November 20, 2017
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Eat, Drink, & Be Merry

35 ways to upgrade your gatherings this year
View the full feature in the November/December 2017 issue of Evansville Living.

The fall and winter months are about gathering — whether it is for family holidays, out-of-town visitors, or long-time friends, one thing is for certain: we like to get together during this time of year.

No matter the guests, occasion, or season, everyone wants to throw a fabulous party. But putting together a get-together can be a tad stressful. Have you invited more people than usual this year? Maybe you’re throwing a soiree for the first time? Or perhaps you’re looking for ways to impress those family and friends who are used to the same dishes each year?

Whatever the case, we cordially invite you to dip into our 35 tips, tricks, and tools of the trade to upgrade your holiday gathering for 2017. Our experts and party extraordinaires are a fount of information to leave your guests impressed and help you feel like
the host with the most.

Meet the Experts


Denise Rapp

Owner and caterer with Moveable Feast
Rapp doesn’t shy away from new and interesting recipes in her business. After 18 years in the food industry — spending some of that time in top restaurants in Indianapolis — she has a passion for displaying beautiful and tasty meals. She also has an affinity for collecting eclectic dishes, which she says aids in her presentations of dinners.

Matt Rowe

Reitz Home Museum Executive Director
If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that Matt Rowe likes to throw parties. Having led programming and events at the Reitz Home since 2011, he’s no stranger to an upscale party scene. Rowe also has been known to throw a Sunday soiree or two for friends, where the music is jazzy, the chardonnay plentiful, and the conversation enticing.

Karen Bush

Professional party assistant
Bush began her partying enterprise in the early 2000s. Since then, she has assisted with and coordinated hundreds of events in the area like private gatherings, corporate events, galas, and fundraisers for nonprofits. From keeping the drinks flowing to magically clearing away messes, her help and work has been described as “pure magic.”   


Chicca Brougham

Independent Psychotherapist/ Licensed Clinical Social Worker
With a big family and Italian heritage, Brougham was bred to love cooking good food for the people she loves. Whether it’s a graduation party with 75 guests or the Reitz Memorial High School soccer team boys — which she claims is like feeding 40 regular people — Brougham is a pro at feeding and entertaining big groups and making it look like a breeze.

Saundra Hadley

Owner and event engineer at planning forever events
Fourteen years ago, Hadley bid the corporate world farewell in favor of a more adventurous avenue — event planning. She does not label herself a typical event planner, however. Whether it’s wedding, corporate, or social event planning, Hadley takes an approach of laughing openly and being direct with her clients. She also enjoys color, doesn’t believe in perfection, and is a self-professed techie. 

Anthony Majors and Jeremy Huff

Dining Room Manager/Certified Sommelier and Bar Manager/Introductory Sommelier at Evansville Country Club
Majors joined Evansville Country Club this year to lend his wine expertise to the club’s dining experience. Huff has been behind the club’s bar for the past 10 years, pouring up everything from classics to drinks with a twist. 

1. Keep it simple.

“Don’t get too pretentious,” says Majors. “A party is not about people feeling uncomfortable.”.

2. Play to your strengths. 

“I love to cook, but some people don’t,” says Brougham. “If you need to supplement with something store bought, do it.”

3. Light up.

An overlooked aspect of a good party is lighting. Be sure to have the lights low, says Rowe. Lighting should not be harsh or bright as your guests mingle.

4. Be prepared. 

“My quote always is it’s better to have more than less,” says Bush.

5. Class Act. 

At a party or gathering with his friends, Majors says he would mix up a seasonally appropriate twist on an Old Fashioned. His take includes using maple syrup as the sugar component to the classic cocktail.

“People will recognize the elements, but it has a unique twist,” he says. “It is relatively easy to make, and it embodies fall. The maple syrup gives it that nice weight and fall time flavor profile. It’s very holiday-esque without tasting like a liquefied gingerbread man.” 

Major’s Old Fashioned:
» 1 slice orange peel
» 2 ounces Evansville Country Club’s Woodford Reserve
» 2/3 ounce good quality maple syrup
» 1 splash Bigallet China-China
» 1 splash blood orange bitters
» 2 Luxardo Maraschino Cherries

Muddle the orange peel in the glass and add ice. Next, add the bourbon, syrup, liqueur, and bitters. Stir. Garnish with two Luxardo Maraschino Cherries.

6. Dish it out.

Brougham sets out her serving ware and designates each one with a Post-it note of what food will go in each dish. This not only helps you know if you have enough serving plates and bowls, but also will keep you from scrambling around the day of the party.

7. Cooking for a Crowd. 

One of Brougham’s favorite things to serve at a party are tapas. “That is my favorite because it doesn’t involve a lot of cooking unless you want it to,” she says. “There’s something for everyone, and it’s casual.”

The key to making food for a large number of people is cooking dishes that can be prepared ahead of time, can sit out and still be delicious, have a lot of color, and are well rounded.

Even for sit down meals, Brougham stresses there are dishes that can be made ahead of time and reheated. Soups, lasagnas, and beef tenderloin all are some of her favorite options. Her go to, though, is an Italian-inspired chicken pasta casserole adapted from a recipe by Giada De Laurentiis.

“I love it because you can make it ahead and reheat it,” she says. “You can freeze it and reheat it. You can double, triple, or quadruple it. It’s truly become one of our staples.”

