September 19, 2017
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Best of Evansville 2018

Vote now, and read the results in the Jan/Feb 2018 issue of Evansville Living.

Vote for the Best of Evansville! Tell us the latest and greatest the city has to offer! The 17th annual Best of Evansville competition is your chance to vote for your favorites. So, what people and places stand out to you?

If you'd rather send in a paper ballot, turn to page 17 of the September/October 2017 issue of Evansville Living.

Rules:
•  Only one ballot per person may be submitted.
•  Must be at least 14 years old to enter.
•  You must complete at least 15 categories to be eligible.
•  Voting ends Tuesday, October 31, 2017.
•  Ballots must include a phone number and/or email address to be eligible.

Prizes:
This year we have prizes for lucky voters whose ballot will be randomly selected when voting ends. Items include the following:

•  Gift Card from BRU Burger Bar
•  Prize package from Walther’s Golf and Fun
•  Gift basket from River City Mercantile & Coffee Co.

Special note to local businesses:
You are welcome to encourage your customers to vote for your business through in-store signage, email blasts, advertising, newsletters, or word-of-mouth. Tucker Publishing Group reserves the right to disqualify any ballot considered to be stuffed.

Privacy Policy:
We will never sell the information you give us to anyone else. Click here for our privacy policy.

This Year's Categories:
•  Best Restaurant with a View
•  Best Place for Sushi
•  Best Restaurant for Dessert
•  Best Local Tavern
•  Best New Restaurant
•  Best Ice Cream
•  Best Restaurant Service
•  Best Local Winery
•  Best Coffee Shop
•  Best Grocery Store
•  Best Place to Get a Steak
•  Best Stromboli
•  Best Bar Bourbon Selection
•  Best Gift Shop
•  Best Venue to Get Married
•  Best Ladies Boutique
•  Best Place to Buy Eyewear
•  Best Place to Buy Local Artwork
•  Best Regional Destination
•  Best Person to Liven Up a Party
•  Best Local Artisan
•  Best Community Cheerleader
•  Best Chef
•  Best Photographer
•  Best Radio Station
•  Best Local Club/Group
•  Best Local Run
•  Best Charitable Event
•  Best Park for a Picnic
•  Best Fitness Facility/Gym
•  Best Day Spa
•  Best Hotel
•  Best Shop for Special Jewelry
•  Best Place to Pamper Your Pet

ALSO — Come up with your OWN category, and your pick for its winner! Vote now.

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Haunted History

Tales from the city’s shadows
For the spookiest experience, view the full feature in the September/October 2017 issue of Evansville Living.

"Based on a true story” is quite the clichéd movie phrase these days, used to pique interest in the latest picture on the big screen. But when it comes to chilling stories told around campfires and in darkened rooms, it is the tales with a touch of truth that give us the goosebumps.

The city of Evansville is more than 200 years old, with buildings, homes, and spaces that harken to the past. Some carry interesting stories. Others have more tragic tales to tell. As the heated summer months give way to cooler fall evenings, we find ourselves itching for a good story — partially true and completely spooky.

We reached out to Haunted Historic Evansville organizers, with their pages of research from Willard Library and homeowners, and listened to the tales of eerie investigations of the Evansville Vanderburgh Paranormal group to find out for ourselves just how haunted our community may be.

As All Hollow’s Eve draws near, come walk the streets of Evansville with us and learn about the spooky haunts, hidden histories, and bumps in the night of the River City.

The Abandoned Floor

The Manor House, 619 S.E. Second St.

This historic home that sits at 619 S.E. Second St. showcases impressive architecture as well as history. Known as the Manor House, the structure originally was built in 1868 by Henry Gwathmey, a well-known resident in Evansville who had served in the Civil War and as auditor for the city. He lived in the two-story, Italianate-designed home with his wife Mary Eliza (Kazar) Gwathmey until she passed away shortly after the house was completed.

The home’s story continued on a rocky path from there. Between 1868 and 1872, Gwathmey’s home, and lots surrounding it, would change ownership several times. Henry eventually gained back his original home from George and Mary Fish in 1872, only to sell it off again one year later to Dr. C.P. Bacon and his wife Emma. The home would rest with the Bacons until the 1940s.

Almost 20 years after acquiring the home, Emma Bacon wished to expand and renovate the space. In 1895, a third story was added by raising the roof. This space was furnished with extra bedrooms, but strangely, the family would never use the floor after it was built. No one is sure why.

Dr. Bacon, a renowned physician who practiced in Evansville for 50 years, lived out his days in the Manor House. He was 99 and a half when he died, and friends and family claimed he was mentally sharp until the very end. It was a horrible fall inside the home, which resulted in a broken hip, that claimed the doctor’s life.

After Dr. Bacon’s death, the Manor House fell into disrepair. It became an apartment home with 13 to 15 separate rooms in the home, none with any bathrooms. Five toilets in the back of the house served all who resided there. The building became home to transients and continued to crumble away until the Riverside Neighborhood Association bought the property in 1981. At this time, the Manor House truly was falling apart — one casualty of time was the beautiful original chandelier which laid in pieces all over the floors.

Four investors stepped up in 1985 and invested more than $300,000 in the home, looking to restore the space following guidelines laid out by the Evansville Preservation Commission. They included Vanderburgh County Superior Court Judge Randall Shepard, investment counselor Greg Donaldson, insurance agent David Stinnett, and businessman Jack Dippel. With this investment, the Manor House was turned into five luxury apartments, with seven original fireplaces restored.

Today, residents of the manor have reported strange sightings of a woman dressed all in black. She has hovered near the bay window in one apartment and been caught perched on one of the home’s staircases. Some have ventured a guess the apparition is that of Mary Eliza Gwathmey, who only occupied the home for a short time. Others claim she may be the reason the Bacons never occupied the third floor addition — they say Mary Eliza may not have been happy the floor changed the architectural look of the home.

Though this presence has startled many residents and caretakers of the home over the years, she has been described as friendly, never causing anyone to feel unsafe in the manor.

The Carpenter House

the previous house of WNIN and the past home of Evansville philanthropist Willard Carpenter often has been thought to be on haunted grounds. Carpenter, perhaps best known for building and endowing the Willard Library, lived at the residence until his death in 1883. The building, completed in 1849, still is one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the area, featuring hand-cut Indiana limestone to resemble stone and the façade over the entrance.

After the Great Depression hit, the family was forced to give up their home to the Funkhouser American Legion Post for an alleged amount of $3,500. In 1956, the legion sold the property to WTVW/TV7, who had no use for the mansion and reluctantly announced their plans for demolition. However, in 1974, Medco Centers purchased the location to serve as its headquarters and restored the home. WNIN moved to the property in 1985 and occupied the space until its move to the new WNIN Public Media Center
at 2 Main St., in 2017.

