to this example that those criticisms are not true.”

The mechanics of the project, which Superintendent Brett Boggs described at the ceremony, are fascinating – and have been the subject of numerous student research projects. The turbine itself – 321 feet tall, with three 100’ blades – is being built in Germany and will be assembled by Indiana contractors coordinated by Indy-based Performance Services, Inc. It will arrive through the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Great Lakes, and the Port of Chicago. The crane that assembles it will itself have to be assembled on site – after arriving on ten separate semi-trailers.

After the ceremony, school board member Mark Wise answered questions about the financial impact of the project. It is expected to produce about 70% of the electricity needs of the high school and middle school. Those schools are heated with natural gas, but depend on electricity for their lights, computers, and air conditioning – to the tune of about $250,000 a year. So the project will begin saving the school district around $160,000 a year in operating costs – which are state-funded and therefore allow the school to reallocate those dollars to the classroom.

At this point, it is not efficient to “store” wind-generated energy. It has to be used as it is generated. When the wind is not blowing, the school will continue to buy its electricity from Koscuisko County REMC … which in turn will buy excess electricity from the school after 3 PM and during summer vacations, creating another revenue stream for the school.

After a break this summer while construction takes place, next year the school will return to using the surrounding farmland for fund-raising projects – not just making hay while the sun shines, but making power while the wind blows.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thirty Years on Mentone Main Street: An Interview with Rita Price Simpson

By Ron Newlin '76

A couple of weeks ago I sat down with Rita Price Simpson in her Mentone office, to talk about how the town – in particular Main Street – has changed over the years.

Anyone who’s ever listened to a Valley sporting event broadcast on WRSW knows Rita. The school district has been her “beat” since before it existed – in fact, she’s celebrating her 52nd year with the Warsaw radio station this year, having started there in 1959 after graduating from Bourbon High School.

Over the years, she’s become even more ensconced as the voice and memory of Mentone – especially since she and her husband Jack bought a business and moved there in 1979. Over the years, Jack has served on the town board, and Rita still serves as President of the Chamber of Commerce. You don’t get any more engaged than the Simpsons.

“Realistically, I look at Mentone as a suburb of Warsaw now,” is her candid opening assessment. More than in the past, the people who live here and in the surrounding countryside “are not just farmers and local small businesses. They work at DePuy, or Zimmer, or Biomet.”

“That’s the reality in small towns these days,” she adds. “Compared to a lot of places, we’re pretty secure, with pretty good employment opportunities.”

“Another real asset is the improvement to the elementary school,” Rita continues, with the irrepressible enthusiasm one would expect from a Chamber president. “We have a very dedicated staff, good teachers.”

“And when the library moved downtown, that made a real difference,” she goes on.

The Bell Memorial Public Library, which shares a new facility on the southwest corner of Main and Broadway with a day-care and a senior center, is routinely ranked in the top five libraries of its size in the nation by national library organizations (see here). “It’s very well used, and a beautiful environment. It took a long time, but it was a wonderful collaboration between the town council and the library board.”

The new buildings in downtown may house public-funded entities, but they probably wouldn’t have happened without private investment – specifically, philanthropy.

One of the things that brought the library collaboration to fruition was a remarkable bequest from long-time resident Russell Eber, who quietly left almost a million dollars from his estate to five local organizations, including the library,
the youth league, the fire department, the Bell Museum, and the Chamber. The Chamber has used its share of the bequest to, in turn, co-invest in other developments, such as a large, new emergency building to house the fire department and EMT service, as well as other town offices. “We wanted to use a local contractor,” Rita says. “By using private funding, instead of state or federal grant dollars, we were able to build what we needed. Russell Eber’s bequest really helped with that total situation.”

Rita and Jack have been mainstays on Main Street for 30 years, but her involvement goes back even further.

“I started coming to Mentone in 1959, the year I started working for the radio station. I sold advertising to about everyone in town,” she told me.

In 1979, when long-time businessman Darrell King decided to sell his furniture and carpet store at the west end of downtown, Rita knew the community well. “At that time Jack was in the real estate business. We talked to Wayne Tombaugh, who had worked for Darrell for twelve years, and when he agreed to manage the business for us, we decided to buy it.”

“We didn’t know anything about the furniture and carpet business, so keeping Wayne was key,” she said. “And we didn’t have to take an income out of it.” They continued to work at their day jobs, investing their return on the furniture store into expanding the business and buying other properties over the years.

Business was done more casually thirty-plus years ago. “Darrell King sat down with me and went through his checkbook with me,” so she could see first hand what the expenses of the business were, and what its owner was able to take out of it. Then she and Jack talked to Farmers State Bank president Forrest Miner, saying, “’Forrest, we’re interested in the furniture store.’”

In an inspired move that today might be called “branding,” they renamed the business Valley Furnishings, in tribute to the growing sense that all the towns feeding into the new high school halfway between Mentone and Akron constituted a community.

At that point, Rita went from being the voice of Valley sports on WRSW, to a member of the family. Jack and Rita’s middle daughter Kelly finished high school at Plymouth, but essentially became an honorary member of the TVHS Class of 1980. She now lives in Portland Oregon with her husband Bernie Doering. Youngest daughter Dana (now Pierce), a bonafide TVHS grad in ’86, now lives and operates a coffee shop in Bremen. Main Street retail is in her blood.

Over the next thirty years, Jack and Rita acquired several more buildings on the
north side of Main Street. “Every building we bought was for an expansion of the furniture store,” she says. And, notably, they never bought a building that displaced an existing business.

As they expanded the carpet business, they needed additional warehouse space, which led to acquiring properties that once housed Cooper’s Department Store, the Frank Manufacturing building, and an empty gas station.

“It got to the point where we weren’t running the business, the business was running us,” she says with a laugh. And so they sold off their carpet business, and eventually transitioned the rest of their holdings into rentals (including space for a consignment shop, an antique store, and a chiropractor’s office), and of course into Java Jack’s coffee shop.

“We never had any problems renting,” Rita shares. “But nobody wants to buy.”

One complication, she points out, is how Indiana’s recent property tax restructuring affects the cost of business property. Taxes are capped on residential property at 1% of assessed value, and commercial property can be taxed as high as 3%. “Factor in the homestead credit,” Rita points out, “and it costs more in taxes to own a $100,000 building on Main Street than a $350,000 house on the lake.”

Meanwhile, “The Valley Furnishings name was in town for 29 years,” she says, with much more pride than wistfulness.


I blog here largely for the people who grew up here and have moved away, so I’m interested in what’s changed, and what’s stayed the same. My honest assessment is that at first look, the last 30 years represent progress. And that a closer look reveals some challenges.