Brougham’s Italian-inspired Chicken Pasta Casserole:
» 1 pound of rotini pasta (or other small pasta)
» 4 tablespoons olive oil
» 1 pound cubed chicken breasts
» 1 cup diced onion
» 2 cloves garlic, minced
» 1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes with juice
» 3/4 of a jar of good quality spaghetti sauce (organic if that is important to you)
» 1 to 2 cups shredded Provel cheese
(or shredded mozzarella if you are morally opposed to processed cheese)
» 1/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan (not from the green can — never from the green can)
» 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
» 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
» Kosher salt to taste
» Black pepper to taste

Cook and drain the pasta. Put back into the pot with a little butter or olive oil to keep it from sticking.

Heat olive oil in pan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté for about two minutes. Add chicken and sauté for about 3 minutes. Salt and pepper chicken to taste. Add garlic and continue to cook over medium heat until chicken is cooked through and onions are soft. Add the diced tomatoes and turn off heat.

Pour the chicken mixture into the pot of cooked pasta and stir to combine. Add spaghetti sauce to taste — enough to keep the pasta moist but not so much the whole thing becomes excessively saucy. Add cheeses and combine. Stir in parsley and basil. Salt and pepper the entire mixture to taste and place in a lightly buttered 9-by-12-inch baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil.

Bake at 350 F for about 30 minutes or until heated through and cheese is melted. After removing from oven, additional chopped parsley can be sprinkled on top if desired.

8. Invite only.

With social media and text messaging, navigating formal invitations can be tricky. If you’d like to do a unique party invite and stay paperless, Hadley recommends a video invite. “Take a video of yourself inviting guests. Be sure to include date, time, and location, then email or text it,” she says.

9. A healthy serving. 

A safe estimate for wine at a party is half a bottle for each guest. With liquor, keep in mind that, unlike wine, liquor doesn’t go bad. It’s better to have too much than not enough. “A well-stocked bar makes a party great,” says Huff.

10. Picky eaters. 

Planning a meal for a holiday party may seem overwhelming, but Rapp says it is doable for everyone — even if you aren’t a gourmet chef. Start your party meal planning by thinking of your guests — with family and friends, think about their taste buds and what they like to eat. Incorporate different vegetables, meats, and cheeses into dishes to satisfy all.

11. Set the mood. 

“Music is an important element in a party,” says Rowe. Put together a playlist on a music app such as Pandora or Spotify, set up Bluetooth speakers, and control your party music through your phone.

12. Make history.


Look to history and cultural traditions for inspiration. The eggnog Rowe serves is a modernized version of a recipe from the 1920s.

13. Set a Theme.

Not all parties need themes, but they can add an element of fun to a gathering. Hadley says just be sure not to go overboard and become kitschy.

14. Spontaneity.

If you’d like to incorporate something different in your parties, Rowe suggests a fog machine — yes, a fog machine. "It’s just a black box and I always like to sit it behind a plant,” he says. “It has a remote control and just fills the room up with fog. Everyone thinks it is the funniest thing.”

15. Get out of control.

Allow the help you’ve hired to actually help. “When someone says they can help alongside me, I feel like that’s not fair to them because it’s their party,” says Bush.

16. Oldies but goodies.

When having a lot of people over for dinner or appetizers, don’t use the opportunity to try something new. Stick to something you’ve successfully made before and know will be a hit.

17. Get fresh.

Use fresh flowers and fruits to create a display of food that will have your guests’ mouths watering before they dig in. “People eat with their eyes,” says Rapp. “As soon as they see the food, if it is beautiful, they already know they are going to have a good time.”

18. Snazzy Accessories.

Dress up time-honored party snacks with decorative bowls. Rowe loves to serve chips, fruit, and popcorn in polished silver bowls at his get-togethers.

19. The Party Magician.

Titles elude Bush. Ask her what her role at a party is, and she won’t have an exact answer. She does a little bit of everything.

“Karen is without a question in Evansville the ultimate party coordinator,” says Scott Wylie. “When she comes to your house, you don’t have to worry. You don’t have to worry about are the chips full, drinks refreshed. That’s what Karen facilitates. You’re making sure everyone is having a good time. She does magic.”

Bush has been assisting with parties, events, and functions since the early 2000s. In that time and with her experience, she has become an expert in entertaining and party throwing. One of the keys to her success is her go-with-the-flow approach to any possible challenges.

“All parties are different,” she says. “I have to be flexible. I have to be able to work out of laundry rooms and backyards.”

The advantage of hiring someone with Bush’s experience is it allows you to focus on your guests and enjoy the party while they take care of the behind-the-scenes details many forget.

“The one thing I just love about it is all the different people I meet,” says Bush. “Everybody says, ‘Oh, you could write a book.’ When people tell me I could write a book, I say I would probably get more money from people wanting to keep them out of the book than I would get from the sales of the book.”

20. Organizational Skills a Must. 

Food and drink are staples of any great seasonal soiree, but just as important is your guests’ access to these items. Be sure there is enough room for guests to enter and exit the area where food and drinks are located, says Hadley.

21. Pace yourself. 

a party should be fun, reminds Rapp, so be sure to take your time. “Enjoy baking your dishes, cutting your vegetables and serving your food,” she says. “Don’t tell yourself you hate to cook, think about your friends who are coming. And if you need a glass of wine to help you accomplish your tasks, then do it,” she laughs.

22. Less stress, no mess.

Worried about enjoying your own soiree? Hire in a bit of help. “Karen Bush certainly is the go-to person in Evansville,” raves Rowe. “She’ll greet people at the door, take their coats. She’ll make them drinks — and she makes perfect drinks.”

