May 27, 2015
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Giving Thanks

Easter Seals representatives happy to give back
Amy Clark and Abby Wells were chosen as the 2015 Easter Seals Rehabilitation Representatives.

It’s not all work for Amy Clark and Abby Wells when they visit Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center at 3701 Bellemeade Ave. The 2015 Easter Seals representatives sometimes struggle to stifle laughs as they work. Clark jokes with her physical therapist Patty Balbach and Wells has a bright smile and giggle for everyone.

Clark, who lives in Evansville, says she found her way to Easter Seals by accident. After a 2010 operation on a spinal tumor, she woke unable to move her legs. Doctors thought her paralysis would be temporary, but when her feeling did not come back, she began to seek therapy options and discovered Easter Seals.

“When I came here, I couldn’t transfer out of my wheelchair. Patty strengthened everything back up,” says Clark, who was able to go back to work at the Vision Service Corporation in Evansville thanks to Easter Seals.

Easter Seals gave hope to Wells and her family, who live in Newburgh, Indiana, says her mother Amy Wells. When Wells, now in the third grade, started to miss her first milestones as a baby, her mother says she knew something was wrong. After several evaluations, the diagnosis was cerebral palsy. Her mother says Easter Seals has helped teach the nine-year-old how to adapt and learn to care for herself.

“There is no other place like Easter Seals in our community,” she says.

The decision to be representatives for Easter Seals was not necessarily a quick one for either family. However, both looked at the opportunity as a way to give back to the organization. One of the biggest events for Easter Seals is the annual telethon aired on WEHT-TV in April. This year, with Clark’s and Wells’ help, the organization raised more than $1 million. Their other duties include visiting organizations and media outlets, attending events such as Frog Follies, and helping Santa open Ritzy’s Fantasy of Lights in Garvin Park.

“(Being a representative) was my way of saying thank you,” says Clark, “and making people aware, because I didn’t know about Easter Seals and I’m sure there are other people who don’t know either. This isn’t just where kids go, it’s where adults can go too.”

“I just want everyone to have the same opportunities. I don’t like the term, ‘We have a disability.’ I like the term, ‘We have abilities,’” says Abby’s mother.

“There was never a thought that we wouldn’t do it.”

For more information on Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center, call 812-479-1411 or visit EasterSealsSWIndiana.com.

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Where the Wild Things Are

Misfit Island Rescue Center dedicates lives to saving animals
Linda Williams and Max Soaper of Henderson, Kentucky, dedicate their lives to rescuing Kentucky’s wildlife.

One foot into the log cabin home of Max Soaper and his girlfriend Linda Williams, which sits on 500 acres in Henderson, Kentucky, and you realize it’s a cabin occupied by more than just two humans.

A playful skunk waddles through the dining room, while two cats lay at your feet with bellies up and a dog begs for a head pat. The living room fills with sounds of baby raccoons’ purrs eager for their next round of bottle-feeding. Just beyond those four walls the ultimate goal awaits the animals the couple rehabilitates through their sanctuary Misfit Island Wildlife Rescue Center — releasing those creatures back into the wild.

Outside of the cabin doors less than 50 feet away the couple’s dream is realized as more than 20 deer descend the hill to wait for feeding time, while several more graze in the front yard and watch the catfish splash in the pond. Squirrels, ducks, geese, peacocks, opossums, pigs, even a beaver named Tyler, who just celebrated her first birthday, all have a home at Misfit Island, which was founded as a nonprofit in 2011. Williams is a permitted licensed wildlife rehabilitator through the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, who provides medical care to the sick, injured, and orphaned animals. She has been rescuing animals for nearly 15 years since she began dating Soaper who has made it his life for the past 35 years.

“Every animal we have can come and go as they please,” says Soaper, who works on burping two baby raccoons after being bottle fed, “but they choose to stay.”

As of early April, Misfit Island has rescued 491 animals and released 473, leaving just 18 that either were shared with its network of rehabilitators who could possibly better care for the rehabilitated animals or they were euthanized. Misfit Island does a soft release with their animals; they are released on to Soaper’s property, which has been in his family since 1775, and continue to feed the animal for the rest of its life.

“If they are ever hurt or sick, they will come back,” says Williams.

“The bonding that we do now,” adds Soaper as he observes Williams feeding two-week-old raccoon babies, “some rehabbers say you shouldn’t bond with them and you should always wear gloves, but since we release them on the property, when they get injured, we want them to come back, and they do — and they bring their little ones.”

The task requires a lifestyle completely dedicated to saving the lives of animals and continuing to feed them. During the spring season, Williams and Soaper rarely sleep as caring for orphaned newborns occupies their time and the phone never stops ringing. Callers report foxes trapped in septic tanks, raccoons in attics, or injured deer on their property.

“It’s an amazing thing what we do, because we can coexist with animals,” says Williams. They acknowledge that coexistence is becoming less and less common.

“People really don’t care that much about wildlife,” says Soaper. “They like it, but they really don’t want it in their yards — they want to see it in a neighbor’s yard, in a zoo, or in a magazine.”

Soaper explains that people don’t realize that their homes and suburbs were once a wild animal’s habitat or breeding ground that has been uprooted. When the animals return each year to have their babies, they are having them in a newly built residential community. Members of the community will call the police department or the Department of Fish and Wildlife and those calls are later forwarded to Misfit Island.

The dedication of Williams and Soaper goes even further than losing sleep and opening their home to these furry creatures. Because the nonprofit has not yet received its 501(c)(3) designation (they are currently in the process of submitting the paperwork), the donations they do currently receive are not enough to keep the wildlife rescue center functioning. Soaper covers the cost to care for the animals including food, medical supplies, and vet bills. Misfit Island spends about $1,200 each week on food. Last year, the center spent about $38,000 in vet bills.