Today, stories of Depression-era spirits and mysterious noises linger around the home. In October 2010, the Newburgh-based Southern Indiana Paranormal Investigators completed a three-day investigation of the house after an employee spotted two women in 1800s garb on an elevator. Billy Miller, the founder of the group, heard moans, groans, and footsteps during the night, and, in the men’s bathroom on the second floor, he claimed to hear a toilet seat slam.

Ghoulish Grounds

Evansville was not immune to the epidemic of tuberculosis — by 1909 only Denver, Colorado, surpassed the city in TB deaths. To help combat the illness, a tent camp opened on the West Side in 1908 to quarantine the sick and allow them what was thought to be the best treatment — fresh air. However, the Vanderburgh Anti-Tuberculosis Society — led by Albion Fellows Bacon and former city mayor John W. Boehne — realized more was needed.

Boehne donated the land for the camp and later the funds to bring about the construction of an official hospital complex. The buildings were completed in 1912 and the hospital became one of the most significant in Indiana to battle the illness.

The hiring of Dr. Paul Crimm in the 1920s would prove to be even more effective. Made superintendent in 1929, it was Dr. Crimm who instituted thoracroplasty. During this surgery, certain ribs were removed from a patient to collapse parts of the lungs infected with tuberculosis and stop the spread of the disease. All patients operated on by Dr. Crimm responded to the treatment and survived.

Boehne Camp closed in 1967 as the threat of TB subsided. It was leased to Alcohol Help from 1970 to 1977, until a private citizen purchased the property. All of the former hospital buildings were razed in 2000, save the administration building, which has been remodeled into apartments, and Dr. Crimm’s home, which now is a private residence.

Reports of hauntings at Boehne Camp have been sporadic. Many claim to have heard the cries of patients who allegedly were held against their will in quarantine, though no reports of patient abuse exist.

A Deadly Adventure

The Reitz Home Museum, 224 S.E. First St.

The Reitz Home Museum along Southeast First Street possibly is one of the most iconic historic homes in the Riverside district of Evansville.

German immigrant John Augustus Reitz found himself along the banks of the Ohio River in southern Indiana for the clay, but soon turned his sights to the lumber industry. Reitz would start his own sawmill along Pigeon Creek in 1845 and soon after began the most successful lumber mill in the country, earning him the moniker “The Lumber Baron.”

John Augustus and his wife Gertrude built the French Second Empire architectural home in 1871 for their large family — the couple had eight children still living at home when the house was completed. In the decade following the family’s move into the home, only one other child (John Jr.) would marry and leave.

Though there have not been reports of the Reitz Home hiding ghostly residents, an occasional bump in the night or shadow in the corner may make you wonder — could a member of the Reitz family be stopping by now and again to check on the home? There have not been any tragic deaths in the residence; however, the Reitz family did experience a sad loss in the early 1890s.

Edward, the youngest Reitz, was said to have a taste for adventure. He was 8 years old when the family moved into the home on First Street. After leaving Saint Louis University without a degree in 1880, young Edward returned to Evansville to work as a clerk at his father’s business and reside in the family home. But he soon itched to be away from the confines of life in southern Indiana.

He settled in the Utah Territory and purchased the Pacific Hardware Company in 1891. Edward sold the business a year later to seek opportunities in mining ores. Later that year, Edward would start his next adventure to the northeastern part of that region. Traveling with two others, the youngest Reitz set out on the Green River to see if it was a viable shipping path for mined ore.

Swift rapids and rocks thwarted the journey. Floating behind his companions in a small boat, Edward was overtaken by the rapids. His boat was destroyed and his body lost.

His elder brother F.J. Reitz traveled to Utah when news reached the family about Edward’s death. F.J. offered a reward for the recovery of the body, which eventually was found 60 miles downstream from the incident, near Jensen, Utah. The family would lay him to rest in November 1892 in St. Joseph Cemetery.

Upon the death of John Augustus in 1891 and Gertrude in 1893, the remaining five children set about redecorating the home with late period Victorian furnishings and the latest technology of the time — electricity and indoor plumbing. The last Reitz to occupy the home was Christine, who died there in 1931.

The home has served many purposes since — a community center for the Daughters of Isabella, a residence for Evansville’s first bishop Henry J. Grimmelsman, and finally as a museum.

LST-325

Perhaps nothing lends itself to spooky stories and occurrences quite like old wartime haunts — and Evansville’s LST-325 is no exception.

Launched on Oct. 27, 1942, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the LST-325 was part of the largest armada in history during the Normandy Landings in France on June 6, 1944. During that trip, she carried 59 vehicles, 31 officers, and a total of 408 enlisted men.

The ship ran supply trips between England and France before her return to the U.S. in March 1945 and subsequent decommissioning on July 2, 1946, in Green Cove Springs, Florida. However, the ship went back into service with the Military Sea Transportation Service in 1951 and assisted in Operation SUNAC (Support of North Atlantic Construction) to construct radar outposts along the coast of eastern Canada and Greenland.

In 1961, the LST once again was decommissioned but was reactivated in 1963 and transferred to Greece the next year. She served in the Greek Navy under the name Syros (L-144) until she was decommissioned for the third and last time in December 1999. The LST has called Evansville home since Oct. 3, 2005.

Though no deaths were recorded on the ship, a total of 13 crewmembers and passengers were injured in three separate attacks from German bombers and air raids in 1943. However, Rick Kueber from the Evansville Vanderburgh Paranormal group says a fatality doesn’t always have to be associated with a location in order to be haunted.

During an investigation of the ship, Kueber said he heard a person coming down a flight of stairs behind him only to turn around and find no one. He also said another investigation group working alongside EVP caught a partial body apparition on their DVR system..

Paranormal Penny Lane

600 S.E. Second St.

Among the claims to fame for 600 S.E. Second St. are many retail presences throughout the years, including Penny Lane Coffeehouse. However, the building might be even better known for the woman who once resided within — Annie Fellows Johnston.

The structure was built in 1886 and originally housed a pharmacy owned by William Levi Johnston. The architects were the renowned Reid Brothers, who also designed the Willard Library. William operated his pharmacy on the first floor of the establishment and lived upstairs with his three children before marrying his cousin Annie Fellows Johnston in 1888.

After the death of her husband four years later, Annie decided to turn her writing hobby into a career and published children’s and juvenile fiction. She became famous for many of her works, particularly her semi-autobiographical “Little Colonel” series about the aristocracy of old Kentucky, and was internationally loved. Her work, which sold million of copies and was translated into more than 40 languages, even inspired a movie starring Shirley Temple. This newfound success brought fame and celebrity to Downtown Evansville in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The building continued to operate as a pharmacy decades after the Johnstons. It next was owned by Dell Wolff as a pharmacy from about 1912 until 1952. During the 1950s, Lillian Kelley bought the property and operated her sundries shop, The Public Store. Its next reincarnation was as Johnny’s Café and Sid’s Corner Café. It then returned to retail when Bill Butler owned the building to sell glassware until 1986, passing the location on to Marcia Denton Pugh for her antique consignment shop, Cherishables.