Having larger parties and serving dinner can be cumbersome. Consider catering your event or a party helper who can help by fetching drinks, replenishing food, and keeping trash manageable.

23. Have options.

Be sure to offer a wide variety of liquor and wine. “When you buy for a lot of people, you want to run the gamut of styles,” says Majors. “Dry white, dry red, sweet white, sweet red, something effervescent.”

24. GO BIG.

If you’re expanding your guest list for your annual holiday gathering, Hadley says to think about your space. Some rearranging of a room can create more space for your guests. If your seating options are limited, consider rental tables and chairs.

25. Don’t cry over spilled champagne.

“I learn every time I do something,” says Bush. “I’m still learning.” As a host, your primary responsibility is to ensure your guests are having a good time and enjoying the party. Focus on your guests, and everything else will fall into place.

26. Don't leave 'til tomorrow that which you can do today. 

Take Benjamin Franklin’s and Chicca Brougham’s advice and prepare as much ahead of time as you possibly can.

“If I can do stuff the day before, I’ll do it,” she says.

27. Back to nature.

If you’re looking for a  way to spruce up napkin holders or garnishes, Rapp suggests getting back to nature. “Use natural elements to bring uniqueness to your table,” she says. “Fresh sage and rosemary are great garnishes or you can wrap them around your napkins. You can even make a name tag out of a bay leaf.”

28. Flare for the Dramatic.

Huff’s cocktail pick for a party also is an old classic — the Derby. “A Derby is not served in a lot of bars anymore,” says Huff. “It’s a little showy, it’s fun, and it’s tasty. It’s classic.”

Huff’s Derby Drink:
» 1 slice flared orange peel
» 2 ounces bourbon
» 4 shakes Angostura bitters
» 1 ounce Benedictine
» Splash of house-made allspice dram

Flare an orange peel into the glass with a match. In a shaker filled with ice, combine the bourbon, bitters, Benedictine, and house-made allspice dram. Strain into the glass.


29. Full circle.

If your dinner party consists of more than eight guests, consider finding a round table to dine on. This allows conversation to flow more easily around
the table.

30. Timed Perfectly.

Many elements come together to make a holiday get-together successful. One important tip to remember is duration. “A good party, whether dinner or just cocktails, typically lasts three to four hours,” says Hadley. “Any longer than that, you may need to get out the pillows and blankets for your guests to stay the night.”

31. Serve responsibly. 

It’s a host’s responsibility to make sure guests are having a good time, but it’s also their responsibility to make sure guests get home safely at the end of the night. With Uber or services like Select Sedans, there is no excuse for driving under the influence.

32. Relax & Enjoy!

Remember, it’s your party, so take time to enjoy it. Once dinner is served, says Rapp, do not feel the need to rush through it. Allow yourself a chance to talk and mingle as well as enjoy the feast you’ve created.

33. Don’t forget the after party.

“You can tell when someone entertains, because they have lots of containers for leftovers and Ziploc bags,” says Bush.

34. Ice Ice Baby. 

“Have plenty of ice” says Bush. “People will buy enough liquor but will forget the ice,” says Huff.

35. More is more.

Don’t be afraid of having a little food left over after your dinner meal, says Rapp. Keeping adequate portions in mind for your guests is good, but if you have a little food left over, it’s nothing to worry about. “Allow at least five bites for hors d’oeuvres and four to six ounces of meat per person,” says Rapp. The most important thing to remember is you don’t want to overstuff your diners too soon. A satisfying appetizer and fulfilling meal leaves room for the star of the show — dessert.

“They should be able to enjoy the dessert without feeling miserable,” says Rapp. “So always keep in mind, it doesn’t take a lot for people to get full.” 


Be Our Guest
We’ve all grown up learning basic manners at the family table. When it comes to being a good party guest, however, there is more to it than not talking with our mouths full and keeping our elbows off the table.

Ensuring you will be a good guest begins before you even step foot at the party. A quick and definite RSVP will go a long way to earn you some brownie points with the host. A good entrance also is important. Don’t show up too early and frazzle an already busy host, but don’t show up late and miss an important event.

As Midwesterners, we already know not to show up to someone’s house empty handed, but we can take it a step further. For a host gift or contribution to the party, make sure it is something that won’t be a burden. Have flowers already arranged in a vase — something from your own garden adds a personal touch. Looking for a unique yet useful gift for the host? Consider picking up colorful or interesting cocktail napkins, such as those made by Gaspari. A host can never have too many cocktail napkins.

If you’re helping with food or drinks for the party, don’t bring a fussy dish that needs a lot of prep and make sure the beverages are at the proper temperature and don’t require too many ingredients.
Once you are settled into the party, make sure to be a fun, engaged guest. Put your phone away and enjoy the people and conversation around you. Refrain from spending the evening posting pictures to social media and get acquainted with your fellow partygoers. Even if you don’t know many people, there isn’t a better place to make new acquaintances than at a gathering of mutual friends and family.

In the end, being a good guest comes down to being unselfish and thoughtful. Think of others before yourself, and you are sure to be invited back to the second bash. .


Into the Woods

Mominees live simple in their modern Boonville home
Nathan and Noelle Mominee

The plans for Nathan and Noelle Mominee’s dream home were not ones that were finished quickly. In fact, the couple took the better part of three years putting their ideal home down on paper before they even found a site to build.

“I tell people when designing homes, ‘Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and design something until you find your land.’ But I had the idea of the land I wanted, so I had the cart in front of the horse,” says Nathan. “The whole time our intention was to find something with some woods and trails.”

