September 26, 2017
Scattered clouds
  • 91.4 °F
  • Scattered clouds
Comment

Taking Root

Colonial Classics grows the legacy of a century
Jacob McCarty, above, began his company the J. A. McCarty Seed Company in the 1920s.

Jim McCarty Jr. still remembers the building — a two-car, metal garage with a rhinestone gravel floor and doors that lifted after turning a knob on the front.

McCarty, or J.T. as most call him, was 5 years old when his father Jim McCarty Sr. and grandfather Jacob McCarty opened the first Colonial Garden Center on the corner of Green River Road and Washington Avenue in 1958.

The location came after the decline of the family’s successful seed company business, the J. A. McCarty Seed Company, and provided customers in the area with supplies like seeds, fertilizer, plant starts, and a few trees.

“Landscaping really hadn’t become an art at that point,” says J.T. “The notion of a garden center didn’t really exist. You just went to the seed company.”

Reinventing the business and staying on the forefront of trends was how they thrived.

This approach began in the early 1920s with J.T.’s grandfather Jacob, a graduate of Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, in the field of agriculture, who was working as a cooperative extension agent.

Jacob eventually left the cooperative extension world and began consulting farmers on how to rotate their crops, use new seed and plant varieties, and combat weed, insect, and pest problems. Then, the Great Depression hit.

Farmers who were purchasing fertilizer, seed, and materials from Jacob couldn’t make payments on their properties.

“All of a sudden they’re literally walking into the bank, laying their keys on the table, turning around, and walking out the door,” says J.T. “It must have been terribly disheartening.”

Jacob, however, had an idea. He worked out a deal with the banks to allow farmers and their families to rent their property until they could afford to buy it back. Since the banks were stuck with acres of farmlands and equipment they didn’t know how to manage, they employed the farmers to continue harvesting crops. The banks would pay for wages, upfront fuel costs, seeds, herbicides, and other expenses. Once the crop was harvested, Jacob split the profit with the bank.

It kept families in their homes and prevented the banks from owning several uninhabited parcels. For Jacob, it meant the start of a lucrative and successful partnership between himself and local farmers.

Through these relationships, Jacob convinced farmers to grow a certain percentage of their crops in popcorn. He then would process and sell the crop to Loews Theatres (now AMC Theatres) across the world, leading the J. A. McCarty Seed Company to become one of the world’s largest processors of popcorn.

During his time at Purdue, Jacob was a member of the fraternity Alpha Gamma Rho, where he met one of his close friends and business allies, Orville Redenbacher. It was Jacob’s entry into the popcorn industry that inspired Redenbacher to begin what would become his eponymous popcorn empire.

The J. A. McCarty Seed Company swelled until the 1950s. At this point, J.T.’s father Jim McCarty Sr. had joined Jacob in the business after also graduating from Purdue University in agriculture.

Corn blights, a rapid browning and subsequent death of plant tissue due to disease, suddenly devastated the production and quantity of popcorn, causing the seed company to take a dive. The price of crops skyrocketed. Farmers who had made deals with Jacob and Jim began going around the two and selling on the spot market.

“It broke my granddad’s heart,” says J.T. “And it also broke a multimillion-dollar corporation.”

▲ The J. A. McCarty Seed Company in the 1920s. It became one of the largest processors of popcorn in the world. Below, J.T., left, went to work for his family’s company in 1975 and took over from his father Jim, right, in 1990. “My dad told me that some day this will all be mine, and I’ll get to work half day,” says J.T. “Yeah, you can either work from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. or 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.”

The two decided to buy property on the up-and-coming Green River Road corridor and open the first Colonial Garden Center, where Gehlhausen Floral stands today. It was here Jim began offering landscape services and experimenting with new trees, shrubs, and flowers.

Along with their garden center services, Jim also began selling and renting other items like Drift-R-Cruz houseboats, Ranger fishing boats, and Apache travel trailers — anything to turn a profit.

Though J.T. began working in the business as a kid, he didn’t start fulltime until after he graduated, like the generations before him, from Purdue University, in 1975.