During this time in 1989, three people were injured and extensive damage was done after a drunk driver crashed into the building after a two-car accident. The drunk driver and residents of the second floor were uninjured, but three people in the second car sustained injuries. After the closing of Cherishables, it became Penny Lane.

Today, people at Penny Lane have named the ghost believed to haunt the café Fletcher, although many believe it actually is Annie Fellows Johnston. Workers at the coffee shop have reported several strange occurrences like heavy items randomly falling off counters and lights turning on after being shut off. The store even had a visit from paranormal investigators who claimed to pick up on a young woman’s presence. 

A Grey Legend

Willard Library, 21 N. First Ave.

When it comes to the spooky legends lurking in Evansville, none are circulated more than that of Willard Library’s Grey Lady.

Even without a ghost story to accompany it, the library is an awe-inspiring structure designed by Reid & Reid (the architectural firm also responsible for the iconic Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, California, also reported to be haunted). Willard Carpenter began construction in May 1877, but he would never see the library finished — after suffering a paralyzing stroke, he died on Nov. 3, 1883, two years before the library opened.

The Grey Lady first materialized in the late 1930s, at about 3 a.m. in the basement before a night custodian. As the man trekked toward the library’s coal furnace to stoke the fire, he came across a figure he described as “an all gray lady with gray shoes and gray veil.” The janitor was so startled, his flashlight fell from his hands and the figure disappeared. A short time later, he resigned from his position.

One theory on the Grey Lady’s true identity is that she is Louise Carpenter, Willard’s daughter who reportedly was unhappy her father left most of his estate to the new library. Others are not so sure and suggest a former librarian may still roam the stacks of books performing her duties.

Whoever she may be, the Grey Lady is not an angry presence. Many times she is seen descending the grand staircase or moving about the children’s
department in the basement. She often moves furniture, pushes books from their shelves, or touches the hair or earrings of female patrons.

The (Former) Boetticher Mansion

407 N. First Ave.

Rick Kueber of the Evansville Vanderburgh Paranormal group says the house that used to stand at 407 N. First Ave. was one of the most active locations he has visited in the area.

Originally built in 1877 by businessman Edward Boetticher, the residence eventually became the “nest” of the Order of the Owls, a secret fraternal group founded in 1904 in South Bend, Indiana.

After moving to the building in 1923, the Owls remained in the house until the property was sold to Berry Plastics in 2012. In May of that year, the home was destroyed.

Before the home was razed, Kueber and his paranormal group conducted an investigation of the property. They had discovered the Boetticher family tragically lost four young children during their time in the house. The group brought old toys including an antique wooden train, a ball, and teddy bear to possibly engage with the spirits of the children and receive a response.

“It went quiet for a minute and then bang. It sounded like two hammers hitting together or something,” says Kueber. “I remember I got the audio out and listened to that clip, and the bang wasn’t there. Actually, you could hear I said, ‘Did you hear that? It sounded heavy and metallic.’ But the bang wasn’t there. There was this little kid’s voice, and it said, ‘You can’t find us.’”

The Ghost of Prudence Past

The Sherwood Home, 420 S.E. First St.

Marcus Sherwood arrived in Evansville in 1819 on a flatboat after leaving his family behind in Connecticut to start a new life. The thrifty 16 year old saved up money to buy a large flatboat of his own and eventually start a shipping business where he would transport items to New Orleans, Louisiana.

Fifteen years later in 1834, Marcus married Kentucky-born Prudence Johnson, who had been raised in a religious household. Her faith drove her to work toward the betterment of the community, aiding Marcus in his business and promoting the interests of the citizens of Evansville. Prudence also adopted and raised many orphan children and always extended her sympathy to the poor, needy, and sick.

The Sherwoods also kept their home as a place of rest and comfort to all. The house at 420 S.E. First St. was built in 1867 for the couple by contractors Sansom and Tennemeyer. The cost of the original build totaled $6,000 and was inspired by the architecture of the Old South. Marcus and Prudence also owned the Sherwood House Hotel at the intersection of First and Locust streets, which was destroyed in the early 1900s.

Prudence died on July 18, 1870, at the age of 62. Many say she suffered for 14 weeks before she succumbed to her illness but always remained positive and joyful.

The current owners of 420 S.E. First St. believe Prudence still haunts her past home to this day, keeping watch over the house and removing unsightly objects. After moving into the house, the owners set out to take down some wallpaper. The ladder they owned couldn’t reach the high ceilings, so they decided to buy a new one. However, a day later, they went to the basement and in the middle of the room found a mysterious ladder they had never seen before. Even stranger, the ladder was the perfect height to reach the ceilings. When they finally got started on the dreaded and (usually) time-consuming task, all of the wallpaper easily peeled off the walls and was completely removed within an hour.

Along with her particular taste in wallpaper, it seems Prudence also has strong opinions on mirrors. The couple decided to hang one in the former master bedroom. They say the mirror was beautiful, but the frame was old and ugly. One day, they heard a crash in the house and found the mirror had fallen from the wall. The mirror still was intact, the hooks solidly attached to the wall, and the wiring unbroken. However, the frame was in pieces.

The Shot Heard Round the Corner

1113 Parrett St.

The home at 1113 Parrett St. in Haynie’s Corner Arts District has its own incredible stories to tell outside of the ghosts alleged to haunt it today. The house was constructed in 1877 for the prominent and respected businessman Charles H. Kellogg, one of the founders of the wholesale hardware business Boetticher and Kellogg.

In 1905, Kellogg’s widow and son sold the home to Claude Maley, who would bring drama and tragedy with him to the residence. The most notable incident occurred in May 1929 when Margaret Maley, daughter of Claude, accidentally shot her companion Mrs. “Dodie” Green Conrad, described in the local paper as being a “pretty divorcee.” Both women declared Margaret was not aiming the pistol at Conrad and the shot was accidental. Conrad was taken to St. Mary’s Hospital where she remained in critical condition for several days. However, she rallied her strengths and eventually made a full recovery.

During the Maley era, the home became a popular gathering place, with parties often thrown for the socially elite. In 1929, Margaret became the sole owner and converted the building into two luxury apartments. Throughout World War II, the home was further divided into six apartments and fell into disrepair.

Eventually, Tony Vincent, owner of Tony’s Water Beds, decided to give up his antique car collection in order to purchase the property. He repaired much of the damage to the roof and interior caused by fire and vandals. In 1989, the building was sold to Jim Williams, the former owner of Holiday Travel Service, and Horst Galow, a German chef, who together opened a reservations-only restaurant called Kirby’s. The restaurant was later expanded through the purchase of the adjacent Thayer/Ragon House, which was joined to the property by a one-story ballroom.

Today, delicious food still is served up on the grounds through the Italian restaurant Sauced, owned and operated by Scott Schymik. The owner claims to have experienced some chilling instances in the house, such as hearing the sound of a child’s laughter while taking a nap. Thinking the child must have been in the room because of the clear and loud laughter, Schymik sat up only to discover himself alone in the house. There wasn’t even a single person on the street.