“We looked at about nine properties including this one,” adds Noelle.

Nathan and Noelle met at the University of Evansville where they both studied civil engineering. Nathan — a Boonville, Indiana, native — was a teacher’s aide in Dr. Mark Valenzuela’s engineering 101 course. Noelle, a graduate of Castle High School, was a student in the class.

“That’s where we first saw each other, and the rest is history,” says Nathan.

When they both graduated from UE, Nathan set out to build his first house, something he says he had wanted to do since he was young. He and Noelle worked together on the project, finishing the home before they were married in 2005.

“We were testing ourselves,” says Noelle with a smile.

“I think we did well with all the stress,” adds Nathan. “We definitely did things the hard way, but we’ve learned a lot since then.”

From that project, the Mominees grew more into their business — Mominee Homes and Roofing — and into their lives. It was during this time that the plans for their home continued to adjust. A large garage attached to the house was added to keep one main footprint for the home. Porches running the length of the house were designed for the first floor and the walk-out basement.

“The kitchen was one of the biggest areas that changed,” says Noelle. “And the master bedroom. Both went through a lot of iterations.”

“We stretched and tugged and tweaked on the plans,” adds Nathan. “But it was a good thing it took some time to finalize because we’ve grown as designers and as people. We understand more of what we enjoy and how we live. It’s nice to be able to have that kind of understanding when you make this kind of commitment.”

Then, by chance, they stumbled on a spot near Scales Lake in Boonville, Indiana. The land was a part of acreage owned by the Weyerbacher family, who has lived in the Boonville area since the mid 1800s, according to Nathan. Hoping to work out an agreement with the family, Nathan visited the Weyerbachers two years ago.

“John Weyerbacher answered the door, and we just kind of hit it off,” says Nathan. “I told him I grew up here and I wanted to come back home, be closer to my family, and be close to Scales Lake Park. I told him my story, and he said he would talk to his brothers and sisters about it.”

Two years later, the Mominees would see their plans finally come to life.

SPACE AND FUNCTION -  Nathan and Noelle Mominee, above right, have called their modern-inspired Boonville residence home for about a year. Their kitchen, above, features a mirror with a hood-fan behind it installed above the stove, which allows anyone cooking to keep an eye on whoever is behind them. Above left, a book of designs by Frank Lloyd Wright sits in the entryway of the home. Wright was known for designing structures in harmony with the environment, which is what the Mominees strive to do with their home.

“This spot — we couldn’t really have designed anything better than what we’ve found here,” says Nathan.

For Nathan and Noelle, their home is a mixture of functionality, modern design, and comfort. The Mominees knew for certain they wanted a home with a low impact on the environment around them, especially as the couple wanted to build in a wooded area. A southern facing spot also was a must to maximize the amount of winter sunlight coming into the home.

“One of the biggest things you see when you walk in or that you feel is the atrium,” says Nathan.

Traditionally, homes with large, open floor plans have interior rooms far from exterior walls, which prevents natural light from filtering in. Design elements such as skylights can help, but can become a maintenance concern, says Nathan.

To capitalize on the southern viewshed from the home and avoid elements such as skylights, the Mominees maximized the southern glazing with 16-foot glass sliding doors and an atrium that allows indirect sunlight to fill the space throughout the day.

“It creates this three-dimensional dynamic in the big common room,” says Nathan. “We were able to carry it into the master suite, which really was cool. It also makes the roofline exciting.”

The first story of the home features a very open plan, with a kitchen and common room that flows into the master bedroom suite complete with a long, tiled shower and a large walk-in closet. In the basement, there are two galley-styled rooms for the Mominees’ two children, as well as an open play area.

The bathroom for the children is split, with a shower and vanity in one room and another half bathroom next door, an idea from Noelle to avoid conflicts over the space in the morning.

The couple also mixed in “some old with new,” with repurposed barn wood used on several different walls throughout the home.

“We’re trying to mix it in with the modern,” says Noelle. “I call it warm modern.”

The home also features a beautiful stained glass window depicting a great blue heron above the entrance to the master suite. The piece was made by Nathan’s mom, and aunt and uncle (owners of Mominee Studios) and has had a place in each of Nathan’s and Noelle’s homes.

In all, the home has a total footprint of 3,200 square feet. It sits on nearly 16 acres of wooded land, which allows the Mominees to build mountain bike trails through the property. Nathan already has completed a one-mile loop, which the family enjoys frequently.

Though the home is not overwrought with extra space, there is enough for the family to eat, play, and live together, which is what the Mominees say is the point.

“We are trying to create space that has functionality. We didn’t leave much room for additional furniture or things,” says Noelle. “We wanted to create spacing where things have a purpose and place.”

While many may snub their noses at modern styles for being sterile and cold, the Mominees find the design invites the outdoors in and allows them to be creative as a family to make the space more their own.

“When it’s not all ready for a photo shoot, it’s got the color of life with homework spread out, toys all over the place,” says Nathan. “I think it’s just a good canvas to put the color of your life on.”

“We’re trying to set that example for our children, too,” adds Noelle. “They have toys, but we’re trying to keep it simple. Get them outside and explore.”

In the future, the couple plans an addition of a pool in the back yard along with a big tree house, all of which play into the family’s love of the nature around them.

LIVE DELIBERATELY -  The Mominees’ home features minimum furniture and an open floor plan that flows easily throughout the house. The main living space, kitchen, and master bedroom face large windows looking out at the family’s wooded backyard. Both porches on the first level and basement walk-out span the length of the home and are 500 square feet each.