“I started working fulltime in 1975, but I’ve really worked at Colonial since the day my dad told me to carry a bag of peat moss out to some lady’s car,” says J.T. “If I put something in somebody’s car and they gave me a quarter or 50 cents, much less a dollar, I felt like I was in hog heaven.”

In 1970, Jim bought the old Tri-State Nursery on Outer Lincoln Avenue, where Greengate Court currently is located and where Jim dove into the landscaping business. After J.T. came into the business, the two opened a second location in North Park Shopping Center. In 1980, a location in Newburgh, Indiana, followed where Newburgh Powersports stands today. In 1985, the two purchased property on the corner of Epworth Road and Division Street. In 1990, J.T. took over the business.

At the company’s height, it employed about 120 staff members, had five locations, opened seven days a week every month of the year, and brought in almost $8 million in business.

Then came the big box stores of the ’90s.

“I started getting phone calls from a number of friends who were participants in the Garden Centers of America, of which I was president, going, ‘J.T. what do you know about Lowe’s,’” he says.

With the introduction of stores like Walmart, Lowe’s, The Home Depot, Meijer, and Menards, the company was forced to adapt or fail, their tradition of ingenuity coming into play once again.

“We’ve always tried to take a progressive position in introducing new products or new services people otherwise weren’t accustomed to around here,” says J.T. “That being said, there’s certain things you can control as a retailer and certain things you can’t. One thing we couldn’t control was the advancement of the box stores. I saw it happening back in the ’90s, and I knew then we needed to, instead of having five locations in Evansville, have two or three.”

In 2006, Colonial Garden Center’s many stores consolidated to its current location in Newburgh at 3633 Epworth Road and became Colonial Classics.

“This whole thing today really is, in my mind, evolve or perish,” says J.T.

Knowing the business would never have the purchasing power of a Lowe’s, Home Depot, or Walmart, J.T. had to find what he could offer to customers that big box stores could not. The answer was service.

With trends of both partners working outside of the home, there was not as much time for families to plant gardens or maintain yards. Customers could get products at a cheap price but didn’t have the time or know-how to plant or maintain on their own.

“They want people to help them prune their shrubs; fertilize their lawns; plant their trees; build their patios; install their mosquito preventative devices, outdoor lighting, and a fire pit; and it just goes on and on,” says J.T. “You can’t get that done at Lowe’s or Home Depot.”

The company went back to their roots of creatively providing for their customers’ needs. Today, clients can see 3-D presentations of what a landscape design’s eventual outcome will be, a technology J.T. quickly adopted.

Design Manager Matt Bell was interested in working for Colonial after graduating from Oakland City University, Oakland City, Indiana, with a degree in industrial technology. He had been working in a corporate job he didn’t enjoy but knew he loved landscaping. Throughout high school and college he worked for both Buschkoetter's Nursery in Jasper, Indiana, and Landscapes by Dallas Foster. Four years ago, Bell saw an ad on Monster for a job at Colonial and visited on his day off.

“I asked, ‘What would it take for you to get some computer-aided drafting into your landscaping?’ And J.T. said, ‘We’re already doing that,’” says Bell. “I said, ‘Are you kidding me? Unfortunately, that’s what I wanted to bring to the table.’”

Bell did get hired and, instead of doing 2-D drawings, began work on 3-D conceptual presentations.

“The look on our customers’ faces when we do the presentation and they look up and say, ‘Wow, is that my house?’ That really gets me excited,” says Bell. “It really is like fuel to keep doing it better and better.”

At Colonial, J.T. sees his employees as an investment for the company’s future. Pouring resources and opportunities into his employees will lead to success down the road.

Jennifer Addison, operations coordinator, has been at Colonial for eight years. When she started, she only wanted part-time work while going to school fulltime. J.T. allowed Addison to work split shifts, coming to work for a couple of hours before going to school for the day then returning to work again. She left the company for a year but came right back to Colonial.