This isn’t the most popular ghostly occurrence, however. The most common sighting has been of a 9-foot-tall, skinny man dressed in a black suit and top hat strolling through the hallway of the old Kirby’s reception hall and kitchen.

Spooky Trails

Looking for more historical haunts during October?
Be sure to take a walk through these area ghostly tours. 

Haunted Historic Evansville
Oct. 27-28 —  With two haunted routes, this event takes curious travelers through Downtown Evansville and Haynie’s Corner Arts District.
hauntedevansville.com

Historic Newburgh Ghost WalksOct. 20-22 —  Astonishing tales of the Civil War, the Great Depression, and Newburgh’s past await guests of this well-loved event.  
historicnewburgh.org/events/ghost-walks

Haunted New Harmony Paranormal Investigations
Oct. 21 —  Take a peek in the dark corners of Community House No. 2 and the Fauntleroy Home in New Harmony, Indiana.   
jonimayhan.com/home-1 

Haunts of Owensboro
Check website for dates —  Haunts, hangings, and voodoo tales guaranteed to send chills up your spine make up these tours in downtown Owensboro, Kentucky. 
hauntsofowensboro.com

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Retracing the Past

Lucas and Laci Weinzapfel discover their Russian heritage
Larry, Lucas, Leigh Ann, and Laci Weinzapfel

July 20, 2016 

At 10:45 in the morning, Leigh Ann and Larry Weinzapfel gathered up their two children, Lucas and Laci (17 and 14 at the time) and departed from Evansville on a planned trip to Russia. Though family vacations are not exactly an oddity, this journey for the Weinzapfels would provide more than just sightseeing.

With the help of an organization called The Ties Program, Leigh Ann and Larry were taking the children back to their birth country to learn about their pasts and families.

“Laci had been asking for a really long time — she wanted to know more about her biological family and about Russia,” says Leigh Ann.

After almost a year of planning, the family set off on July 20, 2016. The first day of travel was not a short one for the Weinzapfels — by 9:49 p.m., the family still had a seven-hour flight before landing in Moscow. During that final trek on the first day, Leigh Ann took out a small journal and pen. For the journey, she decided to chronicle the family’s adventure — on the first day, she recalled her very first trip to adopt their son Lucas.

The Russian Connection // Larry, Lucas, Leigh Ann, and Laci Weinzapfel — posing here in front of Saint Basil’s Cathedral in the Red Square in Moscow, Russia — traveled to the country in the summer of 2016. The journey was to help Laci and Lucas find their birth families and learn about Russia. Bottom left, Leigh Ann’s journal she kept during the trip. Above, the family visited St. Petersburg, Russia, and the Peterhof Palace during the trip.

“My goodness, I was so scared. I can feel those feelings just as if it were yesterday. We were so naïve,” she writes. “For people of our generation, it might as well have been Mars. Growing up, the U.S.S.R. was our enemy — someplace to fear.

“However, I soon figured out people are people wherever they are. Humanity is our common bond. I’m sure I will find the same still is true in 2016. Only six hours and 32 minutes to go.”

Leigh Ann and Larry, partners at Weinzapfel & Co., LLC certified public accountants firm, were married in 1996, but cannot remember exactly when they started their journey to adopt. The couple tried domestic adoption first, traveling to Indianapolis to speak with a private agency. When that failed, they turned to international adoption. In 1998, they contacted Keith Wallace with the former Families Thru International Adoption, Inc. in Evansville and began the process again.

“Still, that took a long time,” says Leigh Ann, “but we knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Finally, after two years of filing paperwork, participating in home studies, and other processes, the couple was able to travel to Ulyanovsk, Russia, to pick up their son Lucas, who was 13 months old at the time. Three years later, Leigh Ann and Larry would go through the process again, traveling to Polysaevo — this time to adopt their daughter Laci when she was 17 months old.

The next time the Weinzapfels would travel to Russia would be in 2016. The family began to plan the journey in fall 2015, when Laci’s questions about her birth family led Leigh Ann and Larry to reach out to The Ties Program, a business based in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, that specializes in adoptive family homeland journeys.

A private investigator took all of the documents the Weinzapfels had collected about Lucas’ and Laci’s birth families and traveled to the cities to find family members and speak with the orphanages. By summer 2016, the Weinzapfels were armed with information and plane tickets to Russia.

July 26, 2016 

After a few days exploring the sights of Moscow with other families traveling with The Ties Program, the Weinzapfels caught a flight to Kemerovo and Polysaevo. It would be here where they would visit Laci’s orphanage and family members — two first cousins, Ann and Tatiana, and a second cousin Ludmilla.

Sight Seeing // Top, the Palace Square in St. Petersburg, Russia, was one stop on the Weinzapfels’ trip. Above right, Lucas takes a rest on top of a restaurant overlooking Ulyanovsk. Below right, Laci hugs a nurse at her orphanage in Polysaevo. After 13 years, the nurse recognized Laci by her eyes.trip.

In her journal, Leigh Ann writes about being a bit nervous and scared for Laci, who seemed on edge. When the family arrived at the orphanage, Leigh Ann panicked at not recognizing the building, but the fear soon was put to rest when seeing the inside and recognizing hallways and other aspects of the space.

While talking with the director of the orphanage, a nurse came into the room with a file on Laci — upon seeing the girl, she began to gesture to her eyes. The nurse recognized Laci after 13 years, saying she remembered her eyes.

“I hugged her, and I just got this overwhelming emotion. I started crying,” says Laci, a shophmore at Evansville Christian School. “I can’t even tell you why. I was happy. I felt kind of at home. I don’t exactly remember that place, but it was the feeling of being there. It’s a thing that never really goes away.”

“It was nice to know someone had cared and remembered her,” says Leigh Ann.

Aug. 3, 2016

Once the Weinzapfels had visited with Laci’s family, they traveled to St. Petersburg
for a few more days of exploring with other families. While The Ties Program would send other families home to the states, the Weinzapfels continued on to meet Lucas’ half sister Kristina in Ulyanovsk.

On the second day of their visit to the area, Kristina invited the family to her home in the countryside. When they arrived, they were surprised to find a huge party greeting them. Members of Kristina’s husband’s family along with their neighbors all gathered with food and music to celebrate the Weinzapfels’ visit.

“They had never met any foreigner before. We were a big deal in this little town,” says Leigh Ann. “They were so excited and so welcoming to a bunch of strangers.”

At one point during the celebration, Kristina’s father-in-law pulled out a small accordion-type instrument to play music, which Lucas and Kristina got up and danced to.

“When we went to my orphanage, it was exactly how I thought it would be,” says Lucas, a senior at Evansville Day School. He had not been on board for the journey at the beginning. “But the orphanage didn’t really matter. It was about meeting actual family members, and that redeemed it.”

