Feb 19, 2018

Searching for Beefcake in Northern Indiana

When I was growing up, we made two or three trips every year from Rock Island to my parents' hometown in Indiana: Interstate 80 east to Chicago, then State Highway 30 southeast past Valparaiso, Plymouth, Warsaw, and Columbia City, and finally northeast on a nameless country road through Churubusco and Laotto.

Or, on the way back, Laotto, Churubusco, Columbia City, Warsaw, Plymouth, Valparaiso, Chicago.

We never stopped in any of those cities, and you saw almost nothing of them from the highway.  But I always wondered, who lived in them?  What did they see, and do, and think about as they went about the ever-churning days of their lives?

So I looked for the beefcake.

1. Valparaiso, Indiana, population 33,000, home of the Lutheran Valparaiso University.  I thought about going there, just because I had seen the Chapel of the Resurrection from the freeway so often.

It's the largest university chapel in America, seating about 2,000 people, with a 98-foot tall chancel shaped like a 9-pointed star.  Especially impressive at night.

Oh, there's also a swim team, whose star athlete Ryan Hrosik has beat many records.  In the top photo, he poses with two buffed friends on Instagram (no, I don't know which one he is.)

2. Warsaw, Indiana, population 14,000, doesn't necessarily have a lot of people of Polish ancestry: it was named in honor of Tadeuz Kosciuszko, the liberator of Poland (so was Kosciusko County). 

It is the home of Theodore Dreiser (author of dull modernist novels) and Ambrose Bierce (author of bitter satiric stories). One of its main draws is the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts, which this season is performing Seussical the Musical, My Fair Lady, Saturday Night Fever, and One Man Two Guvnors, and hosting the Symphony of the Lakes Young Artist Competition.
 Last year Peter Rutkowski won.

Oh, and the high school has a swim team.

3. Columbia City, Indiana, population 8,700, always seemed like a much bigger city to me, probably because we saw more of it from the highway.  We went past several restaurants that looked cool, and  right through Morsches Park, a rare forested area in the midst of the Indiana cornfields.

Columbia City is the home of the Mihsihkinaahkwa Pow Wow, an annual gathering of the Miami nation.

Not to mention swimming and wrestling matches at Columbia City High.

More after the break

4. The unnamed country road (Now Indiana 205) goes right through Churubusco, Indiana, so we saw a lot, including an old log cabin that Dad told us was the oldest surviving building in the state (he was wrong or kidding); the elementary school; the public library; and a Dogs and Suds drive-in (it was always too late or too early to stop). 

Churubusco, population 2,000, was founded by combining two earlier towns, Union and Franklin, and named after the Battle of Churubusco during the Mexican-American War.  It is known for the Beast of Busco (aka Oscar), a giant snapping turtle-monster who lives in Fulk's Lake.  There are turtles everywhere in town, and an annual Turtle Days festival with a parade, a 5-K, and more turtle souvenirs than you can fit in your shell.

Plus a surprising number of Busco bodybuilders are looking for dates.

5. Laotto, Indiana, is a whistle-stop -- blink and you miss it: no stop signs, no post office, about a dozen houses, a fire house, and a tavern that is now a brew pub.  Plus the Laotto Wesleyan Church (pictured: a mission team just returned from Guatemala).  Before the Civil War, the church was a major hub on the Underground Railroad.   Up to 10,000 escaped slaves stayed there on their way north.

No high schools, colleges, gyms, or bodybuilding clubs in town, but there are plenty of lakes around for fishing.

With or without your shirt.


  1. There are actual Indians in Indiana? Who knew? (Seriously, the only Indians I know in Indiana are South Dakota transplants.)

    I guess I think of Indiana as Indianapolis and Gary, and mostly Gary because of The Music Man. (For the record, Gary is basically another Detroit now, only more so.) But yeah, people don't even think of small towns when driving.

    Are some of those lakes isolated enough for fishing?

    1. There's a lot of fishing in the lakes of northern Indiana. My Dad, uncles, and Grandma dragged me to lots of them during my childhood.


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