If you approach Mentone from Warsaw on 25, not much has changed … the BK drive-in
restaurant is still open east of town, and an impressive new medical clinic sits at the top of the hill. Approaching Main Street, the familiar sequence of the Ace Hardware store (now owned by Dayne Manwaring), the world-famous Mentone Egg beside Lake City Bank, and the Methodist Church has remained intact.
Across the street from the Egg, what was once a gas station has been enlarged and is now a grocery store.

The western approach to Mentone has even more striking signs of progress. The familiar industrial and commercial structures of Midwest Spring and Cargill are still focal points on the north side of State Road 25. On the south, in addition to attractive new “Welcome” signage, the original small brick building that houses the Lawrence D. Bell Aircraft Museum (where I installed the plumbing as part of a
summer job in the late 1970s) has expanded to include a large hanger that houses meeting space and two helicopters, and one of those iconic Vietnam-era “Huey” choppers sits in front of the structure. All that is a bit obscured, however, by a simple but attractive new facility housing the Baptist Church Activity Center.

Other than the new library, “nothing’s much changed as far as structures” on Main Street, Rita points out. What’s different is the mix of businesses in those structures.

We’re in her office beside Java Jack’s, which occupies what used to be Cooper’s Department Store. I try to figure out whether her office is in what was once the L&B grocery store. Thirty years ago, Mentone had two groceries. A few years ago, it had none. Now it has one – thanks in no small part to Rita.

“This is something we have to work very hard at,” she says, referring to the Chamber of Commerce and the community as a whole. “We don’t have space for industrial development.

“But we are very active to encourage and welcome new businesses, particularly commercial businesses. When I’m out selling ads, I will stop in businesses like the one I’m trying to recruit, and let them know about the opportunity.” That’s how she not only got a new grocer to move to town, she attracted multiple offers, “and I chose the most experienced.”

Across from the grocery, there's now a Dollar General store. Further west, the familiar signs for Baker Appliance and Boggs and Nelson Insurance are still prominent. Both businesses are closed. Another agency bought the insurance company, but moved into another space. The appliance store remains as a time capsule, merchandise visible through the front window, as if the owner is simply out for lunch. Rita agrees that well-kept signage is better than obviously empty storefronts.

Down the street, the beloved Teel’s restaurant is still there, operated by lifelong restauranteur Karen Clark. (Mary Teel, by the way, is living in a retirement community in Warsaw.) But the namesake restaurant is only open for dinner on weekends. I’ve had a couple of great meals in the Bulldog Tavern, but families who don’t want to take children into a smoking establishment on a weeknight are out of luck.

But there’s an answer for that coming, as well. The chamber has attracted a nearby Subway franchisee to open his fourth store on Main Street this summer.

As much as I’ve enjoyed my visits to the Bulldog, I’m aware that it occupies what used to be Mentone’s drug store, The Pillbox. Owner Bill Wynn, who came to Mentone about the same time as the Simpsons, refocused his business on home medical equipment a few years ago and was not able to find to find a buyer for the pharmacy. “Bill told me that was one of the hardest decisions he ever had to make,” she shares.

Rita subsequently devoted herself to recruiting every local pharmacist in her advertising territory. The person she talked to was Harry Webb, who owns pharmacies in Rochester and Akron. The challenge, Webb told her, was finding qualified people who are both pharmacists and good store managers – and competing with CVS to pay them.

“I always asked myself, if you lived in Mentone and didn’t have a car, could you still get everything you need without ever leaving town,” Rita says. “Until we lost the pharmacy, the answer to that was yes.”

The fact is, small towns are not as economically vibrant as they were 30 years ago. The number and diversity of locally-owned businesses isn’t as great as it was; and when one of the “staples” closes or leaves, a replacement no longer automatically appears to fill the vacuum.

Mentone is in better shape than a lot of them. Not many have a Chamber President with a job with a radio station that puts her in contact with hundreds of other business people in surrounding communities, where she can recruit new investors. And one who has an inventory of downtown properties that she can lease, if not sell, to prospective entrepreneurs. How do small towns that don’t have a Rita Price Simpson keep up?

And what will Mentone do when she leaves the scene?

My final question to Rita is, what does Mentone need most now? Her response: “Five years ago, I could have told you a lot more things than I can now.” She ticks back through the improvements to the school, the library, the daycare and senior center, the museum; and adds improvements to the park and a new senior housing development. The loss of a pharmacy tasks her, but the loss of a grocery store – the death knell for many small towns from Georgia to North Dakota – has been rectified. She would still like room for an industrial park, “but we’re landlocked. And the farmers who own the land around the town limits will not sell anything. They’re emphatic about it.”

As we wind down our conversation, Rita’s husband Jack joins us. She asks him the same question. Jack, a former town council member, also zeroes in on the lack of an industrial park, especially one with access to a railroad siding. “We’ve got the best railroad track in the world,” he claims, which is why Mentone was able to resist an attempt by a neighboring community to lure away Cargill recently. He floats the idea of the town exercising eminent domain to acquire the necessary land. Rita looks skeptical. That’s a different downside of a small town – it’s easier to use the muscle of eminent domain when the property owners are strangers rather than neighbors.

Jack points out another way in which property tax reform has hamstrung small towns. He refers to a small development just outside the city limits, and suggests, “The state has lowered taxes on homes so much, that it doesn’t pay to annex them.” It would cost the town more to extend water and sewer service to them, than they would generate in revenue.

So, to recap: Between the school, the library, the emergency building, the museum, and a senior housing community, Mentone has some significant capital improvements over the past few years, thanks in no small part to private philanthropy. The small industrial base is solid but static. The commercial base is smaller than it was 30 years ago, but better than it was five years ago.

And people make a difference.

I can’t help but notice that the old American Legion building, at the intersection

of State Roads 19 and 25, has a for-sale sign in front of it. Rita thinks it may have a buyer, but the sign is still there. It doesn’t have a cannon out front any more, but it still has the ventilation system and the three-phase electrical service for a commercial kitchen. And an eye-popping price of $39,900.

Any takers?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Valley Breaks Ground on Wind Power Initiative

Here's a pretty cool story:

Construction to Begin on New Wind Farm

InsideINdianaBusiness.com Report

The Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation invites the public to the Tippecanoe Valley Wind Power Project Groundbreaking Event on Tuesday, May 31, at 1:30 p.m. The event will be held at the Tippecanoe Valley Bus Garage (11351 W 800 S, Akron, IN 46910), located on the campus of Tippecanoe Valley High School and Tippecanoe Valley Middle School.

The Tippecanoe Valley Wind Power Project will be Indiana’s largest community wind project designed to directly power school facilities.

The event will be held rain or shine. Refreshments will be provided.

Parking will be available at the Bus Garage.