“Ultimately, they were all wonderful people. You couldn’t have picked better people to have met,” says Larry. “They were thrilled to meet the kids; they were happy for them.”

Both Lucas and Laci say they plan to visit Russia and their birth families again someday. While Laci seems eager to go as soon as she can, Lucas is ready to wait until he is more settled with a family of his own.

Looking back on the experience one year later, all the Weinzapfels agree the family vacation to Russia was one they all would never forget.
“Lucas did say after it was over, it was the best vacation we ever had,” says Leigh Ann. “I think we all said that.”

“The trip wasn’t what I expected,” adds Lucas.

For Laci, who started the wheel of planning, she says she came home feeling as if she found more of herself on the journey.

“When I came back home, I felt like a new person. It was very positive, and I would do it all over again,” she says.

Family Portrait // Lucas’ sister Kristina — seen in the center of this group picture to the right of Lucas — invited the Weinzapfels to her family’s home for a party during their stay in Ulyanovsk, Russia. The family was overwhelmed by the kindness the group showed to them even though they were complete strangers. Above right, The Weinzapfels say their dining experiences in Russia also were an interesting aspect of their trip. Fast food chains like McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken were nothing like the U.S. versions. “They just cook things differently,” says Larry. “Things are just different.”
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Coming Home

Residence honoring Gresham finds new life
ECHO Housing Assistant Director Chris Metz and Executive Director Stephanie TenBarge

By Nov. 3, 1917, the U.S. was just shy of its seventh full month of involvement in the First World War. James Bethel Gresham, a 24-year-old Army corporal from Evansville, was assigned to the Artois trench in northern France with soldiers of the American Expeditionary.

Just before daylight on that day, Imperial German artillery began to bombard the small faction of U.S. and French soldiers encamped in the trench. When the assault ended shortly after, the first three Americans to die in World War I lay in the trench, including Gresham, who also was the first Hoosier serviceman killed in action.

To memorialize his sacrifice and honor his service, the City of Evansville built a home in 1918 at 2 Wedeking Street — near Garvin Park — and presented it to Gresham’s mother Alice Dodd.

As the 100th anniversary of Gresham’s death approaches, the memorial home is finding a new purpose. With help and funds from The Home Depot, Old National Bank, First Security Bank, and others, ECHO Housing Corporation is working to restore the house for use as a base for its Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP), which is funded by a grant from the Department of Labor.

“What we want to do with this grant is identify homeless veterans who need a little assistance being connected to employment,” explains Chris Metz, assistant director of ECHO. “We’re really trying to be that bridge for the veteran, who has returned from service and was unable to fully integrate into society, and get them back on track.”

Metz says over the next four years, the group plans to place a minimum of 240 veterans into permanent housing and employment with their services. ECHO Executive Director Stephanie TenBarge says the significance in having the HVRP program in the James Bethel Gresham home lies in the camaraderie among veterans.

“To have a program in a house that was built to honor someone who was a casualty — it’s hard to explain, but it brings a depth to it,” she says. “The veterans will want to take care of it, they will want to honor it, and they will be proud of it. It’s just a good fit.”

WHERE THE HEART IS The home of Alice Dodd, mother of U.S. solider James Bethel Gresham who was killed in World War I, has stood vacant for many years. Now, it will find new life as a transitional house for homeless veterans. ECHO Housing Assistant Director Chris Metz and Executive Director Stephanie TenBarge, above, are working to renovate the home with the help of local donors. They hope to help at least 240 veterans find permanent employment and housing through the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program, which also will be housed in the Gresham home.

For more information about ECHO’s HVRP program, visit echohousingcorp.org/programs/hvrp.

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Painting with Purpose

Memories and emotion inspire Deborah Matthews Murray’s art
Deborah Matthews Murray discovered her love and talent for painting during a painting class with her daughter in 2009.

Just a few years ago, Deborah Matthews Murray never would have spent time behind a painter’s easel. So it may seem like quite the stroke of luck that today the Evansville native is using painting as a vehicle to experience and spread life’s greatest joys.

The former stay-at-home-mom and Bible study leader discovered her love of art in 2009.

“I was still leading our Bible study at that time, and our family began going through a series of trials,” explains Murray, noting that was when a friend suggested taking a painting class. “I was so open to an answer that none of my normal excuses — ‘I’d make a fool out of myself,’ ‘I wouldn’t be any good at it,’ ‘I’m too busy,’ ‘I can’t even draw’ — were allowed.”

Murray soon ran with the idea and took a painting class with her daughter, not yet realizing she was answering what she now believes is her life’s calling.

“No one was more surprised than me when I showed some ability at it,” she says. “Painting became a productive distraction for me, eased my anxiety, brought so much joy, and, ultimately, became my passion. And that passion now is my ministry.”

For almost a decade, Murray has been honing her artistic skills through oil painting with artist Chris Thomas of Chris Thomas Fine Art school in Henderson, Kentucky, and taking what she learns to her home art studio.

Murray paints realistic portraits and scenes of what she is passionate about — family, pets, and nature from her own life and clients’ lives. As she creates each of her custom pieces, she says a story emerges that inspires her to choose and include a related Bible scripture on the back of the canvas.

The passionate painter hopes her pieces — from her late Golden Retriever to her young granddaughter — spread purpose, faith, and encouragement.
“I suppose all fall under the category of memories,” says Murray. “I paint memories.”

Describe your painting style.
My style essentially is realism with a bend toward impressionism, with more detail on the star of the show, less importance on the supporting cast, leaving some room for audience participation.

What subjects and mediums do you use?
I primarily paint in oils, occasionally acrylic, some pencil and charcoal sketching. Because I primarily am drawn to color and light rather than subject matter, I have painted a variety of subjects. But the past few years I am leaning toward figure/gesture (children/grandchildren), dogs, and some floral. And I do have a crazy, recently found obsession for painting portraits, which I said I would never paint.

What inspires your pieces?
For many of my paintings, I write an inspirational vignette that generally includes scripture I can print and attach to the back of the frame for the client. Sometimes the story comes to me first and prompts a painting; but more often than not, I am inspired by something and the vignette follows. When the painting is delivered to the client, then I post its image and the vignette on my blog and Facebook art page.

What do you hope to capture with your paintings?
I want to capture an emotion, so it translates to the viewer. That emotion may be anything, but it seems like most of us want to feel love. Even a flower can remind you of your grandma’s garden.

I recently painted one of our granddaughters, but I wasn’t pleased with it. My friend said she didn’t understand why — it looked just like her. It did look like her, but it didn’t feel like her to me. So, it’s still sitting in my studio while I try to figure out what I need to do.

What type of piece do you enjoy making the most?
My very favorite circumstance for a painting is when I am moved to gift someone with a painting of someone or something very special to them, and they don’t know it’s coming.

There’s no pressure and no expectation, no timeframe — nothing hindering the flow of the creative process. Money just can’t trump that, the freedom to create and give of yourself.