“That’s what kept bringing me back was working outside,” says Addison. “I really enjoy the work. I enjoy the people. I enjoy the customers.”

It is the relationships J.T. has built with his employees that keeps him hopeful about the future of Colonial. At 64, with the legacy of his family’s business on his shoulders, the future is not something he easily can hide from, but it also doesn’t worry the third-generation owner. He predicts he still will be working 10 years from now. Maybe not as much, he admits, but still working.

“He is very hands-on with the business,” says his wife Julie McCarty, who also is now involved with the business after working at Old National Bank for 26 years. “We all know it around here. J.T. is not happy unless he is talking to a customer, planting something, or on a piece of equipment.”

▲ The first Colonial Garden Center, top left, opened in 1958 on South Green River Road. At its height, the company had five different locations throughout Evansville and Newburgh, Indiana. Today, the company has one location at 3633 Epworth Road in Newburgh. Above, seed bag, today, J.T. still displays old seed bags from his grandfather’s company in the Colonial Classics offices.

Today, J.T. doesn’t see a future where Colonial Classics will pass down to a fourth generation of McCartys, but this doesn’t seem to bother him.

“I haven’t necessarily encouraged my kids to go into the business because it’s demanding,” he says. “It’s seasonal. It’s unpredictable because of Mother Nature. Because of my persistence and dogged determination we continued to fight the fight but evolve with the changing market.”

Through the Great Depression, crop shortages, industry changes, big box stores, economic downturns, and changing of hands, Colonial Classics has evolved and survived. The future of the company promises to be just as unpredictable, perhaps with J.T. giving up control of the business to some of his trusted and trained employees.

As a company that has reinvented itself time and time again from its beginning as an agricultural consulting business into a landscape and garden center, not even J.T. can predict the path Colonial Classics will take. Like his grandfather and father before him, he puts in hard work for rewards he may never reap. That’s what the McCarty business is all about.

“One of my favorite quotes is, ‘A man has just begun to discover the meaning of life when he plants a tree under which he knows full well he’ll never sit,’” says J.T.

For more information about Colonial Classics, call 812-853-6622 or visit colonialclassics.net.

▲ Julie and J.T. McCarty have been married for nine years. When they met, Julie was the director of talent development at Old National Bank. She retired after 26 years and now works at Colonial Classics with J.T. “J.T. and I certainly have a lot to talk about pertaining to the business,” she says. “One of the challenges is knowing when to turn it off.”
Comment

We Can Do Better

“I’m mad as hell and not going to take this any more.” This is the lament of the longtime news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) in the classic 1976 movie “Network.”

I have been outspoken in my enthusiasm and optimism regarding this community for the last 15 years in (and out) of my publisher’s letter. Other than a few tirades regarding the demise of Lloyd Pool, I am very proud of the many fine citizens, great local initiatives, and “plain ol’ good things” that have graced this column over the years. So I do feel like I have earned the right to ask the question, “When did we stop giving a damn regarding how we keep our community”?

Take a look at our roadways over the next few days — the piles of litter at intersections, cigarette butts everywhere, and sidewalks in areas growing trees. I go out every single day to pick up the trash and litter thrown in my yard and street, and our city’s common landscaping areas of medians and welcome areas are poor to non-existent.

I will commend Mayor Lloyd Winnecke who organizes a clean up of the streets the first Saturday of every month. This is a good start and a good example. I also believe our City Parks Director Brian Holtz is off to a good start, despite no real budget for the 64 parks and 2,500 acres of land under his auspices. That is a herculean task with minimal employees and resources.

What our city needs is strong enforcement of our existing laws. Indiana statutes list littering on property as a Class B infraction, with fines up to $1,000. Littering bodies of water or from a moving vehicle bumps the infraction to a Class A. Lit cigarette butts thrown from cars can rack up a $10,000 fine according to Indiana State Police.

Folks staying vigilant also help, like Salvage Candy owner T.J. Trem who recently caught those illegally dumping on his property.

I remember well from my board days with Keep Evansville Beautiful the often-espoused “broken window” theory. Once the first window on an abandoned building is broken, soon the rest will follow.