Source: Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation, Performance Services

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Charlie Smith Left Football Legacy

by Kevin Deardorff, TVHS '79

Nearly all of us attending Valley from inception to 1983 were somehow impacted by Charlie Smith, whether as a teacher or coach. Even those following felt his legacy in one form or another. He is a living legend in many circles, and I’ve had the pleasure and benefit of knowing him in many capacities for over 35 years, and am lucky enough to spend most of my days in the office beside him at Lake City Bank. (And to answer your first question… he has “mellowed” over the years, but only to the slightest degree!)

Coach Smith literally built the Valley football program from the ground up, as the former Akron and Mentone High Schools did not offer football prior to consolidation. He had done the same successfully at Triton, after starting his coaching career at Manchester following graduation from Manchester College in 1967,

where he starred on the football and track teams. In 1974, he started a program with JV and Freshman teams on a consolidated basis, even though students were still attending school at both Akron and Mentone separately. The future was also fostered with the introduction of junior high teams under Charlie’s guidance (where I first came into contact with him, as a scrawny 8th grade quarterback).

In limited Varsity play in the fall of 1975, Valley (still with split campuses at the time) had a surprising record of 3 wins against 2 losses. Ryan Williams went on to play Division I at Air Force from that squad. In 1976, the first year of the “new” high school, the Varsity went 8-2. Amazingly, in 1977, the team enjoyed an undefeated regular season and finished as state runner-up, losing only 15-6 to Indianapolis Ritter. Ray Rockhill was chosen to play in the North-South All-Star game (which included schools of all class sizes), but was unable to do so due to an injury suffered during the basketball season. His younger brother, Charles (“Chewy”), played in the All-Star game the next year. Two more undefeated seasons followed, with a state title in 1979.

Charlie was also honored as the IHSAA Football Coach of the Year. The Vikings only lost three games over the next three regular seasons, including another undefeated season in 1981. Coach Smith had an amazing 88% winning percentage during his tenure at Valley, and only lost two games at home, which not surprisingly became known as “Death Valley”. Craig Kantner also played in the All-Star game before going on to star at Ball State. Another Division I player and All-Star was Tim Alspaugh, who played at Purdue. Several others went on to play collegiately at smaller schools, including Scott Bibler at Taylor, who ultimately returned to Valley to teach and become head football coach himself. All who played for Charlie gained maturity, confidence, and poise in the face of challenge and adversity. Most went on to achieve success in their academic, professional, and family lives, and many would give significant credit to lessons learned while playing for Charlie. He possessed the same passion and dedication to teaching, as well as also coaching track.

Charlie left teaching and coaching in 1983, taking on the challenge of a new career in banking. He started as manager of the Lake City Bank branch in Mentone, with one of his first employees being Valley grad Karen (May) Francis, who remains at that office yet today as Vice-President, Manager, and Regional Manager. In 1985, Smith was promoted to VP-Commercial Banking, and further promoted to SVP in 1992. In 2000, he was further promoted to Executive Vice President, where he now oversees
a commercial loan portfolio of nearly $2 billion. Charlie has also been very active in local government, currently serving on the Warsaw City Council, Board of Works, and Redevelopment Commission, as well as the Kosciusko County Economic Development Corporation, board of Senior Services, and the Indiana Statewide Certified Development Corporation. His community service endeavors include Warsaw Rotary, past YMCA board member, former graduate and past president of Kosciusko Leadership Academy, the county Educational Council, Junior Achievement, March of Dimes, United Way, Combined Community Services, and other organizations.
Charlie currently resides in Warsaw with Ann, his wife of 11 years. He is the father of three Valley grads. Michelle LeDrew (Class of ’88), a former cheerleader is the wife of a US Marine and the mother of three boys. Scott (’90), who played both football and basketball at Valley, is an attorney in Warsaw. Youngest son, Ryan (’99) is a professional airline pilot. Charlie states his three “best friends in the world” are his kids.

Remember me saying Charlie had mellowed slightly? Well, very slightly. He still gets the most of every moment in a day, literally. He is a licensed pilot, national ranked Alpine skier, avid football fan (especially of Notre Dame, flying himself to most away games and hosting the world’s greatest tailgate at home games), and in his “spare” time, enjoys boating, water skiing, cycling, and (not so much) golf. We used to play a lot of tennis, until he literally wore his knee (and me) out!

Charlie is contemplating retirement later this year, but I GUARANTEE he will not slow down in any way. He will only move on to another chapter in his life. For example, he is currently studying to obtain his instrument rating, on a mission to lose 20 pounds (though he’s fit as a fiddle), and looking for his next adventure. I’ll miss him being in the next office terribly, and will always envy his tremendous zest for life. Whether a former player, student, client, or friend, Charlie will always go out of his way to assist one in any way possible. He deserves all the world can offer. If you’d like to wish him well or reconnect, he can be reached via e-mail at charlie.smith@lakecitybank.com.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Twelve Steps to Building the Database

1. Plan a get together with two or three friends, somewhere with a laptop and internet access. It helps to bring a local phone book, and your old yearbooks can be helpful. Hopefully, one of you is a member of Facebook. Oh, and coffee and scones, or your favorite adult beverages come in handy too!

2. Before you meet, I will email you the current contact information I have for your classes, which is essentially two-year-old data from the ValleyAlumni site. Typically I have about 50 addresses for classes before 1990, and maybe 15 for younger classes. I will also email you any other class roster that we’ve been able to collect from reunion organizers, although these might be even older.

3. Go to the online ValleyMaster database here:


and click on the tab at the bottom of the page for your class (or whichever one you want to look at). You will be able to edit this document.

4. Check the partial address lists that I emailed you. Are there obvious errors? (i.e., people who you KNOW have moved or changed email addresses since this list was compiled?) If not, key in the mailing address, phone number, and email address into the ValleyMaster form on Google Docs.

5. Read down the remaining list of classmates that we don’t yet have addresses for. If you know or are fairly certain that someone still lives locally, or in Warsaw or Rochester, just enter the town name into the ValleyMaster document for now. We can set those aside for later. If you don’t have any idea, but know who you would ask (for example, a cousin who still lives locally), put that person’s name in the address field for now and move on.

6. As you go through the list on ValleyMaster (which should be alphabetical), you’ll probably remember classmates who’s name doesn’t appear. Since this list was drawn from the school’s official graduation programs, it misses some people who didn’t go through commencement (families moved, finished graduation requirements after May, didn’t actually graduate, etc.). Please feel free to add any of those names to the list. Try to include maiden names as if they were middle names.

7. Go down the list again from the top, both “locals” and “unknown,” and do a Facebook search for each individual. Common names will generate too many results to check individually, but you will find many this way. Some people actually list their email address on their “info” page. When they do, please enter it into the ValleyMaster spreadsheet.