“It’s a whole different feeling here,” says Noelle. “Being able to see the woods, that feeling you get walking in — it’s one of my favorite things.”

“You’re just embraced by nature. It’s very relaxing. It’s like a sanctuary,” adds Nathan. “It feels good.”

WILDERNESS AND NATURE -  Mountain biking is a favorite hobby of the Mominee family. Nathan and Noelle built a one-mile trail loop on their property, with twists, turns, and jumps included. The couple say they enjoy teaching their two young children the ropes of biking and being outside as a family.

Best Guests

Letters to the editor can be sent to

What was the most memorable party you’ve ever been to or hosted? Now, think of that question as you ponder the “Party of the Century,” Truman Capote’s famous Black and White Ball held on Nov. 28, 1966, to honor Katherine Graham, president of the Washington Post and Newsweek, and to mark Capote’s success with, “In Cold Blood.”

That drizzly evening, the Monday after Thanksgiving, the author Capote welcomed 540 of his best friends to the Grand Ballroom in Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel. The evening survives in photographs, in the recollections of the guests who still are living 51 years later, in a book, “Party of the Century: The Fabulous Story of Truman Capote and his Black and White Ball,” by Deborah Davis; and soon, a movie of the same name, “Party of the Century.”

A perfectionist, Capote outlined strict guidelines for his guests: only attire of black or white was permitted, all guests must wear a mask, and women were required to carry fans. While planning the night, he reasoned, “I want the party to be united in the way you make a painting.”

He spent months curating the guest list. The invited rushed to buy new black and white gowns and suits and commission custom masks adorned with pearls, jewels, and feathers (by Adolfo, and a young milliner who used a single name, Halston — Roy Halston Frowick, who grew up in Evansville).

So your most memorable parties are not quite so legendary? Today, we are much less concerned with impressing than welcoming — but still, don’t we all appreciate special treatment? That’s what we sought in the feature, “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry!” (page 36) — specific ways to upgrade our family and social gatherings to better express gratitude and reflect our lifestyles.

Here, to get us in the mood to party plan, a few members of the Tucker Publishing Group staff share their most memorable party memories.

Jessica Hoffman and Jennifer Rhoades, advertising account executives, and twins
A couple of years ago, our family (the Campbells) and our godparents’ family (the Montgomerys) started celebrating “Christmas in July.” This year’s gathering took place on the Montgomery farm on the hottest weekend of the year. We did a trek to the North Pole through the woods, a snowball fight with Styrofoam balls, and we worked as teams to turn someone into Santa with crepe paper. A fireworks show titled “Viewing the Northern Lights” was enjoyed with frozen hot chocolate.

Amanda Redenbaugh, graphic designer
Two years ago my family started doing a progressive dinner; now that we are older and have our own homes it is a fun experience. After Christmas Eve service, we started at my house. Sean and I hosted the appetizer portion. We’ve served a cheese and cracker tray in the shape of a Christmas tree, Grinch kabobs (a green grape, banana, strawberry, and marshmallow on top), and veggie pizza. We had fun playing the game LCR (Left, Right, Center) and laughing and carrying on about who would win the game. The main course was at my parents’ house and dessert at my sister’s house.

Trista Lutgring, managing editor
I have friends in Tell City, Indiana, my hometown, who throw a huge Christmas party each year. It is a quintessential Midwest celebration — a large potluck dinner with everything from soups and chili to fried chicken and cheesy casseroles. The great build up of the evening, however, is the gift exchange. I look forward to this game, aptly named “Dirty Santa,” every year. Everyone has a strategy and the competition is fierce. But after several heated gift exchanges and good-natured fighting, we always end the night with some good cocktails and laughter.

Elisa Gross, staff writer
My family always has had an open house policy, literally extending into the holidays with our annual Christmas Open House. Each year, my mom would spend weeks making candies, cookies, and other treats. She still has a giant binder stashed away in the kitchen full of holiday recipes and menus from open houses past. My favorite part was never the party itself, but the anticipation — stirring caramels over the stove, decorating the house from top to bottom, and sneaking cookies from hidden away tins.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you!

Kristen K. Tucker
Publisher & Editor


Wild Card

Peggy Kincaid plays her cards right
Peggy Kincaid has been playing bridge for most of her life.

If you ask Peggy Kincaid how long she’s been a member of the Evansville Duplicate Bridge Club, she’ll say not that long. Ask anyone else, and they’ll inform you Kincaid has been a member for 12 to 15 years — at least.

Her membership in the bridge club, however, is nothing compared to how long she’s played the card game. The 96 year old learned as a child from her father. She’s been playing ever since.

“It seems like forever,” says Kincaid. “I’ve played for many years, however, not the new conventions. I played old-fashioned bridge. Everything is different now.”

In September, after decades of playing bridge, Kincaid earned her Life Master rank through The American Contract Bridge League’s North American Bridge Championships.

To earn a Life Master ranking, players joining before Jan. 1, 2010, have to amass at least 300 points in different categories — gold/platinum, red, black, and silver points — through regional tournaments. Kincaid was inspired to earn her ranking after her daughter Jane Perkins received her Life Master in January.

“I thought well I should get on the ball and get to these regionals,” says Kincaid. “So I went to three regionals and got my gold points to become a Life Master.”

Kincaid traveled with her daughter to three different tournaments in Nashville, Tennessee; Effingham, Illinois; and St. Louis to earn her points, reaching her Life Master status after the tournament in St. Louis.

