“If Gary doesn’t thrive, the rest of the area doesn’t thrive.”
This story is part of our Flight Paths initiative. To find more stories from Flight Paths, click here.
Hold a Conversation
Can you imagine leading a conversation about this story? Where? With whom? What kinds of questions would you pose? (See How to use the questions for reflection for one approach.) Please email your questions to us or post them in the comment box for our consideration. If you use them in an actual discussion, let us know how the conversation went.
Transcript for We Can’t Ignore It
Gary was the place you went to shop. And, when, it was a very successful community. We either drove there – my parents drove us there – or when we got a little older we would just take the bus to downtown Gary. And there was every kind of shop you could think of and at Christmas time it was shoulder-to-shoulder walking up and down the street doing Christmas shopping. It was thriving.
I grew up in Lake Station, which was East Gary when I grew up in it. And originally it was Lake Station back in the 1800s and early 1900s. And then they changed their name to East Gary when, you know, the mills were starting to go, and they wanted the executives to move there so they changed it. Then when things got bad in Gary they changed it back to Lake Station. I thought that was very telling.
It was a typical suburban kind of neighborhood. It was very working class. In fact, there were – going to high school there, everybody’s parents made about the same amount of money. They worked in the mills. So, in that way, it was probably different than a lot of other places because none of us were aspiring to be the rich kid in school. There were no rich kids in school.
Patrick and I were married in 1966, and we moved to Miller in 1967. And we moved with a young baby. At that time, Miller was thriving. The downtown area had every kind of store you can think of. It was jewelry stores and bookstores, coffee shop and dress shops, and Jack Spratt’s ice cream shop, which drew people from all over. And it was the funnel to the beach. I mean, hundreds of people would come to the beach during the summer, from all over.
It started to change, really, in the seventies, and – with so many things – early seventies, late sixties, early seventies, with all of the things that were going on nationally and locally. You know, the war had an impact on the economy – the Vietnam War. The mills were at their heights and then started – the economy was changing, the technology was changing so that less people were needed in the mills. And the whole suburban sprawl had an impact on little downtowns like Miller. It happened everywhere in the country and it certainly happened here in Indiana with the other small communities. So, at some point, there weren’t a lot of businesses on the street, and those that were, weren’t thriving.
A lot of the people left. They moved to Munster; that’s how Munster got built. And the people who stayed are still here. But the whole dynamics of the community changed. The money went with them. You know, Munster is a thriving town; Merrillville is in much better shape than Gary. So, yeah, that’s the impact.
If Gary doesn’t thrive, the rest of the area doesn’t thrive. And I think that is critically important. We can’t have part of our population barely surviving. The city of Gary has all the infrastructure, you know, the steel mills – it has so much going for it, we can’t ignore it. It’s like, it’s like somebody in your family who has cancer and you’re just going to ignore them because it’s not going to affect you – well, it is going to affect you. We all need to be good neighbors, and it’s not just in Gary and Lake County, but in Porter County, in Indiana. As a country we have to not be so polarized because nobody’s moving ahead.