The high costs of running the center were a major influence on their decision to grant permission to JWM Productions, a production company based in Takoma Park, Maryland, to film their work in a four-part one-hour reality show titled “Bandit Patrol” on Nat Geo WILD, a sister network to National Geographic Channel. The show premiered in January 2014.

Soaper says he hopes the show’s popularity will entice people to donate supplies, their time, or money to help keep Misfit Island alive.

The show follows Williams and Soaper as they answer calls from the community and law enforcement, and the process it takes to rescue and care for the animals. The filming for the second season began in April and will last four to five months. The air date has not yet been announced. When the producers at JWM Productions first began pursuing the show idea and leaving voicemails in August 2013, Williams says she thought it was a prank — until the calls kept coming.

Soaper finally encouraged Williams to answer the inquiry one evening. One month later, after a practice taping for a promotional video for the network, they were “jumped to the top of the stack and were chosen over 1,000 other programs,” he says.

Filming lasted about four to five months beginning in February, just in time for the influx of newborn wildlife in spring as the producers followed the couple and two other local rehabbers Nancy Reynolds of Manitou, Kentucky, and Kristin Allen of Owensboro, Kentucky, during their rescues and rehabilitation work.
Soaper is quick to say that the care of the animal comes first and nothing is staged. If the crew misses a moment or it didn’t turn out how they wanted, Soaper says they don’t repeat it and it’s all real.

Soaper built the log cabin where he and Williams live on the edge of the farm about a mile into the woods, instead of living in the historic house visible from the road across from Henderson County High School where his family grew up. Signs warn trespassers and poachers to turn back, a common problem with their well-fed deer, and three separate gates can deter entry. Misfit Island is open for tours by appointment due to the couple’s hectic feeding schedules and rescues.

Both Soaper and Williams reiterate that they prefer spending time with animals rather than people.

“These animals suffer and no one pays any attention, because they are silent,” says Soaper. “When you look an animal in the eye, you know what it is thinking. It knows when you are trying to help it. We’ve walked up and let coyotes out of traps. They could tear you up, but they know you are there to help them and they won’t even growl at you.”

For more information about Misfit Island Wildlife Rescue or “Bandit Patrol,” call 270-577-3409, visit misfitislandwildlifecenter.org, or find them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Bikes & Hikes

For the full feature see page 36 in the May/June issue of Evansville Living.

A pair of boots and a pair of wheels — that’s all we need to connect with nature and ourselves. The natural landscape in Southwestern Indiana is a postmarked invitation to hit the trail. Thousands of years ago, when the Ice Age glaciers flattened the northern and central parts of the state, the southern region was left with hilly panoramas covered in beautiful forests of trees and wilderness. The melted glacier water created the narrow ridges, steep slopes, deep gullies, and natural landscapes that quicken the pulse of passionate hikers and bicyclists.

In addition to these natural wonders, the region has many public land opportunities and unique natural resource areas, which were formerly strip-mined. Today, these reforestation and revegetation projects offer open land with little traffic for outdoor enthusiasts to play. Using this handbook as a guide and resource for your next adventure, it’s time to start a revolution.

What are you waiting for?

Spinning Wheels

Hit the roads and see Southern Indiana via bicycle
By Roger McBain • Photos Provided by Roger McBain

After a half-century pedaling an assortment of bicycles in a half-dozen states, I still love spinning my wheels.

Fortunately, the Southern Indiana area offers lots of ways to do that.

You can pedal the Pigeon Creek Greenway Passage, the Newburgh Rivertown Trail or the University of Southern Indiana-Burdette Park Trail.

You can saddle up a mountain bike to pump the dirt trails at Angel Mounds State Historic Site, Harmonie State Park, or Scales Lake.

Or you can take it inside, working up a sweat in one of the stationary bicycling classes at the YMCA and area fitness clubs.

I’ve enjoyed most of those options. If you really want to make bicycling a moving, freewheeling affair, however, I recommend hitting the roads — the county roads.

I love that this part of Indiana has so many that can be ridden so many ways. 

It’s impossible to adequately describe the exhilaration, the liberation, and the intense sense of feeling alive you can get breezing through flats, pumping up hills, crouching into flying descents, and meandering past rolling fields, shady woods, and occasional creeks and rivers.   

If you like the company of experienced riders, consider joining the weekly rides organized by the Evansville Bicycle Club or the Tour d’Eville. Both groups post information about rides on Facebook or on their websites.

If you like a lot more company, try one of the big, annual bike events that bring hundreds of riders to our area. They include the Harmonie Hundred, recently staged in New Harmony, Indiana, and the Evansville Bicycle Club’s Great Pumpkin Metric, coming up in the fall.

Group options bring the safety of numbers, the counsel and camaraderie of other riders, and, in some cases, food stops and support drivers. 

And they offer the comfort of preplanned routes that you can follow with the rest of the riders.

Recreational biking doesn’t require a parade, however. You can strike out on your own, borrowing directions from a club ride or grabbing a map, doing a bit of recon in the car, perhaps, and sketching out your own trips.

That’s what I’ve done over the last couple decades. I’ve pedaled weekend breakfast rides alone or with a friend or two. We’ve met at one another’s homes and cycled to breakfast at diners in Evansville, Poseyville, Mount Vernon, New Harmony, and Fort Branch, Indiana.

Roger McBain rides all over the Tri-State. This map shows the routes McBain has ridden for the past 29 years, his 150-mile rides he used to do with a friend, and the green lines marking the new New Harmony, Mount Vernon, and University Parkway bypasses that were created after the map came out.