Evansville, I believe we can do better and have every reason we should. I know the answer some would give — “We just don’t have the money to get it done.” But I suggest we examine our priorities and options.

We are building some great new things in the city, but struggling to keep up with maintaining what already exists. Might I suggest a task force to look at our city’s potential aesthetic improvements?

I never knew letter writing could be cheaper than therapy. Perhaps I should write more letters.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you.

Todd A. Tucker
Publisher

Comment

Welcome Back

DoubleTree hotel returns business to Evansville
DoubleTree by Hilton Evansville

Since opening on Feb. 14, 2017, the DoubleTree by Hilton Evansville already has brought a resurgence of business not seen in Evansville since the Executive Inn closed eight years ago.

The DoubleTree has experienced multiple weeks of full bookings, according to Mary Beth Lewis, director of sales and marketing for the hotel. Many of the guests are convention or meeting groups who haven’t visited due to the lack of a convention hotel. One group returning to the city was General Baptist Ministries in July. Evansville also will host the Indiana State GOP convention next summer at the Ford Center.

“We are back in the convention market,” says Bob Warren, executive director of the Evansville Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We have been out of that market since 2009. I think the benefit locally is the traffic we’re seeing.”

One of the biggest groups to take advantage of the DouleTree’s opening has been ice skaters in town for the 2017 National Theatre On Ice Competition at the Ford Center, filling the 241-room hotel to capacity with many of the rooms holding three to four people.

“I think there are benefits any time you bring in a conventioneer,” says Warren. “The average conventioneer spends $88 to $102 per day on goods and services purchased within the community. If you have several hundreds of those in attendance, you have this added benefit.”

A key to the hotel’s early success has been its partnerships with groups like the Evansville CVB, Old National Events Plaza, Ford Center, and Victory Theatre to attract and bring in more concerts, conventions, and events.

“We love being a part of the community and being a part of the resurgence and growth,” says Lewis. “There are great things coming for everyone.” 

For more information on the DoubleTree by Hilton Evansville, call 812-423-5002 or visit evansvilledoubletreehotel.com.

Comment

Final Lap

Evansville Porsche technician competes for top spot
After 17 years of working as a Porsche technician, Steven Davis has a variety of tools he uses from day to day.

There is no average day at work for D-Patrick Porsche Technician Steven Davis. Surprises and challenges at every turn are the norm for the tech, but it’s a job he relishes.

“I love to diagnose electrical problems, to do something that actually challenges my brain,” says Davis. “I love to think things out versus mindlessly doing something.”

To prove his knowledge in diagnosing and repairing the well-crafted Porsche vehicles, Davis currently is competing in the 2017 Technician Challenge — a contest where only 200 of the 800 Porsche technicians in the U.S. qualify to participate. Davis, one of D-Patrick’s two certified Porsche technicians, has advanced to the top 10.

The D-Patrick team doesn’t seem too surprised by his success. Davis’ strong work ethic, down-to-earth personality, and love for his job resonate with his coworkers. Many claim he is one of the hardest working technicians they know.

“If you ever need to find Steve, just go to his bay,” says D-Patrick Porsche Service Manager Rick Kleist. “He’s always working.”

Davis has worked on Porsche vehicles, in addition to Audi and Volkswagen, since he first began with D-Patrick in October 2000. Though he enjoys working on all the vehicles that come into his garage, it is the Porsches he favors.

“I love the advanced technology only the German vehicles have,” he says.

“It’s exciting to have the Porsche brand and our new state-of-the-art building at D-Patrick Motoplex,” says Tony Ricketts, D-Patrick Motoplex general sales manager. “It’s comforting to know Steve Davis is here, one of the best Porsche technicians in the U.S., repairing and maintaining D-Patrick Porsche customers’ vehicles.”