8. Whether or not you can find their email address on their Facebook page, send these people a friend request. Include a message – “Hi Joe, good to find you. We are working to update our class roster, and the school and community foundation are starting an e-newsletter. Would you PM me with your email address?” And/or, “You should join the Alumni page on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#!/group.php?gid=9609383241
And/or join the Valley Alumni social networking site at http://valleyalumni.ning.com

9. When you’ve worked your way through your class, you should have two groups of people left – 1) people who live nearby that you didn’t find on Facebook, and 2) people who you don’t know where they live, that you didn’t find on Facebook.

10. Divvy up the first group between yourselves, and simply look them up in the phone book or on Switchboard.com. From home, each of you can enter the mailing addresses and phone numbers into the ValleyMaster document on GoogleDocs. If you are willing to call some of them and ask them if they have an email address or a Facebook account, do that.

11. Send an email to some or all of the friends and classmates for whom you do have email addresses, and share with them the second list (the non-local people who you can’t find on Facebook). Who knows where members of this list are now, or were last?

12. Make an appointment to get back together in two weeks and share with each other what you’ve found from your phone book research and calls.

Ron Newlin

The Valley - Butler Connection

A couple of other contributors and I have started a “Where Are They Now” round-up of Valley friends who have moved out of state. When we started the research, during the first week of the “March Madness” NCAA basketball tournament, it occurred to me that we could easily fill a 64-team bracket (or three) with the names of friends who have moved to other parts of the country (East, Southeast, Midwest, and West).

That’s a project for another issue (although if you’d like to help, write me at valleyalumni@sbcglobal.net). Meanwhile, in honor of the amazing run by Indiana’s own Butler University, I thought I would take a quick survey of some of the Valley-Butler connections I could find. (This is by no means exhaustive; just some of the information shared by the 1020 Valley friends who have created profiles on the Valley Alumni social network site.)

Lisa Doran Canda (Valley ’76) was a Butler grad before moving to sunny Miami, Florida, where she and her husband Miguel own a Batteries Plus franchise.

Brett Hackworth ’76 graduated from Butler in ’80 after starting his college career at Taylor University, and served as student manager of the basketball team. “It was fun since I was able to be on scout team some,” he recalls. “ I actually did pretty well. Which made Mike Steele, the assistant coach, say "you need to walk on, what year are you?" That was great for the ego!” Today Brett lives with wife Sue in suburban Kansas City, where he is President of apparel manufacturer King Louie America.

Andy Knoop ’77 earned a Master's degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Butler in 1989, on his way to a doctorate and a position with the University of Missouri. “I was working full-time in Kokomo then, and commuted to the Butler campus two or three afternoons or evenings a week to complete my degree,” he shared. “As a commuter student, my Butler experience was significantly different than that of a resident student. Most of the time, when I was on campus I was either in Jordan Hall attending classes or in the Irwin Library digging through references. I didn't have a lot of time to "soak up" the Butler experience. However, I loved the Holcomb Gardens and the Carillon. Whenever possible, I'd drive to campus early and take time to walk through the well-kept landscaping. The leaves were majestic in the fall! When the weather was too cold for a walk, I'd sneak into Hinkle Fieldhouse, find a place to sit and watch the random pick-up basketball games.”

Maybe one of those games involved Leslie Miller Brouyette ’88, who attended Butler on a basketball scholarship – and no doubt left some good karma in Hinkle Fieldhouse that is still working to this day. These days she lives near Claypool with spouse Chad (’89), and works as sales manager for Wabash Valley Manufacturing.

Craven Lynn ’89 credits Valley friends Dayne and Deron Manwaring for leading him to Butler University. “Dayne, Deron and I were members of the TKE (Tau Kappa Epsilon) fraternity and lived in the house during our stay at Butler. I went there because of those guys. We swam together growing up for 7-8 years in JAWS at Valley.” Today Craven lives in Indianapolis with his wife Amy and works as an independent insurance claims adjuster.

Erica Egolf Eysturlid ’89 graduated from Butler with a degree in Music Education, and later added masters and doctorate degrees in education. At the time she joined the alumni site she was a school counselor in Geneva, Illinois.

Eric Toetz ’90 graduated from Butler with a degree in computer science. He works for Eli Lilly and Company and lives in Indianapolis with his wife Kelly.

Lael Leininger Dubois ’91 graduated from Butler with a degree in Spanish and Education, and later added a masters in library science. At the time she joined the alumni site she was working as a Library Media Specialist at Plainfield High School and serving as President Elect of the Association of Indiana Media Educators. She and her husband Chris Dubois (TVHS ’91), who is a counselor at Cascade High School, have two sons.

Here’s hoping all these Viking-Bulldogs enjoyed watching their second alma mater in its amazing NCAA tournament run.

These stories are no doubt just the tip of the iceberg – and just a sampling of the fun detail that can be gleaned by surfing through the Valley Alumni site. Now that most of the world in on Facebook, ValleyAlumni is no longer the site of as much activity as it once was – but I like to think of it as a Valley version of “Linked In,” which can be consulted on an occasional basis. We encourage you to periodically update your profile – and to invite others to join it.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Boggs Addresses District's Assets, Challenges

By Ron Newlin '76

If I told you that the Superintendent of Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation had been involved in the local school system for fifty years, you would assume we were being led by an elder statesman facing mandatory retirement.

Brett Boggs just turns 55 this year. When I sat down with him in his conference room earlier this semester and asked him how long he’d been in the district, he answered, “I started attending school in kindergarten at Mentone, so, 1961.”

“There was a period of about four years in college where I still lived in the community but wasn’t involved the schools,” said the 1974 Mentone High School graduate, “but other than that …”

And even the undergraduate interlude had a Valley flavor.

“My senior year at Grace College, Mark Barker, the principal at Akron, asked me to substitute teach for Phil See in P.E./Health, then Kate Jennens in 4th grade.” Jennens retired that summer, and Boggs was interviewed by the principal and Superintendent Lloyd Harrell and approved for the position.

Suffice it to say that no one is better positioned to comment on what has changed, and what is constant, about the schools and communities that we’ve come to think of as Valley.

“The biggest change I’ve seen is the effect that technology has had on everything we do,” Boggs offered. “I remember the first computer placed in my classroom in the early 1980s … how exciting that was, and how the kids responded.” One favorite was a problem-solving game based on the Oregon Trail with an elementary video component.

“We used it as a learning center – if you finished your other work early, you could spend time on it.”

Today’s equivalent, suggests Boggs, are computer whiteboards. “You go into the school in Akron and see kids doing things freehand on white boards and slates that they used to be doing on a chalkboard – but the board is saving their work to the computer.”