Where do you paint?
I have claimed the playroom over our garage as my playroom, now that our kids have homes of their own. I started painting at the kitchen island and couldn’t understand why anyone would need anything more than that. Now, I have plans for every square inch of my room over our three-car garage.

Tell us about your custom pieces.
Most of my paintings are custom pieces. I like commissions because I enjoy the relationship and communication with the client, receiving inspiration from their photos and stories; and I really like painting with a purpose.

Where are your paintings available for purchase?
My paintings and commission inquiries currently are available by contacting me through my Facebook art page, blog, or email.

What pieces are you working on, and what’s next for your art?
I’m finishing up two commissions of a client’s dogs. And I hope to spend the majority of the coming weeks putting together a book of my paintings and writings with questions for personal reflection or small group discussion.

For more information on Deborah Matthews Murray, visit deborahmatthewsmurray.blogspot.com.

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Gold Standard

Get in the driver’s seat of local cherished cars

Many people may look at a gold-colored, 1993 Volvo 240 sedan and think it far from dependable. But that’s not how Pete Popham sees it.

The ’90s Volvo often seen parked at his business, Popham Construction along Covert Avenue, has become a staple for his family and staff, he says.

“It takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’,” he adds. “It still runs good, it looks great, and it drives great.”

With its easily recognizable headrests, a boxy build, and 114 horsepower, the Volvo 240 was a part of the 200 series, sold by the company from 1974 to 1993. They have been heralded for their performance and ability to, as Popham puts it, keep on going. Though far from flashy, the Volvo 240 even enjoyed a stint as a successful competitor in touring car racings in the 1980s.

For Popham, though, his gold Volvo — which he and his wife Debbie purchased from the former Kenny Kent Downtown dealership — has served as a perfect company car.

“It’s got about 167,000 miles on it and when you turn the key on, it cranks,” says Popham, grinning. “It’s part of the family. Not worth a whole lot to anyone but us.”

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Local Ties

Sit down, order lunch, and get to know Janice Miller
Janice Miller

Take a minute and think of a few community leaders, people you do business with or perhaps engage with in the city. You’re familiar with them, you see them often, but how much do you really know?

From time to time, Evansville Business will have lunch with someone well known in the community to ask about the story behind their story. For this issue, Janice Miller, owner of ERA First Advantage Realty, Inc., met with Evansville Business at Nellie’s Restaurant in Newburgh, Indiana, on July 27 for a lengthy discussion.

Evansville Business: What was it like growing up in the big metropolitan area of Boonville, Indiana, as a kid?
Janice Miller: I think growing up in Boonville is what shaped me into the person I am today. I always tell people Boonville was and is a great place to live as a child.

EB: As a kid, did you go around the square and know everybody there?
JM: Yes. I grew up at City Lake. My mother worked; my dad worked all summer painting houses. We were told, “Go to City Lake,” and we spent the day there. If we did anything wrong, my parents received a phone call that night, so we didn’t get out of line.

EB: Did your parents get lots of phone calls?
JM: Not about me. My brother ran the concession stand, so occasionally I would work for him at the concession stand.

EB: Did you ever envision Warrick County being what it’s become today?
JM: No. In fact, there are times I feel guilty because I look out the window of my office, especially on Friday afternoons, and I see the traffic. I think I’m part of the reason this has boomed the way it has, because I was like, “Oh, you should look at Warrick County. You should look at Newburgh. Let me show you the schools. Let me show you Boonville.” I do feel a little guilty when I look at how many thousands of people I have moved here. And then I think I shouldn’t feel guilty. I should be proud.

EB: What job do you consider your first salaried job?
JM: At one point, I wanted to work the phone, so I sold Tupperware. I became No. 3 in the nation. I had the Tupperware station wagon, and I was selling Tupperware. But I was gone every night; I was gone every day. It was a job. One day, I just took that Tupperware station wagon back to Evansville. I just left it with the keys in it and said, “I’m done.” It totally just took over my life. I had someone tell me one time, “You either get all in, or you don’t get in at all.” That’s typically my life.

EB: When you and your husband are together, do you often find yourselves still talking about business?
JM: My husband and I never talk about the business. We never have. He quit his job at one point to come in and help me, and I now am glad he did. But in the beginning, I wanted him as a husband, not as a partner.

EB: You have multiple family members in the business working in different capacities — when you get together outside the office, do you all shut off?
JM: No, we never do. I have the most talented family, and I’m talking about grandchildren — they, of course, only are four, seven, and nine. But the nine-year-old recently came up with the latest contest we have at the office. She thought of having this banana split contest, and I took it and ran with it.

My daughter-in-law Liz is so talented when it comes to anything with Google and Facebook. She can run circles around us. My son Buck now is over at the Franklin office, and Ryan is in line to become our general manager. It takes time, and I want them to learn it from the ground up.

And I tell them I’m never retiring, and I don’t intend to. This is my life; it’s what I love to do. 

For more information about ERA First Advantage Realty, Inc., visit janicemiller.com

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Made for the Stage

TV personality Ange Humphrey follows her own path
Local Lifestyles host Ange Humphrey is a self-described entertainer.

Seven-year-old Ange Humphrey may not have known much, but she knew one thing for certain — she wanted to be a movie star.

“But when people ask you what you want to be and you say you want to be a movie star, everyone laughs,” says the Calhoun, Kentucky, native. “No one was taking me seriously, but I was quite serious.”

So the young Humphrey set out to learn a new word — entertainer.

“It was such a wonderful 50-cent word I could throw right out there,” she says. “I always had that in my mind — I was made for the stage.”

Humphrey has seen many stages during her career; from theater to television to church, the 65-year-old Evansville resident has done a little bit of everything in her life and is not inclined to slow down any time soon.

“I’ve never been intimidated,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve ever been nervous on television or in front of a crowd ever.”

Though many know her from her years as the “down home weather girl” on WLKY, Louisville, Kentucky; as an anchor on the former WEVV 44 channel; and her current run on WEHT’s “Local Lifestyles” show (airing at 11 a.m. Monday through Friday), television wasn’t always in the plan for Humphrey. In fact, her eyes were set on a different type of stage.

“I had Broadway on my radar. I was going to be big in musical theater,” she says. “But you know, life is interesting.”

It could be said Humphrey has made a career out of trying new things. For her, following an interesting, winding path has been more fun than following the straight and narrow line.

Her break came during her college years at Murray State University, Murray, Kentucky. Just one semester shy of her college graduation, a friend called from Louisville with an idea.

“She said she had to move from her television job and asked me if I wanted it,” says Humphrey. “I said ‘Sure, but what do you do?’ I didn’t even know what she did.”

However, her lack of knowledge did not stop her. Barely 21 years old, Humphrey packed her bags and headed to Louisville to host “Dialing For Dollars” on WLKY. It was the first step into television for her. After less than a year as host, WLKY asked her to take over the weather forecasts.