Our round-trip rides have ranged from 35 to 55 miles, and, including time for breakfast and conversation, have taken from three to four hours. I’ve taken it further with another friend, pedaling weekend bike tours over the past 20 years. 

We started with organized rides, including the Hilly Hundred, an annual two-day ride that used to start in Bloomington, Indiana, and the TRIRI, a week-long Touring Ride in Rural Indiana, covering some 550 miles over a week, staying in Indiana state parks each night.

About 10 years ago or so, however, we planned our own 150-mile tour from my house in Posey County to his weekend cabin at the top of a steep hill near Borden, Indiana. 

Using a regional bicycling map, I sketched out a prospective route. My wife drove it with me in the car, checking out paving conditions, traffic levels, and locations of stores, diners, and overnight accommodations. 

Our final route took us through Dale and St. Meinrad, Indiana, past the Ohio River overlook at Leavenworth. We came off the saddle to climb Wyandotte Cave Road, easing onto back roads that took us into Milltown, Indiana, on the Blue River, where we spent our second night in a bed-and-breakfast. The final day wound us through paved back roads to my friend’s cabin.

We repeated the trip several years, getting used to hauling our gear in saddlebags and handlebar bags, traveling about 50 miles a day.

Later this year, as a belated celebration of a significant birthday and my recent retirement from daily journalism, I hope to up the ante. 

I have begun planning a solo bicycle tour down the West Coast, from the top of Washington down to the bottom of California.

If all goes well, I figure it should take five to six weeks, with a few days allowed for visiting friends along the way. 

It would be the most ambitious touring I’ve ever attempted, hauling clothing, gear, a sleeping bag, and a light tent I’d set up in campgrounds along the way. 

After all the cycling I’ve done in Indiana, however — the weekday spinning classes at the YMCA, the weekend breakfast rides, and the three-day tours — I think I’ll be ready for it.

Safety First

Bicycling and hiking safety tips
By Trista Lutgring

Seeking adventure can be fun, but it also has its dangers. When you’re out and about hiking and biking through the Tri-State, be sure to remember these safety tips.

1. Wear appropriate gear — reflective clothing for bikers and proper hiking boots for hikers are a few recommendations.

2. Wear a safety helmet. Make sure that it fits properly and is fastened before you start your ride.

3. Use hand signals to indicate turns and stops during a ride. See page 40 for proper hand signals you should know.

4. Take a cell phone and identification in case of an emergency.

5. Make sure to pack sunscreen and a small, basic first aid kit.

6. Take water and snacks. Make sure you are well hydrated before, during, and after your hike or ride.

7. Pack a light for evening/night visibility.

8. Plan your route ahead of time. Use current maps and weather reports when organizing your trek.

9. Use the buddy system and travel in pairs.

10. Tell a friend or family member where you are going and when you plan to return.

11. Stay on the trail. If you are in a wooded area, this reduces the chance of damaging natural resources and your exposure to poison oak, snakes, ticks, and more.

12. Be aware of your surroundings. Whether traveling through a park in the city or in the woods, remember to make sure you know what is happening around you.

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Natural Artist

Evansville native uses her art for environmental awareness
Brentano’s scale model of her entry for the Keep Evansville Beautiful Airport Gateway Project.

Pat Brentano’s passion for art and the environment is evident in her voice. The moment she begins speaking on the subject, it’s hard not to be entranced by the Evansville native as she describes her work.

“What I’m trying to do with my work is to communicate how important that understory and trees are for the birds, who can’t really speak for themselves,” says Brentano.

Brentano, who has been an artist all her life, currently lives in New Jersey with her husband Jon Bramnick, an attorney and New Jersey assemblyman. She completed her undergraduate studies in St. Louis and then went to Philadelphia for graduate school. Recently she was awarded the Richard Kane Conservation Award by the New Jersey Audubon Society. She was the 2011 Martha and Merritt DeJong Artist-In-Residence at the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science and was a finalist in the Keep Evansville Beautiful Airport Gateway Project last year. Though the focus of her art has changed over the years, she says drawing remains at the root of all her works.

“I’m classically trained, which is something from the 1970s,” she explains. “I try to keep the work tied to skillful drawing and an understanding of the two-dimensional art.”

Nature always has been a part of her work, but it was six years ago when the message of her art changed. Brentano and her husband live in a New Jersey suburb named Indian Forest, which she says showcases beautiful, mature, native trees. Her neighbors down the street decided to clear out 21 of the trees to make room for a new house. The action angered her.

“That just tore my heart,” she says. “I’ve said in a few interviews that I wanted to kill them, but I decided to use it as an inspiration for a new series of work.”

The first work born from this reformation was a set of wood panels. She first took large pieces of wood and drew the destroyed trees on the 4-foot by 5-foot panels. Then she cut the trees away to symbolize they were now missing. She tries different ways to address the environmental crisis with her art, she says. Other commission works have centered around water, habitat, oxygen, climate change, and even the Gulf Oil Crisis.

How did growing up in Southern Indiana influence your art?
What really stayed with me … is this great connection I had to nature by living there. I was in Evansville, but then we could get to the country. You could go to the river and swim, you could go to the stripper pits and swim. You could go right out into the cornfields. And I did those things.

I grew up much more attached or integrated in those spaces. Where as you come out to the Northeast, it’s very congested. I live 35 to 40 minutes west of New York City. I’m in a suburb, but there’s no nature. You have to really travel to go find it, because it’s different.

Can you tell us about the project you did for the Keep Evansville Beautiful Airport Gateway project?
The piece for the Gateway Airport project was really like my habitat project. It was panels. It was called “Shadows of Generations” and it was about people who had been on that land. The layers and the light changes were supposed to represent that. They didn’t want birds, so I didn’t do my birds. But I would have liked to do that. Anyway, it was a good project to have and I tried.