Kincaid says the key to becoming a good player is learning from even better players. At the club in Evansville, Kincaid plays with different partners. During the regional tournaments, however, she always played with her daughter.

“The directors caught on to her in Nashville and just fell in love with her,” says Perkins. “When she got this in St. Louis, they were crying and hugging her. This one director, Brad, said, ‘Honestly, I’m as happy for you as I was when I got mine. No, I take that back. I’m happier for you.’”

At 96 years old, Kincaid is the oldest player in Indiana to earn a Life Master and one of the oldest in the country.

“You make a lot of friends playing bridge,” she says. “It passes away a lot of time for me, and you meet a lot of nice people.”

For more information about the Evansville Duplicate Bridge Club, call 812-471-3838 or visit


Mystery Solved

Boonville author finds creative outlet in crime novels

Caroline Fardig had a bit of a problem — every time she finished reading a book, she found herself thinking of how she would have ended the story instead.

“I was doing that over and over again,” says the Boonville native and University of Evansville graduate. “That was part of my push to start writing — to see what I could do with an idea.”

Now an author for Penguin Random House with a USA Today best selling author nod and three mystery series under her belt, Fardig just released a new novel delving into the world of procedural forensics. While it is a subject that always fascinated her, writing up murders is a far cry from her original career path.

“I earned a degree in music education, and I taught for a little while,” says Fardig. “But it just really wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life.”

She worked a few other jobs here and there — from banking to insurance — before she decided to put pen to paper and churn out her first novel in 2013, “It’s Just a Little Crush: A Lizzie Hart Mystery,” which Fardig refers to as a “cozy mystery.” Fardig’s new novel “Bitter Past” takes a different route into the nitty gritty of forensic work.

“I’m always the one watching CSI TV shows thinking, ‘Ugh, you can’t do that in that time frame!’ I’m always picking it apart,” she says. “So I looked around and signed up for forensic classes at Ivy Tech Community College. It was the most fun class I had ever taken in my life.”

For Fardig, crafting her characters is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the writing process.

“Once I’m into the story, I like how you can nuance a character to have little problems like we all have,” she says. “How their issues kind of affect how they interact with other people and how they see others.”

In “Bitter Past,” it’s those character struggles that bring an interesting twist to the mystery, says Fardig.

“The main character Ellie just has this real struggle on two levels throughout the book, and I love that about the character — that she is just torn the whole time,” she says.

For more information about Caroline Fardig, visit


Culture Club

A garage full of stuff is more than a pile of refuse
Philip Hooper

Stuff makes a big difference — especially when you are selling a home or trying to move into a new one. As my close friends know, I have a lot of stuff in my garage. It’s not a maze of Rubbermaid storage containers stacked precariously to the ceiling with holiday decorations and the family’s least important material possessions, but a curated collection of keepsakes, family heirlooms, local history, humorous oddities, and pop cultural ephemera.

Laid out with ambient lighting and 1960s office furniture, we call it The Museum of Material Culture. Sure, we’re one of those families that never parks in the garage, but we’re in good company.

Increasingly, the great American garage no longer keeps just cars. The garage has grown to new roles, a multifaceted space with new possibilities. A place where friends gather to watch the big game or play pool. A stage for a new rock band. A detached pool house cabana or Pinterest-inspired outdoor dining paradise. An artist’s studio. In newer neighborhoods without front porches, the attached garage fills in for the classic covered porch, where folks roll up the door, sit in lawn chairs instead of porch swings, and wave at neighbors passing by.

Our garage is a collection of collections. My penchant for collecting began in 1992 with Mountain Dew cans, while my wife Amanda started with Coca-Cola and has an impressive Duran Duran display. As time goes on, we’ve added some cherished old tools of my grandfathers: metal working tools from my grandfather who built P-47s and Victorian-era tools able to raise a mortise and tenon barn in 1890s fashion.

One man’s trash … Philip Hooper’s garage is filled with more than just things. It’s a carefully curated collection of keepsakes, oddities, history, and ephemera called the Museum of Material Culture. With 1960s furniture and collections galore, some of the museum’s notable items are a 1941 counted cross-stitch Last Supper, 1970s hair dryer chairs, Atari 2600, and collection of Mountain Dew cans..

Whether it’s Evansville items of local interest including two Servel gas refrigerators and a collection of Whirpool annual reports and employee magazines; Herman Miller chairs; an Atari 2600; 1970s hair dryer chairs; a library of National Geographics; or a 1960s Popular Mechanics handyman encyclopedia set (complete with instructions for back yard contraptions that would send a parent to jail today for endangering children), our collection connects us both to loved ones who have gone on and to times that too have passed.

Among my most prized possessions are a series of framed items I retrieved from a dumpster in Indianapolis: a 1941 countedcross-stich Last Supper, a late 1800s print of the 100 most popular depictions of Jesus, and a massive 1895 print of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln got to stay in the house.

At the root of it all is the question “Why do we collect?” At The Museum of Material Culture, it is an extension of what I do every day in my real estate world: making connections, and telling the story. In our garage, and as in all great collections of collections, there are many stories to be told that — if told well — can connect us to the past, to the present, and to a broader world.


Driving Miss Winnie

Wilde Horticulture gets around town on vintage wheels
Brian, his wife Crystal, and daughters Marjorie and Adelaide know how to stay busy and keep truckin’.

Brian Wildeman hardly can sit at an intersection these days without drivers shouting out compliments about his new ride.