Though inclusion in this year’s Technician Challenge is a great achievement, it is not the first time Davis has been a national finalist. For the past two years, Davis has worked to become a finalist in the Volkswagen technician competition, where he competed in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The Technician Challenge 2017 finals take place Aug. 29 at One Porsche Drive in Atlanta, Georgia. In the challenge, vehicles are bugged and technicians must find the problems and repair the broken items in a set time limit. It’s a high-pressure situation, explains Davis, where he could be working on the vehicle for hours.

If Davis finishes in the top five, he will have earned a trip to the World Endurance Championship race in Austin, Texas, in September. 

For more information on D-Patrick Porsche, call 812-473-6590 or visit dpatrickporsche.com.

Comment

Prompting Progress

CEO Christy Gillenwater awarded for her work with the Southwest Indiana Chamber
Southwest Chamber CEO Christy Gillenwater has devoted the past two decades to Chamber and Economic Development.

If you take a glance at just a couple of the numerous projects the Chamber has taken on in recent years, you would find it no surprise the Indiana Chamber Executives Association awarded Southwest Indiana Chamber CEO Christy Gillenwater as 2017 Executive of the Year.

“I’ve spent two decades in Chamber and Economic Development work, and I just have such a love and passion for what I do and for the impact chambers have,” says Gillenwater, “And not just chambers here in our region, but chambers throughout the country.”

Gillenwater attributes the award not to herself, but to the incredible team she says helped make the Southwest Indiana Chamber what it is today.

Since arriving in January 2013, Gillenwater has been amazed at the improvements made over the years. The Chamber currently is working on a number of projects, including the completion of I-69, the resurgence of Downtown, improving public policy, and creating the “e is for everyone” branding initiative seen around Evansville.

Construction on I-69 still is at full speed says Gillenwater, with hopes to have the interstate completed to Indianapolis soon. The Chamber also is collaborating with Kyndle, previously the Henderson Chamber, in order to complete the I-69 bridge.

Another important step to further develop the city, she points out, has been the branding of Evansville. Planning for the “e is for everyone” campaign began near the time Gillenwater joined the Southwest Indiana Chamber and was launched earlier this year.

“We have had a lot of accolades from chambers throughout the country who have said, ‘That is brilliant, the way you guys went about it. It’s such a coalition in the community of other economic development partners, the way it was really locally birthed,’” she says. “‘e is for everyone’ is inclusive and no matter your age, your background, or your ethnicity, you can be successful here.”

In addition to the many projects undertaken since her arrival, the Chamber now has eight alliances along with the Small Business Development Center, including the Diverse Business Alliance, the Family Business Alliance, the Latino Chamber Alliance, and the Non-profit Alliance. The abundance of unique relationships has encouraged coalition building and collaborating together to build our community, says Gillenwater.

As other cities are beginning to max out, Gillenwater and the Chamber are hopeful people will take notice of the River City. They continue to work hard to make Evansville and the Southwest Indiana area a place where people want to build a life and where businesses can continue to flourish.

For more information on the Southwest Indiana Chamber, call 812-425-8147 or visit swinchamber.com.

Comment

Pay As You Go

In a world where almost everything is becoming digital, Vectren is working hard to make their online services as easily accessible as possible.

Their new website, launched in May 2017, provides simplified payment processes, service request forms, and electric outage viewing. This is the website’s first complete redesign since it initially launched in 2000.

“Vectren’s new website offers fully responsive functionality for easy, seamless access regardless of the viewing device,” says Brandy Spainhoward, marketing manager at Vectren Corporation. “Our entire design was developed with the mobile user in mind.”

After discovering almost half of Vectren’s site traffic in 2016 came from mobile device users, Vectren began working on an 18-month project to design a site that included mobile-responsive technology. The redesign included everything from an overhaul of backend system coding to front end design and development, improving the overall experience for the mobile user.

Although the Vectren app still is available, the revamped Vectren website provides more functionality via mobile devices than the app itself.

Don’t Miss: Paying bills is easier than ever with Vectren’s redesigned website. Realizing 95 percent of site visitors use the website to pay their bills, Vectren simplified the online payment process. Since the redesign, Vectren has received countless praise from users, stating the site’s payment process is clear, direct, and user-friendly.