Valley has also been able to invest in technology for two-way video-conferencing, or distance learning – a tool that can allow teachers to bring subject matter experts, including alumni, into the classroom without either party having to travel. The students aren’t just benefiting from the technology – they are demonstrating it. “Ben Rogers’ Marketing Class recently made that presentation to the school board.”

Beyond the walls of the schools, Boggs said, “The community has changed a lot. Frankly we deal with a lot more poverty now. When I moved to Akron in 1978, there were many older, and sometimes more affluent folks. Today many of our families aren’t affluent.” Over half of Valley students qualify for free or reduced meals, for example.

“What has stayed the same is the nature of the community, the closeness, the fact that people care about each other – that has not changed one iota.”

“Not as many of our families are involved in agriculture, but there’s still a strong work ethic.”

That exchange is vintage Brett Boggs. He is even-handed, courteous, and a consensus builder, respected within the community and beyond (in 2003 his peers in the Indiana Association of School Principals named him District Elementary Principal of the Year). He’s also aware that he’s the CEO of a $20 million operation -- the community’s leading employer and provider of its most important service –- and that public education has never been more financially challenged or contentiously debated. And he’s not unwilling to calmly consider some controversial positions.

“If we’re trying to do what’s best for students the State should consider lengthening the mandatory school year,” Boggs suggested at one point. “That would not be popular with many; not with the students, for certain.”

“But we’re competing with countries that have longer school years and longer school days.”

I interviewed Boggs earlier in the current legislative session, before the full range of proposed reforms were known and before the walkout and gridlock put the entire legislative session at risk. “The Governor is unhappy with teachers’ unions, that’s obvious,” he said at that time. But he doesn’t think Valley is one of the districts that has incited that displeasure.

“Many school districts have language in their contracts that makes it difficult to administer their schools effectively and do what’s best for students. Fortunately, we’re not one of them.”

“If the legislature really wanted to help us out, they could mandate an 8-hour day,” Boggs offered at that time. “If they want us to begin school after Labor Day and end the school year before June 10, then just create a state-wide school calendar and put everyone on it. I like the State Fair as well as anyone, but if we’re going to let the State Fair tell us determine when the school year starts…”

Of course, virtually none of the public education reforms being debated these days involve increased funding.

Two years ago, Indiana cut and capped property taxes and paid for that tax cut with an increase in the state sales tax – giving state government far greater control over local school districts’ budgets. Last year, the state responded to declining overall tax revenues by cutting Valley’s budget by almost $600,000 – funds that the school board now can’t replace locally if they wanted.

Along with that funding change, the state did away with school districts being required to charge transfer tuition for students who don’t live in the district.

“The state is encouraging competition,” Boggs pointed out. “That bothers me a little bit. On the one hand they encourage us to collaborate, but at the same time we’re pushed to compete for students.”

Still, he points out that Valley has responded to that challenge by developing a competitive advantage. Unlike surrounding schools, Valley has chosen to fund full-day kindergarten.

“Now that it’s open enrollment, we have 51 students from non-resident families. Several of those are coming for our full-day kindergarten. We feel if we can get them here, we can keep them here.” While Valley does lose some students to Warsaw and Rochester, mostly kids who ride with parents who work there, “I think it’s a net gain for us,” Boggs suggests.

Of course, Boggs would believe in full-day kindergarten even if not for the open enrollment issue. “Of all the interventions we have in place for our students, that’s the most important. It makes a tremendous difference in a student’s future progress.”

But Boggs is aware that the schools in our hometowns are facing more global issues than the current fiscal and legislative challenges. Not least among them is the fact that the population of rural Indiana is not only not growing, it is actually dwindling. Fulton County lost 1.3% of its population in the 2000s.

“Enrollment has been extremely consistent over 20-25 years, it’s been very steady,” Boggs says of Valley. “We’ve grown, last year to this year, after being down about 140 students, K-12, over the previous three years.”

From a distance, I found this surprising. I’ve been aware that, 31 years ago, Valley won its first state championship as a Class A football school (the smallest of three classes). Today Valley competes in basketball in the second largest of four classes. Valley has gone from being in the smallest third to the largest half of Indiana high schools – I assumed that meant that the population was growing along with the booming orthopedics industry in Kosciusko County.

But in fact, Valley is still about the same size today – about 650 students in the top four grades – as it was when it was created in 1975. What has happened is that 100 other schools that used to be somewhat larger are now somewhat smaller.

Boggs thinks that the Akron-Mentone community will remain large enough to support an independent school system. He’s not so sure that the same is true for smaller area schools districts like Triton, Argos, and Caston given the current political and financial realities that could cause small school districts to consolidate with their neighbors. When asked to look five years into the future, Boggs becomes philosophical.

“In our community, the school is often the center of community life. If that changes, I don’t know what will be the center. No one knows for sure where technology is taking us. But there’s always a need for people to get together -- a need for people to learn to work together, to work in the real world with people who are the same, and different from you.”

And yet sports and music and theater – the extra-curriculars where so many of those lessons are learned – are under fiscal pressure everywhere. And societal changes are reducing their relevance anyway.

“We have fewer and fewer kids participating in after school activities,” Boggs acknowledged. “Often, lack of participation has to do with socio-economic situations. It’s expensive. Just getting them there or picking them up afterwards is expensive. We haven’t gone to ‘pay to play’ like other school districts in our area, but we do pass along more of the expense for uniforms and equipment to families than we did in the past.”

And a growing percentage of students work during the school year. “That number has increased significantly. It is amazing to me the number of kids involved in extra-curricular activities that also have a part-time jobs on top of that.”

Family dynamics are changing, too.

“A fourth grade teacher might see a lot of in-and-out, more than we’ve had before. Seven, eight, nine kids in; seven, eight, nine kids out over the course of the year. If you have 25 kids, and you have 10-12 children living with both bio-parents, that’s quite a few.”

And, “It’s amazing the number of high school students we have that are on their own.” Many students take advantage of what is now called the Burket Alternative Education Center to attend school half-days, so they can go to work to pay the bills.

But Boggs isn’t one to make excuses from these realities. The schools work to make the seven-hour school days provide expansive, “beyond-the-textbook” opportunities.

“I do an hour’s worth of classroom visitations each week. I see a lot more collaborative work now,” Boggs said, citing a recent visit to a the high school’s Project Lead the Way lab class, where several groups of two or three students were using Lego-like components to build a machine to sort marbles.

Internship programs – once the culmination of a college education – are now a high school effort. “We’re trying to get students placed where they’re thinking of that as a career – for instance, with a veterinarian,” Boggs offered. “Students leave here every day to experience time in a hospital, or with EMTs, to see if they might be interested in a career in health care.”

Poor graduation rates have plagued almost all Indiana high schools in recent years, but Boggs cites principal Kirk Doehrmann and the TVHS staff for increasing Valley’s rate from 68% to over 80% in the past four years.