Why do you feel art in general, including yours, can help make the public more conscious of nature?
I think art is a universal language. Everyone can understand and interpret it for themselves by using their eyes. For me that’s a huge way to communicate.

The problem is because it is not taught properly in elementary school, we lose the ability to think that way. I think it’s extremely important and should be incorporated in every discipline for children so they grow up being more sophisticated, visual people. It kind of connects all the senses. Art is a great way to communicate with everyone but because people have not been exposed to it, it’s very foreign. They don’t use that part of their brain really; they don’t really see it all. At least through art you can open that up a little bit, in many ways. That’s my hope.

I was a professor for many years. I taught painting and drawing at the University of Wisconsin in Kenosha and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and then at Kean University in Union, New Jersey. Education is important to me too. The lack of good art education is one of the root causes of the environmental crisis that we’re in now. That’s how I feel. If it were taught properly and it had the same weight as any other discipline, maybe those people wouldn’t have torn down those trees. Because they would have appreciated them for their beauty alone or they would have worked with them somehow. We wouldn’t just keep consuming and owning without respecting or sharing.

I just think art has real powers that haven’t been used in our education system in this country. It is considered a secondary discipline and it shouldn’t be. I think that’s the root cause of a lot of our problems. It’s just a shame that it’s been put aside and secondary. I’m big on education, that’s why I do my work. I want to educate and inspire, hopefully.

What was it like being named artist-in-residence in your hometown?
That was fabulous! I loved it. I stayed for two weeks and I taught a class at the museum. I had the show and I gave two talks. I gave a talk to the Nature Conservancy and then they invited me to come to Indianapolis and do a show there. I got two big commissions. Actually, if you go on my website, under commissions, you’ll see the big bird panel that’s in the Efroymson Conservation Center in downtown Indianapolis. That was really exciting.

It just really reminded me of home and my whole growing up experience. When I was a kid I took classes at the museum and did workshops that they did with the artists they brought in as visiting artists. It’s such a circle. It was very nostalgic, very cozy, very homey, and it was great.

For more information about Pat Brentano and her art, visit patbrentano.com.

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Finding the Solution

Vicki Hubiak turns basement business into multi-million dollar company
Vicki Hubiak, president and owner of HR Solutions, Inc., took her business from her basement to a $10 million company.

It was 1994, and Vicki Hubiak faced a career crisis. For 15 years she had been climbing the ladder at Peabody Energy, all the way to employee relations manager of the Midwest Division, before the age of 40. In 1990, however, Congress had passed an amendment to the Clean Air Act to significantly reduce acid rain within five years. By 1994, the amendment had taken its toll on the coal industry, and Hubiak was spending much of her time handing out pink slips to employees. The work became, in her words, “overwhelming” and “depressing.”

Hubiak resigned from the only employer she had known since attending the University of Evansville, set up a desktop computer in the walk-out basement of her Henderson, Kentucky, home, and went to work as a human resources consultant and certified resume writer. Despite her departure, Hubiak was respected so much by her former bosses that she signed Peabody as one of her first clients.

Twenty years later, as HR Solutions celebrates this milestone anniversary, the woman who took a leap of faith in becoming an entrepreneur has turned a business in her basement into a $10 million company. She is president and owner of HR Solutions, Inc. in Evansville, which serves businesses and individuals with five core services: staffing, executive recruiting, outplacement, executive coaching, and training. Hubiak and her staff of 15, including her son, Nicholas, recently purchased and moved into the former Umbach & Associates building on St. Joseph Avenue near the intersection of the Lloyd Expressway after outgrowing their longtime location across the street. The new building is named the HR Solutions Business Complex and has 18,000 square feet. It also is an income property for her business.

“I never thought it would be to the level it is today,” Hubiak says with a shake of her head and a smile. “One thing I learned early on is that when you go above and beyond, and exceed expectations, you connect with people. I love working with our team. We’re ever-changing and growing and learning every day.”

HR Solutions provides temporary, temp-to-hire, and contract employees for many diverse clients ranging in numbers of one to more than 170. More than 100 of these positions are at $18 an hour or more. It’s the job of HR Solutions to advertise for these positions, then review applicants to find the best qualified candidates.

Detailed testing sessions, reference checking, background checks, and in-depth interviews by Hubiak’s staff whittle down the list, and clients interview the finalists. Many of their candidates tell them they have never been through such an in-depth hiring process and that the process has a lifelong benefit to them, while providing HR Solutions clients with a highly pre-qualified talent pool and excellent job skills match.

“All of our clients feel we are an integral part of their business,” says Hubiak, about the relationships she and her team have built with their clients. “High-quality staffing and recruiting is what we do for all clients. Whether they need one employee or 100, our process of pre-qualification is the same. What we do works, because we are able to give our clients the cream of the crop of candidates. Most of our employees reach the point of being fully trained and are ready to become an employee of the client. By this time, the company can see that the employee is performing at a high level, is a good cultural fit and that they have a good, solid work ethic. They’re high quality.” 

There are many clients who Hubiak has worked with since the day she started her company in the basement of her home. Hubiak has instilled in her staff a strong desire and commitment to building relationships with clients. These clients range from large manufacturing companies to small family-owned businesses, and include industries such as health care, engineering, pharmaceutical, energy, and finance. This spring, Hubiak is heading the search for a new CEO for a major health care provider. Clients like this and others have turned Hubiak’s home business into a multi-million dollar operation, but individual successes please her the most. 