Site Designed By: Vectren and Fusion Alliance

Site Maintained By: Vectren

Comment

Under the Sea

Whitlyn Aquatics brings the ocean to the Tri-State
Fish and coral have a symbiotic relationship.

Jeff Kinney began his coral and marine business like many hobbyists do. He sold pieces out of his personal tank on Craigslist, leading him to his business partner Matt Varble and their eventual shop Whitlyn Aquatics.

“He was in the hobby. I was in the hobby,” says Kinney. “One plus one equals three is kind of the way we’re approaching this.”

The shop, located in McCutchanville, provides hobbyists and other businesses with live coral, saltwater fish, starfish, crabs, snails, tanks, and everything needed to start or grow an aquarium.

As one of the few saltwater aquatic stores in the area, Whitlyn Aquatics services a radius including Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Louisville, Kentucky. For hobbyists in the area, there aren’t many options other than ordering online, which is risky.

“You can be deceitful as a vendor online,” says Kinney. “I feel like we’ve done a good job gaining the trust of the Tri-State.”

▲ Above, Matt Varble and Jeff Kinney began their saltwater aquatics shop Whitlyn Aquatics earlier this year. The business partners met when Varble was interested in purchasing a piece of Xenia coral Kinney had listed on Craigslist. Varble never ended up with the Xenia, but instead he and Kinney expanded their personal ventures into Whitlyn Aquatics. Portrait and tank photos by Zach Straw, product photos by Jeff Kinney.

The store, open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, began in early February but has been online since fall of last year. The gig isn’t Kinney’s day job, however. He also works full-time as a healthcare IT consultant for Innovative Consulting Group.

“It’s not my 9 a.m.-to-5 p.m. job,” says Kinney. “It’s my 7 p.m. to midnight plus weekends.”

The business is a true passion project. Kinney and Varble installed all of the plumbing and lighting themselves. The store uses about 2,000 gallons of saltwater and is sectioned into separate tank systems, each needing to be individually maintained and managed.

“So easily you can lose everything in the tank,” says Kinney. “The stakes are so high because my inventory can die. It’s a constant care.”

With live shipments coming in from Africa, Australia, Indonesia, Hawaii, and the Caribbean, each order has to be perfectly timed. A shipment from Africa directly goes to Los Angeles, where it must clear through customs. From there, the shipment goes on an overnight flight to Louisville, where Kinney and Varble are waiting to drive it back to their McCutchanville store.

“Part of me feels like there’s some responsibility with this, because one day it might be illegal,” says Kinney. “It might be all dead some day. I’m able to take one piece, keep it alive, and send it out to other people’s tanks. And then they can do the same.”

For more information about Whitlyn Aquatics, call 812-760-2105 or visit whitlynaquatics.com.

Comment

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

Comment

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.

Comment

Born Again

ECS’s new high school helps build Christian education
ECS head of school Mike Allen credits families of the organization as well as the Evansville church community for the success.

The date June 16 has meaning for Mike Allen.

In 2014, Allen and his Evansville Christian School team signed official paperwork for the acquisition of land to build a stand-alone high school for the organization. The move started a three-year countdown to break ground.

Fast forward to June 16, 2017 — Allen, who serves as head of school and middle and high school principal, stands in the brand new building along Epworth Road and accepts the keys to the new Evansville Christian High School.

“I had on my calendar I set three years ago a note that said, ‘Hey, be sure to launch Evansville Christian High School,’” he says with a bright smile. “We got the keys three years to the day. It was just really neat.”

The project has been an eight-year endeavor by the families, students, staff, and community of Evansville Christian. And it all started with an informational study.

In 2009, the financial resource development firm Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners of Evansville and the University of Southern Indiana asked the Evansville community about the need for an interdenominational Christian high school in the area.

“Overwhelmingly the answer was yes,” says Allen. “And overwhelmingly again, the study said the organization to do this was Evansville Christian School.”