“We have two graduation coaches at our high school. Each has 15-17 students, identified as at risk of dropping out of school, and the graduation coaches work with them daily. If we can get kids to connect with at least one adult in the school, that makes the difference.”

And there are other areas in which Boggs is pushing ahead. For all the state and federal mandates to test and measure progress within each class, no government agency requires school districts to measure their efficacy once they’ve issued diplomas.

He’s charged current Mentone principal Angie Miller (TVHS ’85) with developing a survey instrument so the school corporation can poll its graduates and begin to document their educational and vocational achievements (the number of two-year degrees, four-year degrees, other certifications) in the years since graduating – as well as to invite their feedback and suggestions for improvement.

“We’ve been urged to do this kind of research, not by the State so much, but by our accrediting body. We’ve been saying we need to do this for a few years, and so we’re going to do it.” Increasingly, Boggs believes, this kind of data on a school system’s effectiveness after the fact is going to be useful, if not required, by potential federal and foundation funding sources. He wants to have it sooner rather than later.

Parents of current students who are Valley alums themselves will be invited to complete the survey online or at one of the schools. But what of the two thirds of Valley graduates who no longer live within the school district? That’s one of the reasons we’ve been using this newsletter to recruit Valley alums to help build the email database of people who have moved away.

I asked Boggs what he would like Valley alums to take away from this conversation. His response – after an hour of candidly assessing a world of challenges – revealed his commitment to his profession and his community.

“Bottom line, this is still a very good place to live and raise a family. A lot of things that people from here say were advantages for them, are still advantages. “

“We’re very progressive for a small rural school. We have leadership and a staff with an intense desire to be excellent, to be great.”

“Families and students should know that if they work hard here, and take advantage of the many opportunities available to them, they can compete with anyone from anywhere.”

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Akron Thrives on Volunteer Involvement

by Ron Newlin '76

Anyone who has ever visited a place where they lived 25 or 30 years ago looks for the things that haven’t changed, and takes note of the things that have. With a lot of small towns, the changes can be discouraging … but when that town is Akron, it’s heartening how many of the changes are positive.

And if you were going to arrange a tour of Akron, you couldn’t pick a better guide than lifelong Valley resident Kirk Robinson (TVHS ’77). In fact, Robinson is who one famous visitor asked to ride shotgun and point out the sights back in 2004.

“I did get to give Mitch Daniels the tour when he was campaigning for Governor. He had his driver take that RV all over town,” said Robinson in a recent interview -- while speculating that the candidate was probably late for his next appointment in Plymouth.

The fact is, Akron has more to “show off” than most towns its size these days. For that, it has a fairly robust industrial base to thank. More importantly, though, it has a remarkable level of volunteerism and civic engagement – which Robinson epitomizes. He was President of the Akron Chamber of Commerce for seven years, sat on 17 Fourth of July Committees and chaired seven, has been on the board of the Northern Indiana Community Foundation and President of its service committees for nearly four years, and has been a member of an active Lions Club since 1979. Last year he was one of the inaugural ten Valley Distinguished Alumni. And for thirteen years he’s been President of an organization called the Akron Revitalization Committee – about which, more later.

“To make all this successful takes some corporate backing, not only monetarily, but time,” Robinson said, crediting Pike Lumber Company, where he is Purchasing Manager, for encouraging and allowing him to be so involved. “Civic duty is part of Pike Lumber’s mission statement.”

Of course, Robinson is predisposed to stay busy. The Atwood native and product of Mentone elementary and Talma Junior High graduated from Valley on a Saturday in May of 1977 – and started taking classes at Indiana University South Bend the following Monday.

“Once I started my senior year in the fall of ’76,” Robinson laughed, “I went to school for three and a half years straight.” In four semesters and two summers he completed his general classes, and then enrolled in the Indiana College of Mortuary Science.

“I took one week off in there,” he acknowledged, “And then I got married the next week after that,” to classmate Kim Duzenbery. After four years managing the Sheetz Funeral Home for Darrell King, he had the opportunity to join Pike Lumber Company in 1983, and he’s been there ever since. Meanwhile, he and Kim raised two children – Kyle (TVHS ’01) and Kara, who graduated from Lakeland Christian

Academy. And he’s also found time to referee over 3300 high school basketball and volleyball games, including ten state finals.

So, most small towns have service clubs and chambers of commerce. What Akron has that most towns it’s size do not is an organization quite like the Akron Revitalization Committee (ARC). ARC was created in 1998 when the Lilly Endowment made a $100,000 grant through the Northern Indiana Community Foundation to create this entity – a private, non-profit organization with the mission to encourage and facilitate the renovation of properties, downtown and otherwise – or in some cases, to do it themselves.

Lilly Endowment didn’t dictate ARC’s actions, but they had some expectations. “They didn’t want us to just go buy a statue,” Robinson chuckled.

“Akron became one of their success stories,” Robinson stated. He joined a committee that included business leaders, two engineers, and a CPA, and while the organization went through the legal steps of incorporating and establishing by-laws, Robinson and his colleagues attended Main Street seminars, and visited peer communities like Roanoke and Farmersburg, south of Terre Haute. They met with stakeholders at all hours – including a 10:30 PM meeting with the CEO of Woodlawn Hospital that resulted in Woodlawn building a clinic in Akron.

“We learned that one of the death knells to small-town downtowns was having slum hotels in storefronts. We fought that by buying out the landlords with first-floor living quarters.”

“We knocked one of them down, and brought in Rochester Telephone Company to build a brand new building with fiber-optic technology, but with a design that fit with early 1900s Akron.”

Robinson also pointed to the Downtown Community Square, where the town built a small park with a bandstand in a vacant lot just east of the main intersection. “Now we have music on the square at least once a month. We’ve even had a couple of weddings there.”

Today downtown Akron still has a couple of vacant storefronts, and a couple of buildings are still in need of renovation. But in an era when many people talk about small towns drying up and blowing away, Akron is relatively vibrant.

“I think we’re particularly proud that we have lots of choices for people,” Robinson said. “We have two banks, two funeral homes, two chiropractors, two hospital clinics. We have a choice of telephone providers, internet, and cable TV.”

The town also still has evening dining options. On a weekend evening, Robinson said, “you’ll see license plates from all over the state,” parked outside of Sloane’s downtown. And I recently discovered that at the Country Kitchen on the east edge of town you can’t find a seat between 5 and 6 PM on a Friday … and that the locals still call it “The Fluff.”

The old three-story red brick high school has been gone for 25 years, but the elementary school still bustles. The Methodist Church and the Church of God both have expanded. So has the Akron Public Library on East Rochester Street – where Velma Bright recently retired after an astounding 69-year career that started in 1941.