“I just hope we continue to make a difference with people,” Hubiak says about her company’s future. “We’ve helped people who simply don’t understand why they cannot get a job. By listening, and coaching them, giving feedback, and helping them improve their computer skills, we can guide them. We fully prepare people for an interview, not only to speak about their skills and experience, but by making sure they understand the expectations and the culture of the company where they’re interviewing.” 

As a businesswoman, she is recognized in the community as a driving force for giving back both through her service on nonprofit boards and committees, and monetarily. Over the years, Hubiak and many others on her staff have put in time and resources to help local nonprofits, notably the Women’s Fund of Vanderburgh County, SCORE, YWCA, Boys & Girls Club of Evansville, United Caring Shelters, Aurora, Girl Scouts, Ronald McDonald House, Evansville Rescue Mission, American Red Cross, and Tri-State Food Bank.

Hubiak especially is proud that her company is able to serve as an H-1B sponsor for Tianlin Xu, a Purdue University graduate from China whom HR Solutions recently placed in a chemistry lab analyst position at a local manufacturing company. Hubiak and staff members BethAnn Langlois and Amanda Smith are working with an attorney through the American Staffing Association to assure that Xu can stay in the U.S. through what is called H-1B status, which allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign citizens in specialty occupations for three to six years.

“Tianlin sent BethAnn a big bouquet of flowers; she was so happy,” Hubiak says of Xu. “This employee has made a big commitment through her education and training, and I’m so glad we were able to do this. This process can be complicated and companies will sometimes shy away from the financial burden and the legal process. This was a milestone for us in being able to sponsor her. Our company grows from meeting people, and learning, and listening, and helping others. We exceed expectations and give back. I believe in that. I have a passion for that.”

For more information about HR Solutions, call 812-476-3180 or visit hrsolutions-inc.com.

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Jan Davies

Hometown: Tell City, Indiana

Job: CEO of Girl Scouts of Southwest Indiana

Resume: President of the Junior League of Evansville, 1987 to 1988; recipient of the Helen Klamer Philp Award, founding member and original co-chair of the Women’s Fund of Vanderburgh County; established the JLE Youth Development program; president of A Network for Evansville Women, 2002.

Family: Husband, David, daughter, Alethea, son, Kurt, and seven grandchildren.

With seven sisters, Jan Davies grew up in Tell City on a small farm. Today, her zeal for service is fueled by her hardworking, socially conscious parents and has driven Davies to be an active volunteer in the community. As the first woman inducted into the Evansville Rotary Club, she volunteers her time to organizations like the Junior League of Evansville and the Deaconess Women’s Hospital. Through her involvement with the Leadership of Evansville, she advocates for women’s training in leadership roles, looking to give every woman an equal voice in a discussion.

How did you become involved with the Girl Scouts?
I was a Girl Scout my senior year in high school. That’s when I first became a Girl Scout. I grew up through the 4H program because I was a farmer. My parents were the club leaders — that’s what we called them — so I was in 4H club. I loved that program. Then when I was a senior in high school, this fabulous young woman moved to Tell City. Gene Borders married his wife Charlotte from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and brought her home as his bride. This beautiful lady was a Girl Scout and every young woman went flocking to her Girl Scout troop. That’s an example of when you get good leadership; the adult-girl relationship is so important when we do all the programs in Girl Scouts. I wanted to do everything she was doing because she was so very cool.

What does community service mean to you?
Community service is very important for me because I grew up in a family that did community service. We learned from day one that you don’t only take; you always give back. You help your community and make it better. You invest your time and energy, and you do that on a volunteer basis. You don’t expect to get paid or anything. It’s a gift because the community has given so much to you, so when I got out of college and became an adult, I kept right on going. Evansville is the best place in the world to live. I absolutely love this community, and Evansville is a wonderful place to raise your children. But I don’t think people understand how wonderful this city is. I think if you’ve always lived here, then you don’t have that reference point. I didn’t grow up here and was welcomed here. The community embraced me being the CEO of the Girl Scout council. How fortunate is that?

What volunteer work has impacted you?
The work with the Women’s Fund was so significant because you can give moral support and training, but how often do we have a funding source that says women and children are so important to this community that we’re going to raise this money to make things better. I’ve also worked a long time with A Network of Evansville Women. I served in a lot of those officer positions, and I was chair of the board. It’s refreshing to be in a room with all professional women — the conversations we have, what we’re trying to accomplish as a group, and also the understanding of regardless of what your work is or what your profession is. We had this underlying understanding that, as women, we are the same with the same concerns for the community and for family.

What is your vision of your community?
I hope our community continues to be a good place to raise your family. Evansville is a nurturing place where people are courteous and there’s accountability. Sometimes I think we all need to come together to help develop the vision, and the mayor has been very good about that. But we haven’t reached the tipping point. There has to be this swell of unity behind the community, but I hope we keep the integrity, decency, and an attitude of service we have established. I don’t think this is like every community, and I hope to see it stay that way.

For more information about the Girl Scouts of Southwest Indiana, call 812-421-4970 or girlscouts-gssi.org.

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Uncommon Courtesy

Tommie Wilson enjoys a cigar break and conversation with passerby in the Old National Bank park.

Only their mothers could show members of the Petroleum Club more love than Maitre d’ Tommie Wilson. Mom knows your favorite dish. So does Tommie. Mom knows your favorite dessert. So does Tommie. Mom never forgets your birthday. Neither does Tommie.

There is one difference. Mom will always call you by the name she gave you. Tommie never will, even though he insist you call him by his first name.

“Hi, Mr. Wilson, I’m Rany Moore.”

“Mr. Wilson? That’s my daddy. He’s six feet under. Please call me Tommie, Mr. Moore.”

“Okay then, Tommie, and you can call me Randy.”

“No problem, Mr. Moore.”