“This is a really great story,” she gushes with a smile. “I didn’t know anything about meteorology, and I’m not too sure I knew much about geography at that point. But because I’m me, they said I would do fine.

“So the first time I had to do the weather, I had no idea what I was doing. It was back in the Marcia Yockey days, where you drew your own map and stuff. I didn’t know an isobar from a state border,” Humphrey laughs. “When they cued me to go on air, I realized I didn’t have a clue about actual regions of the country. So I totally winged it. And after a few days, I thought, ‘I can do this.’”

Thus started Humphrey’s six-year run as the “down home weather girl” for WLKY. The position quickly opened up further opportunities — commercial spots, hosting Louisville Tonight on WHAS, a short country music career, hosting Good News for Ted Turner’s Superstation TBS in Atlanta, Georgia, roles on the soap opera “The Catlins,” and countless others.

“For somebody like me who gets bored really easily with something, my life has been a fun time,” she says, “Because I was engaging with different people, and I liked that.”

Humphrey has the same phrase she uses when describing the twists and turns throughout her career — “It was so fun!” There’s a story for every encounter, every job she has taken in her life. From entertaining crowds in the thousands at the KentuckyDerby to passing professional wrestlers in tiny hallways at the Superstation TBS, it’s been one adventure after another.

“I’m just relating and connecting to people, and they are connecting to me,” Humphrey says. “I love it.”

WEHT/WTVW meteorologist Ron Rhodes has partnered with Humphrey on Local Lifestyles for the last two years, but has known her for 20 years. He sums her up simply, “Ange is a people person.”

▲ Above, Humphrey loves to put on a show and there’s no better place than on Local Lifestyles with her co-host meteorologist Ron Rhodes. “Who wouldn’t have fun working with Ron?”says Humphrey. Below right, Humphrey’s church Fresh Air Community shares space with Pastor Roberta Meyer’s Grace and Peace Lutheran Church on Boeke Road. The two congregations come together on many occasions for different events, says Humphrey.

“She loves being around people, and she truly cares about others,” he says. “I’m absolutely amazed by her energy. She anchors Lifestyles daily, she’s also the pastor of her own church, and I really don’t think there’s an event in Downtown Evansville she doesn’t attend.”

Humphrey had been away from broadcasting for 14 years when she was offered the host position on Local Lifestyles in 2015. After WEVV 44 closed its doors in 2001, she did a stint at Oakland City University, Oakland City, Indiana, as director of marketing while she finished her master of divinity degree. She had worked in Fresno, California, for a time at Ubiquitel teaching sales representatives before returning to Evansville.

After serving as interim pastor at American Baptist East church, leaving there to start her own church Fresh Air Community of Faith (a congregation Humphrey describes as welcoming and affirming), and doing a stint in retail at Dillard’s, the stage called to her once again.

“I was ready for something else, so I sent audition tapes out again. Before you know it, I was having a conversation with the news director at WEHT Bob Freeman,” she says.

Humphrey would go on to fill in for 10 weeks on Local Lifestyles while Laura Kirtley was on maternity leave. When Kirtley decided to leave the show, WEHT offered Humphrey the host spot.

“Isn’t that interesting?” muses Humphrey. “If nothing else, when people read this, I want them to know, don’t give up on yourself. Don’t let age or something you view as a limit to limit you.”

“I enjoy the joy and fun she brings to the show. I consider Ange a good friend,” says Rhodes. “She is such an upbeat and energetic person and that energy rubs off on the people around her.”

For Humphrey, life at the moment can only be described as “so good.” She and her husband of 15 years, George, really “get each other and support each other.” Her church Fresh Air gives her a chance to teach and lead others, she continues to write (her occasional column “Faith Matters” appears in the Courier & Press), and she speaks to different organizations.

“I’ve enjoyed, in all of my careers, that powerful bond you have with other human beings and how hungry we are to be connected,” says Humphrey.

The future could be just as winding and twisting for Humphrey, who says she doesn’t have a problem with that at all.

“I’ve learned so many things, and I plan to learn a lot more,” Humphrey adds. “You’ll have to check with me this time next year to see where I am.”

She has a hunger for knowledge and curiosity that she nurtures every day in her interactions with those around her. They are traits Humphrey encourages others to have as well — along with taking speech classes and reading, she says.

“Whatever is your past or your present, it’s not going to be the last thing said about you if you don’t let it be,” she says. “Remember that you are writing your story all the time and the end is in your hand.” 

For more information on Local Lifestyles, visit facebook.com/local7lifestyles.

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Helen Zimmerman

Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri

Education: Lindbergh High School graduate; bachelor’s degree in psychology from DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana; master’s degrees in marketing and media communications from Webster University, Webster Groves, Missouri

Resume: HR and marketing for GrandPa Pidgeon’s, St. Louis, 1991-1995; marketing for KSD Classic Rock, St. Louis, 1995-1996; development director for the Alzheimer’s Association, Indianapolis, 1996-1997; marketing for clear channel radio Q95/x103/WNDE AM, Indianapolis, 1997-2008; marketing for Bob Kevoian of “The Bob & Tom Show,” Indianapolis, 2008-2015; administrator and events for Historic Newburgh, Inc., 2014-2016; executive director for Historic Newburgh, Inc., 2017-present.

Family: Husband Kent Zimmerman; children Jamie and Jackson Zimmerman

Helen Zimmerman thought she never wanted to work in radio again. She left St. Louis in 1996 after working for station KSD 93.7 and became the development director for the Alzheimer’s Association in Indianapolis.

Zimmerman eventually would come back into the media world after networking with a friend Kathy Hucks, who happened to be married to Chick McGee of “The Bob & Tom Show” in Indianapolis. Through her connection to McGee, Zimmerman began marketing for “The Bob & Tom Show” and, ultimately, for the show’s titular star Bob Kevoian.

“It was pretty amazing to watch it happen, and then to work with it and to introduce it into markets,” says Zimmerman.

In 2015, Kevoian retired, and Zimmerman and her family made a big move to a small town in Southern Indiana. The family has been in Newburgh ever since with Zimmerman heading up Historic Newburgh, Inc. as executive director since January 2017.

“I had gone to DePauw, so I knew how to exist in a smaller Indiana community,” she says. “Evansville and Newburgh, they have everything you need.”

What has surprised you about living in a smaller community like Newburgh?
We had been told it would be very hard to find true friends, because so many people grew up here, went to school, came back, and raised their kids. It would be hard to find real friends. We found that not to be true. I have found friends who will be my friends forever.

What is your favorite memory from your time at ‘The Bob & Tom Show’?
I don’t really have a favorite, but, if I had to pick my favorite, it was watching them a couple of years ago get inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame — to watch these two people who didn’t think this is what their life would be recognized and honored for what they love to do.