The new addition to his landscape business Wilde Horticulture isn’t new at all. It’s a fully restored 1949 Chevrolet 6400 farm truck named Winnie.

“People always say, ‘It reminds me of my dad,’ ‘It reminds me of my grandpa,’ or ‘I learned how to drive on that car,’” he says. “It really brings back those memories.”

Wilde Horticulture, founded in February 2016, doesn’t have a storefront; that prevented Wildeman and the business from breaking into retail. With the new truck, however, the company has been traveling around the city since July for pop-up shops and parking lot takeovers at locations like The Red Poppy and the Reitz Home Museum and events like Kunstfest and Funk in the City.

After seeing similar pop-ups in different cities around the country and the world, Wildeman says he realized it was something Evansville needed, too.

“It’s trying to bring a little bit of what you see elsewhere back to Evansville,” he says. “You see a lot of the same old stuff around here. I think it just goes hand in hand with creating something fun and different.”

Through the holiday season, Winnie will travel around town stocked with Christmas greeneries, roping, wreaths, twigs, and berries. Winnie’s future stops are announced on the company’s Facebook and Instagram pages, but she likes to keep her appearances spontaneous. Shoppers can find her next at Christ the King School’s Jingle Mingle Mart on Nov. 17 and in front of The Red Poppy on Nov. 18.

“It’s been a lot of fun to see people’s reactions,” says Wildeman. “It just sparks that interest, and it brings back nostalgic memories.”

For more information about Wilde Horticulture, call 812-604-5322 or visit


Hitting the Books

Cyndee Landrum strives to keep EVPL involved in community
Landrum says the energy and growth in Evansville right now is interesting — and she’s excited to be a part of it.

It is not surprising to Cyndee Sturgis Landrum that most of her career has involved libraries. The Chicago native grew up in libraries.

“My mom, probably when I was about 10, took a job at a medical library. It was down the street from where I attended grammar school,” says the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library chief executive officer and director. “So you can imagine every day after school I would walk to the library.”

Landrum came to Evansville’s library system in January 2016. She holds a bachelor’s degree in linguistics from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois; a master’s degree in library science from the University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Mississippi; and is a doctorial candidate in managerial leadership for the information professions from Simmons College, Boston. Her career has taken her all over the country, working in libraries in Oak Park, Illinois; Pittsburgh; and Glendale, Arizona. Landrum had interviewed for a position at EVPL before, but in the end was unable to join the library.

“I used to jokingly tell my friends Evansville was the one that got away,” she says. “But it goes to show, what is meant to be will be.”

Landrum’s job at EVPL has put her in a prime position to see the recent rebirth of Downtown Evansville, and she aims to make sure the libraries play a role in the growth being seen throughout the city.

“We are sort of asking ourselves the question, ‘Do our policies really reflect the experience we want to have with our users or that our users want to have?’” she says. “So you’ll see the library outside of itself … you’ll find us many places.”

The hope for Landrum is for the library to be a part of many community events to connect with residents by issuing cards and working with patrons to remove barriers to using the library. Plans also include growing community capital, which Landrum explains is the type of capital that helps the area grow.

“I see the library as one of the most democratic spaces in the community, in the sense that we’re open to all,” she says. “We have the potential to really spur change.”

And change is what she hopes to continue to instill not only in Evansville, but in her staff as well.

“Being able to contribute to building the community, whether it is civic awareness or social and cultural inclusion — helping people change their lives or broaden their perspectives — for me that really is rewarding,” says Landrum.

For more information on the EVPL, call 812-428-8200 or visit


Energy Efficient

Christine Keck keeps life on its toes
Keck says her role as the director of government affairs with Vectren & Energy Systems Group almost is like having two jobs.

Christine Keck says the theme of her life is that it’s nonlinear. Looking back, her journey has taken many unexpected turns that ultimately led to her current position as the director of federal government affairs with Vectren and Energy Systems Group.

“If you charted out my career — I don’t know that we would write this in a textbook of how to do what I do — my career path is not linear,” says Keck. “It will look like an odd career path.”

This tendency for Keck to move with life’s surprises can be traced back to her college days. A transfer student from McGill University, Montreal, Canada, to Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, her ultimate goal was to continue to law school. However, Keck chose to go in a different direction at the last minute.

Around 1996, after moving around with her husband Jim Keck’s job in the hotel management industry, Keck moved back to the area where she joined Old National Bank. She had worked for the bank in college as a teller and rejoined through its management training program.

She eventually shifted toward corporate lending, which was her primary focus at the bank and would give her relevant experience needed in her future positions with ESG and Vectren.

“When I’m going into a loan committee, I’m really there advocating for the customer — that they need this line of credit to expand their business or start up their business,” she says. “I’m in that forum then advocating for the customer while still being an advocate for the bank. That background really prepared me for what I do now.”

Keck was on track to excel to the top of Old National. Then, in October 2008, she left her role with the company to join Energy Systems Group (ESG) — one of Vectren’s subsidiary companies — as the director of strategy and business development.

She says the decision was not an easy one. In fact, it is the biggest decision she has made so far in her professional life. Earlier that same year, a longtime friend and officer at ESG Lawrence Roth approached Keck about a new role with the company.

“I was highly immersed in my work for the bank and our clients, incredibly proud of the bank’s leadership team and our colleagues, and couldn’t really envision making a change,” she says. “Over the next several months, I began to do a lot of industry research and a lot of praying and thoughtful consideration over what a career change like this might entail. Increasingly as I did this, I was really drawn to the opportunity and the possibilities that a move like this could bring, especially given how important — how essential and fundamental to our lives — energy and the energy industry is.”