Probably the most striking new development in Akron is the Akron Community Center in Pike Memorial Park.
That 8,000 s.f. facility gives the community a venue that can accommodate meetings, small conferences, class and family reunions, and wedding receptions with three different rooms holding 370 people. The $1.5 million construction project was spearheaded by the Akron Lions Club, and “all built from private donations, none from any tax dollars,” Robinson pointed out.

“We did win a half-million dollar federal grant, but we declined it when we found some of the strings attached,” which the board feared would increase the cost of the project more than the value of the grant. “So we just decided to let it go and raise more money.”

The community center complements the park, which is itself a long-standing public private partnership. D.A. Pike donated the land to the city in the 1950s, so “the park is city property,” Robinson pointed out, and city employees mow and maintain it. “But its improvements have not been tax-based.” ARC and the Pike Memorial Park Trustees are currently in the midst of another $500,000 in improvements, including new playground equipment, a soccer field, and new restrooms.

Robinson is aware of some of the businesses that have been lost – multiple gas stations and insurance carriers, and a second grocery, for instance. Akron isn’t immune to economic forces, it’s just beating the odds.

“We still have our major industry – Pike, Sunoco, the Foundry, Akron Concrete. Our per capita income is the highest in the county.”

“We still have our school, that’s very important. And we’ve fought hard and we still have our downtown.”

“We created a ten-year list,” after ARC was formed, Robinson said. “I’d say we’ve accomplished 95% of that list.”

Today other towns contact Robinson for tips on how Akron has done it.

“It takes two things,” Robinson tells them. “Patience, and some kind of corporate backing. I’m not saying it can’t be done without a corporation leading the way, but you’re going to need some deep pockets somewhere.”

Patience and pockets. Fortunately, Akron has its share of both.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

First e-newsletter

The first Valley Alumni e-newsletter went out on Monday, March 7. You can see it here.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

TVSC Seeks Nominations for 2011 Distinguished Alumni

Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation is seeking nominations for the 2011 Distinguished Alumni.

This past September 17, the inaugural ten Valley Distinguished Alumni spent the day with students at Tippecanoe Valley High School, sharing life experiences and career

advice in small groups and around the lunch table. The speakers came from each decade in Valley's history, and from as far as Colorado, Texas, and North Carolina, as well as those who have built careers and communities in Kosciusko and Fulton counties. They included a biochemist, a pilot, an attorney, a professor, two doctors, and two decorated Marines. They have refereed state finals, lived in Morocco and Ecuador, and worked in the White House. Who were they? Find out here.

TVHS Distinguished Alumni are graduates of Tippecanoe Valley High School who have led successful lives while making substantial contributions to their chosen field of work or have provided outstanding service to their community, state, or country. The inaugural group was selected by a committee comprised of Valley administrators and alumni from each decade, from among candidates nominated by the community. Individuals selected as TVHS Distinguished Alumni agree to share their experiences with current TVHS students and serve as mentors. Congratulations and thanks to the first group, for making the time to share their experiences with the current students.

The second class of Distinguished Alumni will be selected in June and will spend Friday, September 23, 2011 with Valley students. Nominations may be submitted online here and are due by May 1. Questions about may be directed to TVHS Principal Kirk Doehrmann at 574-353-7031 or Superintendent Brett Boggs at 574-353-7741.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sobering numbers ...

A week ago I wrote about Rochester’s “Stellar Communities” bid, to be one of two Indiana communities to be awarded significant grant funds from three different state agencies. (You can read that here.)

It was an intriguing and well-done presentation, and everyone still has their fingers crossed. But one particular slide from their power-point presentation really caught my attention, for a different reason.

A slide entitled “Fulton County Economic Climate” compared Fulton County to the Indiana average and the national average in seven different economic indicators, and few of them were favorable.

Unemployment in Fulton County is 12.2%, compared to 10.1% in Indiana and 9.0% nationally.

While the rest of America grew in population by 8.3% and Indiana by 5.6% from 2000-2009, Fulton County actually lost population, by 1.2%. As everyone knows, it is the young people who are leaving. The average age of a Fulton County resident, 40.2, is almost 4 years above the national average. That translates to a workforce with a relatively smaller number of wage-earners and a relatively larger number of retirees on fixed income.

Only 80.2% of Fulton County adults are high school graduates, compared to 82% in Indiana and 86.7% nationally. Only 10.3% of Fulton County adults have 2- or 4-year college degrees, compared to 19.4% in Indiana and 29.5% nationally.

Given that composition of the workforce, it is not surprising that Fulton County’s income trails that of the state and nation. Median household income in Fulton County is about 92% of the national average, $45,964 to $50,221. The gap in per capita income is even greater -- $30,387 to $40,166. Obviously, Fulton County residents are more likely than most Americans to live in two-income households. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

And lower-than-average income isn’t necessarily a bad thing if the cost of living is equally low. Certainly, the low cost of labor in Indiana is one of the “selling points” that the Indiana Economic Development Corporation touts in attempting to attract investment in our state.

Regardless, numbers like this point out how challenged all rural communities are these days. And these numbers are for all of Fulton County, and so include the physicians at Woodlawn Hospital and the other professionals concentrated in Rochester. Surely the number for the two Fulton County townships – and the four townships in Kosciusko County -- that feed into Tippecanoe Valley lag even further behind national averages in some of these key indicators.

I share these numbers with my friends from Valley not to beat anyone up or paint a picture of despair, but to illustrate a reality that our friends and former neighbors are facing. Rochester’s “Stellar Communities” presentation had to strike a balance, between the pride and enthusiastic boosterism of those in the room, and making the case that Fulton County needs this grant to make these improvements.

That single power point slide contained a lot of sobering information about how different the economic realities are for small town and rural communities. When 50% of Americans live in the 52 cities of a million or more, and 30% live in cities between 25,000 and 999,999, it becomes possible for the mere 20% who live where we grew up to become outliers, who's situation doesn't fit the "norm" which public policy addresses. We can't let that be the case.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Rochester is a Finalist for Multi-million Dollar Prize

Yesterday, I attended a presentation in Rochester where several Fulton county organizations, led by the Fulton Economic Development Corporation (FEDCO) and their able executive Terry Lee, made a pitch to representatives of several state agencies that Rochester be named one of two “Stellar Communities” in Indiana. It’s a designation that would come with some significant dollars.

“Stellar Communities” is a program through which three agencies – the Office of Community and Rural Affairs, the Department of Transportation, and the Housing and Community Development Authority – are pooling some of their available grant-making budgets, and encouraging cities and towns to compete for those funds by developing comprehensive, complementary plans for community revitalization. The idea is that ever-more-scarce state dollars will get a better return on investment by being focused on a few – this year, two – communities where the dollars can make a transformational difference, rather than being scattered haphazardly across 92 counties. And Rochester’s proposal survived the first cut, from 42 applications to 12.