How did you become involved in Historic Newburgh?
The first year we were here, we moved in about two days before school started. I was working for the show, so I was working in the house. I started following Historic Newburgh’s social media pages at that time, and they posted they needed help in the office. It was like 4 hours a week, 6 hours a week. I thought I needed a purpose to get out of the house where I wasn’t going to spend money or eat. I applied, and it grew into what it is now.

What are some initiatives you have started or hope to start?
The organization started from nothing, and it is where it is now. We have very active volunteers. It’s not anything that needs to be changed, but it’s a great opportunity to see how we can grow and expand on it. We are working on some economic progress, concepts, and ideas. We hosted the first tour bus to come through Newburgh in June, and that’s been a year’s effort of our office.

How do you view Historic Newburgh’s role in the community?
Our mission is historic preservation, but economic progress. To make sure it’s a viable community for not only our residents, but also our businesses and merchants. One of our residents said it great — “It’s your job to get people here. It’s our job to get them to come back.” 

For more information about Historic Newburgh, Inc., call 812-853-2815 or visit historicnewburgh.org.

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Ace on the Court

Lukas Greif continues to rack up success on tennis scene
Photo provided by the United States Tennis AssociationPhoto provided by the United States Tennis Association
In 2016, Lukas Greif earned national attention on the tennis courts after capturing the hard court singles championship.

Easter weekend provided a brief reprieve for 17-year-old Lukas Greif. A native of Evansville, Greif made the trek from Indianapolis to spend time with friends and family over the holiday in Newburgh, Indiana. As a high-school tennis standout living and training in Indianapolis, the trip still was filled with work for the teen.

“About to finish up the recruiting process, so it’s getting busy,” was a text message from Greif that Saturday.

A few days later, Greif committed to the University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, as one of the top tennis recruits in the Class of 2018. Florida has a nationally-ranked, top-20 university tennis program.

“I was looking for a school with great academics and a great tennis program,” says Greif. “When I visited Florida, it had everything I wanted in a school and tennis program. The coaches are unbelievable. They preach the philosophy and had the coaching style I was looking for. The team was awesome. They had a great work ethic, and I got along great with each of the guys. Walking around campus, I just felt like I could really see myself there. It felt like a home away from home.”

Greif will play on the male side of the same Florida program his long-time teacher Stephanie Hazlett was a part of.

“I took him on that recruiting visit,” explains Hazlett. “So I’m pretty excited he’s going to be a Gator.”

That commitment to Florida has been part of a very strong few years of tennis for Greif. His latest run in the national tennis spotlight started in April 2016 when he was runner-up in the Easter Bowl 16-under singles in Palm Springs, California. Greif would go on to have a big summer in 2016, winning the United States Tennis Association (USTA) hard court singles national championship and the USTA clay court national championship.

After that, Greif moved on to play in the Junior U.S. Open.

This year, the work has not let up for Greif, who spent the spring months working his way back to the Easter Bowl in Rancho Mirage, California, where he reached the Round of 16 in the 18-under category. The tournament, held from March 25 to April 1, was the second straight weekend Greif played in California.

“Oh, he travels all the time,” says Lukas’s mother Joanie Greif.

Ranked No. 3 in the nation on the HEAD tennis recruiting list and No. 1 in TennisRPI rankings in late April, Greif has lived in Indianapolis the last two years as he works with Hazlett at the Smith Tennis Academy, owned by Bryan and Jeff Smith. The teen made the move in the summer of 2015 to enter into the academy. Not only did it allow him to work with Hazlett, but also brought Chad Stanley, a strength and conditioning coach at the academy, into the coaching of Greif.

“The move for him was needed; it was necessary,” says Hazlett. “It allows him to play with better players. Last year, he played against some guys — one went to Notre Dame, one went to Stanford — and that helped Lukas improve. He spends a lot of time with our trainer Chad Stanley, and that’s helped him get stronger, faster, more flexible. And Bryan Smith has been amazing — to have a male voice Lukas trusts, that has been great.”

From her observations and working with him, Hazlett has noticed Greif physically and mentally has become stronger on the court. He also has become more of an aggressive player.

“I mentally have grown so much with confidence, focus, and intensity in every practice and match. Also, I physically have improved. I have grown, gotten faster, stronger, which has tremendously helped me with all the shots in my game,” he says.

For Greif, tennis has been a big part of his life since he was 3 years old. His father John Greif is an Evansville periodontist who played tennis in college at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois. His sister Abby is a 2008 Memorial High School graduate and played the sport in college at Florida Tech, Melbourne, Florida.

“Having a dad and sister who played tennis at a high level, I was surrounded by the sport at an early age,” says Greif.

He started competing at an early age, too. “I played my first tennis tournament when I was 6 years old. I still remember it,” he says. “It was at Wesselman Park. The net was taller than me, and I could not reach the score cards.”

Greif began his work with Hazlett at the former Advantage Court and Fitness, located in Downtown Evansville atop the Executive Inn parking garage. He played local tournaments until he was 9, then began traveling to tournaments throughout the Midwest before entering in competitions across the country. When he was 13, Greif gave up baseball and soccer and made tennis his main focus.

After Advantage closed with the demolition of the Executive Inn in 2011, Greif trained with Hazlett and Ryan McDaniel at Evansville Tennis Center.

“I followed (Hazlett) to train up in Indianapolis,” he says. He currently lives with Hazlett in Indianapolis since his family remains in Evansville. Bryan Smith also closely works with Greif.

As he still is in high school, Greif takes online classes at Laurel Springs (a distance learning school in California that works with elite junior players) to ensure he will graduate with a diploma. He spent his freshman year at Reitz Memorial High School and attended Holy Rosary for grade school.

Since his move to the state capital, he has done a lot of growing up, both on and off the court, according to Hazlett.

“Lukas had to learn a lot as far as life skills,” she says. “I make him do his own laundry, cook his own food. It’s been fun; I’m extremely happy for him.”

Greif credits the move to Indianapolis with improving his game and getting him more in line with his goal of ultimately becoming a professional tennis player.

“This move has had the most influence in my recent success,” says Greif. “With moving, I started online school, which allowed me to spend more time on court with such great coaches and more time doing fitness with Chad. These factors have helped me improve so much in the past two years. Also, practicing with the players in Indianapolis has been key. The level of these players is very high, and they bring so much intensity to every practice, which makes me push myself more and more every day to improve.”

The chance to play tennis at one of the top programs in the SEC is the culmination of one part of Greif’s journey, but it really is just the start of what he hopes is a long road playing professional tennis.

“A lot of the guys Florida is recruiting have the same goals,” says Hazlett. “Having like-minded people around helps. He’s still got a ways to go, but he realizes it’s attainable.”

Greif and his coaches still are working to put together a schedule for the summer.

“Ideally, he needs to go to Europe, play some more International Tennis Federation events,” says Hazlett. “Lukas may get the chance to play in the juniors of the French Open or Wimbledon.”

That means a busy summer is ahead for the teen. But for Greif, that has become his normal course.