After her transition to ESG and with her work focused on renewable and federal energy projects, the role quickly evolved into a government relations position. In 2011, ESG developed an actual position for a director of government relations, which Keck took over. As a result, she started closely working with colleagues in Vectren’s government relations area. Then, in the fall of 2013, Keck became the director of federal government affairs for Vectren, while maintaining her role with ESG.

She says it’s like having two jobs — she has two business cards and email addresses (one from ESG and one from Vectren) to prove it. Walk into her office and visitors will see four different computer screens on her desk — two for her work at ESG and two for Vectren.

“People always come up to my office and say, ‘Are you a day trader? Why do you have all these screens?’” says Keck.

The largest portion of her position is advocating on behalf of ESG and Vectren to federal representatives about the companies’ initiatives like energy efficiency and sustainable infrastructure projects. A core function of ESG also is energy savings performance contracting, an audit in existing government facilities as well as other institutions, like K-12 schools, of everything creating a major utility spend — lighting, windows, heating and air, and water systems. Through the energy savings performance contracting, the company determines opportunities to upgrade infrastructure to make it more energy efficient. The savings — guaranteed by the company — from the increased efficiency then pay for the project.

Part of advocating on behalf of the companies means monthly trips to Washington, D.C., and Capitol Hill where she meets with members of Congress and their staff — a process she likens to speed dating. Members of Congress and staffers can have 10 or more meetings in a day with people like Keck. Each person typically only has 30 minutes maximum.

“They’re hearing from all different people from all walks of life on all different issues all day, running the gamut from animal rescue groups and tax reform to you name it,” she says. “It’s everybody and everything.”

Making connections, establishing rapport, creating understanding, tying in to constituents, and asking for what she needs, has been a process developed over time and with practice for Keck.

“She’s one of those people you could call out of a crowd of 10,000 people to give an impromptu speech, and she would have no trouble,” says Jim Keck. “She would have no fear.”

She admits, however, it can be intimidating to go in knowing a member of Congress already is extremely well versed on the issue. She has found herself in meetings being asked the hard questions. “Why is it the role of the federal government to support this particular tax measure?” “Why is that proper policy for the federal government?” She has to have an answer, one that is supportable and also addresses where they’re coming from.

“She can really reach high, knows a lot of people, and has great political instincts,” says Jennifer Schafer, the executive director of the Federal Performance Contracting Coalition. “She is able to secure meetings at the highest level. She’s dogged in pursuit of her companies’ goals.”

Building rapport, relationships, and connections is at the core of everything Keck does, through all of her path’s many twists and turns.

“Christine is adept at rallying stakeholders behind a proposal or issue, which is essential to impacting public policy outcomes,” says Stefan Bailey, a managing director of Prime Policy Group, a public affairs agency that works closely with Vectren. “Christine has reinforced for me the importance of being persistent in bringing people together around a common cause.”

Aside from the connections and relationships she builds, it’s the environment that truly inspires Keck. She says there’s not a single time — even in the midst of a snowstorm — she has visited Capitol Hill and hasn’t been in awe of her surroundings. The key to her job is respecting the institution, the roles, the service, and the process.

“It’s inspiring to me every single time, and I think that’s important,” says Keck. “I respect it, and that give me a lot of enthusiasm for what I do. It’s very exciting to be able to be a part of this and to be a small voice in the process of where our nation is going on these really important issues.”

For more information on Energy Systems Group, call 812-471-5000 or visit

For more information on Vectren, call 800-227-1376 or visit


Ben Shoulders

Education: Harrison High School graduate; bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana; bank management certificate and Commercial Lending School graduate from the Indiana Bankers Association

Resume: Corporate Relationship Manager and Vice President, Old National Bank, 2013-present; Vanderburgh County Commissioner, District 1, January 2017-present

Family: Wife Shannon; children Emma (7) and twins Sadie (4) and Parker (4)

Faith, family, friends, and community. That is how Ben Shoulders prioritizes his life.

Between his family, position as vice president and corporate relationship manager at Old National Bank, and recent election as commissioner for Vanderburgh County, the 39-year-old knows how to stay busy.

Did you ever imagine as a kid this is what you would be doing now?
I knew I would be in some sort of relationship-driven occupation. I’ve always loved people. I’ve always loved problem solving and collaboration. All the many hats I’ve worn in banking, I honestly can say, have all been related to helping people. The foundation my wife and I try to instill in our children is the same set of values my mother and father instilled in my brother and me.

Is there anything you wish people understood about being commissioner?
I will speak to any local, regional, state, or national elected officials — I have a whole newfound respect for them. When your name is out there, anyone has freedom to critique you at any time. Oftentimes that discourages people from serving in government, so I respect any individual who decides to run for office. What I hope people know is, when people decide to run, they’re doing it to serve and make our community better. At least that’s why I did.

What’s your advice to someone wanting to be more involved in the community?
Find what your passion is, and find someone who already is involved in that organization or has been in the past. Sit down with them and ask how you can be involved. First and foremost, we’re grateful to have people who want to be involved. We need more of that. I truly believe in servant leadership, community engagement, and paying it forward. Individuals who are passionate about making a difference are what make good communities great.

What is your favorite part about living in Evansville?
I think our No. 1 asset in Vanderburgh County is the people. People here are passionate about being from here. Whether you’re from the West Side, East Side, North Side, South Side, there’s a passion in your alma mater, your church, your community I think is second to none.