Evansville Christian’s roots began in 1975 when the first school was founded on the mission of providing exemplary learning environments to educate and equip students with a Biblical world view, to confidently engage the culture, and impact the world for Christ. Over the last 40 years, the organization has grown to a student base of more than 800 in 2017. At the start of the 2017-18 school year, ECS students will occupy five campuses across the area, partnering with multiple churches in Evansville; Newburgh, Indiana; and Henderson, Kentucky.

“The church body of Evansville, the people who recognize the value of Christian education, they put aside things in order to make sure quality Christian education is accessible for people,” he says.

Completing a new education building is no easy, or quick, task, however. But it was a job the ECS board was up to, says board president and owner of Heston Insurance David Abbott.

“We felt our community needed an option Evansville Christian High School would bring to the families,” he says. “Given the positive feedback from the sources we engaged to advise us, we just felt we were obligated to move forward.”

That dedication would pay off as the project broke ground in June 2016 and wrapped up about 11 months later. ECS brought in PCI/Skanska as the architect and construction manager of the build, as well as a number of other contractors to the job site.

“It’s exciting to see their love for this. They are a part of it, through and through,” says architect and design project manager Jennifer Kissel. “That’s how I approach my projects in architecture, so it’s nice to have that related on the opposite side.”

Kissel and construction project manager Pete Giannini enjoyed the relationship with ECS during the build, especially the dedication of Allen and Paul Bair, ECS’s chief financial officer and director of advancement.

▲ Above, the new basketball gym located at the south end of the new Evansville Christian High School combines the school’s colors. Below right, Jennifer Kissel and Pete Giannini of PCI/Skanska helped ECS with design and construction of the new high school. Both say they are proud to be a part of the project to bring a new school to the community.

“Mike and Paul were very involved with all the contractors, but they let us do our job. When there were challenges, we worked together to solve them,” says Giannini.

The finished building — on a multi-acre site acquired by ECS from Epworth United Methodist and Crossroads Christian churches — is not like a traditional school, say Giannini and Kissel. The two-story facility is void of the typical long corridors and separate wings found in many schools.

“The difference here is we have the heart of the school being the main area, where students will interact every time they come out of a classroom,” explains Kissel. “It builds people communicating, seeing each other, and learning how to work together.”

This center area features tables for lunch as well as audio and visual equipment for presentations. A section of gathering stairs serve as a type of theater seating in the area as well. The eight classrooms were designed and built as flex spaces, allowing divider walls to be set up or taken down to utilize the space for different functions.

“The idea is the staff puts more into the students and less into the spaces,” says Kissel, “because it’s really about the teaching that goes on in there and not as much about the room being full of tangible items.”

The 43,000-square-foot building also includes two science rooms/labs, small group spaces, two large fine arts/music rooms, administrative offices, and 11,000 square feet of athletic facilities including a full basketball court.

Incoming freshman Moriah Dunham says she’s excited to have a new campus to call home as well as being a part of growing Evansville Christian.

“Just being surrounded by people who share the same values and views as me is exciting,” she says.

From the perspective of parents, the new campus affirms the trust in ECS to provide the education for their children they are looking for.

“For us, the decision to continue on with Evansville Christian at the high school level was a no brainer,” says Ali Rugani, who has three sons at ECS, including one incoming freshman.

“I want my children to have a high school experience that will build them up as leaders, with high morals, servanthood, and compassion for others,” she says. “ECS gives them that along with high academics, competitive athletics, caring staff and teachers, and more.”

“I’m very excited to see the students in here,” adds Abbott. “Having our own facility like this at the high school level, it’s just been fun to be a part of.”

Though the campus promotes an idea of growth for ECS, Allen says it’s about more than that to the organization. For the families, students, and staff, the high school represents a way to continue to educate children under the principles the organization was built on.

“Every time we do chapel, every time we sit here and eat lunch, go to classes … these kids are going to be developed as leaders, as people who understand the value of people,” he says. 

For more information on Evansville Christian School, call 812-477-7777 or visit evansvillechristian.org.