For Wilson, it’s a matter of common courtesy.

But there is nothing common about Tommie Wilson and the exquisite personal service he lavishes on everyone who enters the Petroleum Club.

“I’m here to make them feel warm and wonderful so they’ll want to come back to us,” Tommie says.

Sherianne Standley is an administrator at the University of Southern Indiana and long-time Petroleum Club member.

“Tommie is the quintessential Maitre d’,” Standley says. “He never overlooks a detail. Seeing to the members’ needs is the most important thing for Tommie.”

The Petroleum Club is a business and social club on the 18th floor of the Old National Bank building Downtown. A group of oilmen founded the club in 1948, hence the name Petroleum Club. The purpose then, and now, is to promote business and commerce in the Evansville area.

Tommie’s purpose is to promote pleasure. He’s perfectly suited for the task. In his soon-to-be-published book, [Mastermind: Seven Secretes of Total Success], Evansville psychiatrist Dr. Louis B. Cady uses Tommie as a case study in happiness.

“I met Tommie soon after I arrived in Evansville in 1993,” says Cady. “Tommie always impressed me as a happy, outgoing guy who is really high on life.”

Dr. Cady, who routinely sees people who find happiness elusive, wondering what in the world makes Wilson so happy and positive? So he interviewed him. If psychiatry can diagnose clinical depression, can it not uncover the source of clinical glee? Dr. Cady concluded that Wilson’s happiness is rooted in service to others. In Cady’s book, service is one of the seven secrets of total success and Tommie is the example.

Cady says, “Tommie is one of the most positive, delightful people I know.”

Wilson is 62 years old. He’s been at the Petroleum Club for 35 years. He started as a bus boy and moved up to server, waiter, supervisor and finally Maitre d’.

“Have you ever been to the moon and back?” Wilson asks as he recalls the day he was hired. “Every man wanted to work at the Petroleum Club. When you wore the uniform of the Petroleum Club, you were the elite, the epitome of what a man desired.”

In this era of drive-through fast food, one might think fine dining is dead. It is not. It might be as rare as sushi, but fine dining is alive and well at places like the Petroleum Club.

Wilson says, “It’s artistic when you’re able to stand in a dining room, flame a baked Alaska, do a Chateaubriand, to carve it and serve it. It’s an art.”

Wilson surveys his domain. As Maitre d’, Wilson’s job is to notice everything, to meet every need. His vision is 20/20, yet he is legally blind.

“I could practically walk through this room backwards without touching an table because I’ve got a feel for it,” says Wilson, who lost an eye when he fell through a plate glass window years ago.

“What you do is visualize things before you look. Then look at the room and see where everybody is at. Anybody moves, I’ve got ‘em!”

Not only Wilson do his job blindfolded, he could do it gagged. Some of the best in the business serve in silence. For them, silence is an essential and distinctive element of excellence in service. But for Tommie — and his guests — that would take the fun out of it. He’s always ready with a smile and an encouraging word.

“If I can take that dining room and have 50 people and send 50 people home happy, I’ve accomplished something,” Wilson says with pride. “If I send 30 home happy and 20 mad, then I ain’t done nothing. I ain’t done my job.

“I’ve got to make sure I give 100 percent, and that’s what I try for 100 percent. Every time a table sets up, I go to it. I’ve go to every table in that room and make sure I give them 100 percent. And that’s what I try for every day. Not one day, not tomorrow, not the next day, but every day.”

Gene Brooks, the former federal judge now in private law practice, has known Tommie for more than 30 years.

He says, “Every time you go there, he makes you feel special. But just when I think I’m special, I look around at some other guy is getting the same treatment.”

Says Ron Lankford, who is now retired after 43 years at Old National Bank, “If you really want to impress a group of people, be sue to ask for Tommie. I traveled a lot: New York, Chicago, San Francisco; Tommie is the yardstick.”

For Wilson, it’s all pay back. The Petroleum Club is a good to Tommie as Tommie is to the Petroleum Club. When Tommie left the hospital after another expensive eye surgery, anonymous members of the club had already paid the bill.

“I can’t dig down and get it out enough to tell you how good they’ve been to me,” Wilson says with a lump in his throat and tear in his eye. “As far as friendship is concerned, they’ve been right there. They helped us (he, his wife Janice and their six children) through crises I didn’t see no way out of. That’s why I walk the extra mile when I’m here. You want a cup of coffee; I’ll get you two. You want a donut; I’ll go across the street and get three.”

Katie DeJean was Wilson’s first friend at the Petroleum Club. The long-time club manager hired Tommie in 1965 and probably had every opportunity to fire him. Wilson arrived at the Petroleum Club with a head full of potential and bell full of beer. She chose to tap Tommie’s potential.

“That’s all I ever did was drink,” says Tommie, who remembers following every impulse that beckons a red-blooded American. “Every young man in the food business has a wild side.”

DeJean tamed Tommie.

As Wilson recalls, she says, “If you want to be a man, you got to walk like a man. That means, for example, you mind your own business. You don’t mess around with nobody else’s woman; you go home to your wife and you take care of your family. When you do those things, you become a man. She would tell me anybody can be a fool. You can play around and have a good time, but it will bounce back on you. I’ll beat you in the face and hurt you where it hurts most — right here,” Tommie says, pointing to his heart. “Every time I think about it, it brings tears to my eyes. That lady was good to me. She took a snotty-nosed little kid and rearranged his life.”

It is probably more accurate to say that DeJean resurrected Tommie’s character because it was there all along — instilled by his parents. Wilson was born next to Trockman’s junkyard south of Downtown. He can still point to the area from the Petroleum Club. His father worked on the railroad. His mother was a full-time housewife and part-time maid. What they lacked in material wealth, they made up for in love. The Wilsons allowed Tommie to attend movies once a month, but required his attendance at church every week.