So why am I posting about it on the Valley Alumni blog? Well, as Karen Drone from the Akron Area Arts League said during the public Q&A session, for most of the 14,000 Fulton County residents who don’t live in the Rochester city limits, Rochester is still “our community” too when it comes to shopping, entertainment, and many professional, non-profit, and governmental services.

More to the point, these particular state dollars aren’t going to towns the size of Akron and Mentone this year, anyway. But state-funded improvements to Rochester’s infrastructure may well generate not only quality-of-life opportunities, but eventually jobs, that will benefit people in Akron and the countryside.

The presentation was punctuated by a well-done five-minute video featuring Rochester residents and property owners speaking on location (and a recurring group of school children, standing at various busy intersections and shouting “Sidewalks here would be stellar!”).

What Rochester’s leadership told the state agencies was, with a few million dollars in state funds over the next three years to match local funds and letters of commitment from a number of individual property owners, here’s what they would do:

• renovate an empty, 15,000 s.f. building on three-story on Main Street and turn it into a business incubator for start-up businesses.
• Renovate the Times Theater, including restoring the old vaudeville-era stage behind the movie, so the building can serve as a performing arts venue as well as a movie theater; and turn an adjacent empty storefront into an art gallery.
• Extend the Nickel Plate Trail (a recently-completed rails-to-trails project that extends from the south edge of Rochester almost to Kokomo) all the way to downtown; and add a number of sidewalk projects linking neighborhoods to the trail, the southside commercial district, and the high school.
• Implement a downtown streetscape project to restore storefronts and add pedestrian street lighting and landscaping to Main Street.
• Provide matching grants to downtown property owners to assist in the upfront cost of converting second floor spaces into modern residential space.

It is easy to look at the architectural renderings of these improvements and imagine how, once they are made, Rochester will be a much more attractive place for a business to locate or expand. I’m particularly interested in the potential of the business incubator to help launch some service-industry businesses (software, marketing, consulting) that could be providing internship opportunities for Valley students within a year or two. (Okay, some Rochester and Caston students would be welcome, too, I’m sure.)

Of course, there are only going to be two “winners” in this competition. One question the state funders asked Rochester’s presenters was, what if you don’t get these grants? And of course, the answer is that the community will have to prioritize these projects, and implement the ones that can be implemented with local resources on a more gradual scale. Forty-two other communities that applied for this process are also doing the same calculation … which in theory will give them all a clearer focus for setting priorities within their strategic plans, whether they get this money or not.

But the fact remains that this kind of state support is going to only two communities this year. Federal and state assistance for rural communities is going to get increasingly scarce. Indiana’s state legislature won’t be approving any budget increases for the next two years, and Community Development Block Grants were one of the few programs that were reduced in the federal budget proposal that the President released this week. I hope Rochester gets this award; but for the most part, waiting on Indianapolis or Washington to save the day is not going to be a rewarding strategy. We're going to have take matters into our own hands. And that's one of the reasons I started this blog.

I’m in the middle of a larger piece on how Akron has managed to be ahead of the curve in a lot of revitalization efforts among communities its size, leveraging a lot of volunteerism and private support. For the good of the communities like the ones we grew up in, we’re all going to have to get a better understanding of what has worked, and do more of it…

Sunday, February 6, 2011

35 years ago this weekend ...

Thirty-five years ago this weekend, we had a blizzard.

Valley also hosted the first-ever sectional in the first-ever girls' basketball state tournament. We had a pretty good team (13-5?) but had to open against Warsaw, the undefeated number one team in the state.

The whole tournament got pushed back a couple of days, moving the semifinals to Saturday night; and as another storm rolled in, a lot of people (including some of our own players, and me, who had to be pulled out of a snowdrift on 800 South by Jackie Brown's dad) had trouble getting to the school.

Coach Joyce Harmon called a time-out less than a minute into the game in order to insert regular starting point guard Sharlene Bose -- who arrived via snowmobile a few seconds after tip-off -- into the game, in order to orchestrate the slow-down game plan that was our key to matching up with the bigger and (frankly) more talented undefeated Tigers.

And Sharlene did it masterfully. Our star sophomore and future Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Cathy Welch played Miss Basketball Judi Warren to a draw. Dee Wirick matched Warsaw's towering front line, including future Miss Basketball Chanda Kline, rebound for rebound. We held on to a slim lead until early in the fourth quarter. Warsaw finally got ahead by a couple of baskets, forced us out of the zone and the stall, and pulled away by forcing us to foul in the closing minute.

Warsaw went on to complete an undefeated season and win the first girls' state championship. Valley provided them as tough a challenge as they received the whole way. I've since learned to be proud of a team in a loss, but this was my first experience at it, and I still feel that way.

It's fun to remember the victories, but what was the proudest you've ever been of a losing effort?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Idea Behind This Blog

Our hometowns are typical of the majority of communities in Indiana and the Midwest .  They still have their charms, virtues, and assets, but they are not growing.   Declining populations and tax bases make it increasingly difficult for small towns to provide young people the same opportunities that many of us received thirty, twenty, or even ten years ago.

Most of us have great affinity for the communities where we grew up -- not just the schools themselves, but the friends and family and teammates, the workplaces and churches and parks and lakes where we learned to interact with others.  Many of us who have moved away and become engaged in our new communities would still give back to our hometowns in some way ... if we were only asked. 

We estimate that there are 5000 graduates and former students of Tippecanoe Valley, and another 3000 living graduates of Akron and Mentone High Schools, living in about 7000 households.

Our research suggests that about a third  of these families still live in the school district; another third of them now live in Rochester or Warsaw, and the last third have moved further away – more than likely out of state.  

We have begun to implement a communications plan designed to cultivate our nearby and distant alumni with the intent to re-engage them as contributors to local educational, economic development, and philanthropic efforts. 

Education.  Our alumni can be mentors and e-mentors, and providers of internship opportunities for high school students, and volunteers for early education enrichment activities; they can recruit and serve as guest instructors for continuing/adult education programs.

Economic Development.  Our alumni can be advisors and mentors to local entrepreneurs;  ambassadors/recruiters/scouts for local businesses, chambers of commerce, and economic development corporations; and angel investors. A few might even be looking for the right opportunity to start or bring a business back home. 

Philanthropy.   Our alumni can be donors to an annual appeal to create both a permanent and a revolving fund with the local community foundation, using the “Giving Circle” model, to make grants for special projects at the schools and elsewhere within the community.   Eventually, we can be prospects for planned gifts.   Why wouldn’t the community in which some of us spent the first 20 years of our lives be a candidate, along with the college where we spent four, for being one of the entities we remember in our estate planning?