“You had to do right,” Tommie says. “You had to study your word. You had to go to school. You couldn’t say, ‘I don’t want to go to school. I don’t want to do my work.’ You did it and you loved it or there were other methods of persuasion.”

And he had to respect everyone. Even when the white kids bellowed the occasional “nigger” his way, his parents would resort to those other methods of persuasion if Tommie ever retorted with a “cracker.”

Because he is legally blind, Wilson doesn’t drive. That works out to our benefit, because he walks everywhere and meets lots of people. You’ll know him by the dark jacket and the mustache, the cigar and the smile.

“To me it just feels good to help other people, to do something right, to even make them smile. If you go around the corner and catch somebody with his head down and life him up, give him a bright outlook on things. It makes you feel a whole lot better than walk on and ignore him.”

Wilson might walk down another path once he retires from the Petroleum Club. He’s been studying the Bible by listening to Scripture on tape. He says he feels a call to some kind of ministry to people. What this humble and gracious man doesn’t realize is this: He answered that call a long time ago.

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Creative Space

Interior designer has worked with celebrities and locals
Longtime interior designer John Ryman has decorated his own home with paintings and salvaged pieces.

Every corner of John Ryman’s Mount Vernon, Indiana, home has experienced the artist’s touch. The walls are covered with his paintings, sculptures, and abstract artwork — each titled and with backstories full of imagination, character, and commentary on issues society faces today. His 1880-home is furnished with pieces he’s collected from thrift stores or salvaged and repurposed, and he’s made it his own.

While Ryman has made this space his own, he also has spent more than three decades helping others perfect their homes.

“My home has character,” he says. “That’s what I try to do with other people. I try to get to know people’s character and then bring that character into their home.”

The longtime interior designer worked for House & Garden for 12 years as a consultant, photo stylist, and stylist editor. He later worked for Vanity Fair for six years developing stories about trending designers, environmentally friendly design products, and photo styling for special promotions. He’s had clients such as Calvin Klein, Isabella Rossellini, and many more.

The Minneapolis native came to New Harmony, Indiana, in 2012 to do work with a home and last April, he moved to Mount Vernon. Ryman remembers at a very young age painting, creating forts, and treehouses, something he still creates for people all over the world. “It’s my cosmology to create,” he says. He studied at the renowned fine arts and design school Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. His senior year of his master’s was interrupted by alternative service for the draft. This led to a position as installation/exhibits designer at the Minneapolis College of Art and the architectural firm of Kenzo Tange.

Ryman is currently working on three unique projects. Lora Arneberg of New Harmony commissioned a playhouse for her children. It is a small version of a 1840s Harmonist shed it sits next to with a faux chimney to balance the sleeping loft dormer. In New York, Ryman is simplifying a 1790s cottage on Long Island and redesigning a 1985 post modern Venturi designed home to look like its 1885 Italianate neighbors. He also sells his artwork locally and nationally.

To contact John Ryman, call 812-307-1017 or email john4ryman@gmail.com.

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We Love Pizza

View the full feature in the March/April 2015 issue of Evansville Living.

Why do we love pizza?
That’s an easy answer — but not a short one. It’s customizable, shareable, delectable, portable, and we can’t get enough of it, making Evansville a perfect placefor us. Pizzerias cover this city and its surrounding areas, each with its own twist on a piece of pie.

People Behind the Pizza

Pizza makers explain their passion for their pies  By Jenny McNeece • Photos by Jerry Butts

Eric Weber
By The Slice Gourmet Pizzeria

The idea for By the Slice Gourmet Pizzeria, 2011 Lincoln Ave., near the University of Evansville, started 20 years ago as a graduate school project while owner Eric Weber was a student at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York. He envisioned a pizzeria where customers could come in, choose a slice from an assortment of specialty pizzas, then sit a spell while it baked to bubbling, browned perfection.

“That's how I like it best,” says Weber. “We usually make 12 different kinds of pizza, some daily, but others vary on different days of the week. And we try new stuff all the time, too.

“Customers can come up to the counter, take a look at what we've got made for that day, pick what they want, and we put it back in the oven to finish it off.”

Weber says his pizzeria, which opened in 1994, has become a popular place for young professionals looking for a quick slice of pizza on their lunch hour or even groups of regulars who look forward to the ever-changing daily specials. Some of their most popular pies, he says, are a spinach and feta cheese pizza garnished with garlic, olive oil, and mozzarella, and another with creamy ranch dressing, red onion, mozzarella, and tomato.

Weber has created pizzas that meet the rules of popular fad diets, all because his goal, he says, is to give people what they want all while encouraging them to think outside the usual pizza box.

“We have a group of regular guys who always comes in on Tuesdays,” says Weber. “They're the kind of customers I like because they usually like to play around a little bit with what they choose.

“But I think the idea for a pizzeria like this works because there are a lot of times when you don't want a whole pizza,” he says. “You just want a snack, and we can give you that.”

For more information about By the Slice, call 812-402-8518.

Tom and Kathy Groves
Kitchen Sink Pizza of Evansville

People often ask Tom and Kathy Groves about the meaning behind their pizzeria's name, Kitchen Sink Pizza.

And the answer is just as one might expect.

“Well, it comes from the phrase 'everything but the kitchen sink' because that's exactly what we put on our pizza,” Tom Groves says with a laugh. “That is our specialty, and we try to keep those in stock at all times because people love them so much.”

Kitchen Sink's business model is different than most. The couple doesn't operate a store front business; they simply assemble the pizzas at 1815 John St. two days a week, and Tom Groves does daily deliveries.

The popular Kitchen Sink pizza is available most days. But those who want multiple pizzas — the minimum order is two — or other recipes must order ahead.

The pies then arrive frozen and ready to bake.

Tom Groves' family once owned Evansville's popular Pour House Restaurant, an establishment that originally opened in the 1970s as a bar on Mount Vernon Avenue. Groves tended bar while a student at Ball State University, and when he returned, his family opened the music club together.

But it was their entry into the craft of making specialty pizzas that catapulted them into the local restaurant business, and they operated successfully until 1986.

“I never thought another thing about making pizzas,” says Groves. “Then about five years ago, somebody mentioned something on Facebook about the pizzas we used to make. It got all kinds of hits and likes, so we started making them again for friends and family.

“From there, it just took off.”

Tom, a sales associate with Indoff, an office supply and furniture company based in St., Louis and Kathy, a fourth-grade teacher at Holy Rosary School, have enjoyed their return to the pizza-making business, but they have no employees and don't necessarily want any.

“It has worked really well for us,” says Groves. “We are as busy as we want to be, and we hope to continue doing this when we retire.”

Orders can be emailed directly to kitchensinkpizza@gmail.com or called into 812-305-4412. They also can be found on Facebook by searching Kitchen Sink Pizza of Evansville.

Brad Niemeier
Azzip Pizza

Brad Niemeier opened Azzip Pizza — that's pizza spelled backwards — in February of 2014. Fresh out of college and armed with $20,000 in prize money after winning Purdue University's Burton D. Morgan Business Plan Competition, he searched high and low to find the perfect spot to implement his plan of providing quick, made-to-order personal-size pizzas.

“I thought about doing it at Purdue, but I decided I wanted to bring my idea back to Evansville,” the hometown boy says. “I knew all the support and connections I had made in this community, and I eventually found the perfect spot on the West Side.”

Azzip Pizza, 5225 Pearl Drive, offers what Niemeier likes to call “fast, casual pizza.” The pizzas come in either 8- or 11-inch sizes, and customers pick their preferred toppings.

“They make it right there in front of you, and it bakes in just 2 minutes and 30 seconds,” he says proudly. “And all of them are made with fresh ingredients, fresh dough we make and roll out in-house everyday.”

The community he loved embraced him as well. Azzip has done well on the West Side, says Niemeier, who is partnered with local chef Blake Kollker, formerly of the Evansville Country Club. He recently opened a second location in Newburgh, Indiana, at 8680 High Point Drive.

Kollker has since helped Azzip to launch some of its most unique specialty pizzas, ones like the Westsider, which features Marx Barbecue sauce, cheese, pork, red onions, and crushed Grippos sprinkled on top, as well as the Mr. Potato Head, which boasts a ranch-based sauce, red-skinned potatoes, bacon, cheddar cheese, and chive sour cream.

“The response has been great,” says Niemeier. “We've got people who have come in every week since we opened. It's been phenomenal.”

For more information about Azzip Pizza, call 812-401-3572 or visit azzippizza.me.

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Never Met a Stranger

METS bus driver familiar face on USI campus with kind gestures
James Putnam has been driving his bus around USI's campus for a year and a half.

I first noticed James Putnam when I transferred to the University of Southern Indiana last year as a sophomore. It seemed that every time he would pass me in his 30-passenger Metropolitan Shuttle Transit System shuttle bus, he would always take the time to look up from his wheel and give me a great big wave. Interestingly enough, I found that not only would Putnam wave to me, but he would wave to each and every person that he passed on the street. It didn’t matter if it was a student, a USI maintenance man, a car, or another shuttle bus. If Putnam saw you, he waved to you.

As the leaves began to fall from the trees, and the temperature outside turned colder, I stopped walking to class and started taking the bus from my apartment to campus. Stepping onto the shuttle for the first time all year, I was offered a knuckle bump. Seeing the massive fist extended in the air, I quickly made the connection with the kind man who had waved to me every day since my first day on campus. Looking up I saw an enormous man who resembled more of a Division I lineman than a bus driver (though he says he never played sports), his broad shoulders shrunk the driver’s seat in which he was seated. After I had accepted a knuckle bump, his closed hand nearly doubling mine in size, he offered a genuine smile and a “good morning!” I wasn’t the only one James offered the knuckle bump to; he extended his hand to the next 15 or so kids who climbed on the bus behind me.

Seeing these simple acts of kindness go on day after day, I finally decided to strike up a conversation with the man who seemed to care more about other people than anyone else I had ever met. We talked for five minutes as he drove me to my destination, and I discovered that Putnam was 50 years old and had been born and raised here in Evansville. He told me that he works a 7 ½-hour shift beginning every day at 7 a.m., although he says “he is more than happy” to stay later whenever he is needed, and how happy he was that after 17 years he had the opportunity to drive at USI and out on campus, where he has been driving for the last year and a half. His loop circles campus every 15 to 20 minutes depending on the number of passengers climbing aboard.

Putnam emphasizes the knuckle bumps “are always optional. Nothing is mandatory.” He first started offering them to passengers last September when a group of students at the end of his route would extend their hands and eventually other students began asking for them as well.

“It caught on,” says Putnam with a laugh. About 98 percent of riders exchange knuckle bumps with him, he says, which makes his job that
much more fun to him.

Before getting off the bus, he said something that really touched me, “I try to brighten up everyone’s day because all of you brighten up mine. If I can brighten up your day with a wave and knuckle bump, that’s all I can hope for.”

Cole Schafer is a junior at the University of Southern Indiana. This piece originally appeared on his blog, thegoodandthegrey.com.

For more information about the Metropolitan Shuttle Transit System, call 812-435-6166 or visit evansvillemets.com.