We’ve digested brain sandwiches at the Fall Festival. We’ve touted the superior confections of the Donut Bank. We’ve gotten feisty in the great East/West Side debate. That makes us Evansvillians, right? Here, we offer stories about how Evansville — no matter where you are — can make you who you are.
By Louis La Plante
My childhood in Evansville was steeped in irony immediately: My last name is La Plante, French for “the plant,” and I’ve never cared much for nature. The La Plantes have a long history in Southwest Indiana. When I once called Evansville’s historic preservation officer, Dennis Au, he was excited. The La Plantes, French Canadian fur traders, settled in Vincennes, Ind., in the 18th century. Au’s hobby is French Canadian history, and he told me plenty about the La Plantes. At one time, motorists headed down La Plante Street in Vincennes, and the former cathedral there showcased a stained glass window of Jean Baptiste La Plante.
I’m not sure if Jean Baptiste, who is my ancestor, would enjoy today’s Evansville, mostly because there is no fur to trade. I once traded baseball cards in the fifth grade with a friend down the street in my Lincolnshire neighborhood. When it rained hard, he’d call me like he won the World Series. He loved playing in the rain and wanted to share the experience. I declined and opted for the more boring but more comforting feelings of being dry and warm. Once, after a rainstorm, I walked to his house where he had convinced himself of a funny skit to perform. Flooded from the downpour, the street was his stage. He lay down in the water with only his head and hands above the surface. “Don’t come over here!” he shouted to passersby. “The water’s really deep!” He wanted the illusion that he stood tall in the waters. He received not one grin, only disapproving looks and a few concerned stares.
This headliner with the one-man sewer show still is my friend, but now that he has an adorable infant daughter, he never asks me to play in the rain anymore. He’s a friend whom I bonded with specifically because we had no responsibilities. We were children with bikes, and the East Side was our territory unless it was getting dark out. It’s easy to remember we aren’t children in Evansville anymore thanks to numerous landmarks disappearing.
The Orient Express on Washington Avenue was a popular Asian eatery. The response was the same for every order. Order for one person? “Pick up in 10 minutes.” Order for 20 people? “Pick up in 10 minutes.” Everything on the menu took 10 minutes to make. Then, the building looked like it was on the verge of collapse, but the food was great. Now, the building looks like it is on the verge of collapse, but there is no restaurant inside. Wesselman Park’s batting cages — where we used to shut our eyes tightly as balls whizzed by at 70 mph — are broken, and Ross Theatre, I miss you.
While those markers from the past may be gone, other parts of Evansville have grown up with me. The riverfront now is accessible and convenient. Casino Aztar attracts a young crowd (thank you, Ri Ra Irish Pub). Newburgh developments creep west while Evansville pushes east.
One of those developments on Newburgh’s western edge is where my friend’s daughter was born — at The Women’s Hospital, a mecca to newborn beings. Six months after her birth, I offer her this advice when she is old enough to comprehend: Stay out of the rain.[pagebreak]
By Dava Roth
Off Darmstadt Road on the North Side is a neighborhood that helped form my childhood. My earliest memories involve expeditions into the woods to dig caves under old tree roots where my friends and I stored our “treasures” and left secret messages for each other. We traipsed across neighbors’ yards to gather in various homes, changed our minds, and rode off on our bikes for another adventure.
After we moved into the neighborhood, my parents bought a golden retriever. Sammy was not the most brilliant creature, but he quite possibly was the sweetest. He rarely stayed home, and he became the “neighborhood dog.” If we couldn’t find him, it was because he was visiting another family. I remember many phone calls around dinnertime when I called neighbors to ask if they had seen Sammy. Once his location was discovered (as he never remained in one spot for long), I hopped on my bike to bring him home.
In his later years, Sammy fell in love with a puppy down the road. When I made dinner runs to bring home my love-smitten pup, he whined at the prospect of leaving her. We agreed with our neighbors that he was much happier with her, and he was adopted into their family. Sam retired with his new love.
Eventually, college took me away from Evansville to Taylor University in northern Indiana. I never planned to return here as I had dreams to explore. In that time, I studied and taught elementary and high school students in cities such as Cleveland and Chicago, and I traveled to Australia and England. After nearly a decade away, the love of family brought me home. I’ve now lived in Evansville since 2006 on the East Side, and I’ve never been as happy. My travels and life experiences have helped mold me into the person I am today, but I believe that it’s the upbringing I had in a small neighborhood in this city that helped me understand what “home” really is.[pagebreak]
Made by Music
Marty Harrell (As told to Louis La Plante)
In 1960, Marty Harrell graduated from Reitz High School and spent one year at Evansville College (now University of Evansville) before transferring to Indiana University and graduating with a music degree specializing in the bass trombone. A longtime fan of big-band music, Harrell’s professional career launched after he left Bloomington, Ind.
From Asia to Europe, he’s played with legends, including Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas. For eight years, he was a part of Elvis Presley’s horn section. Now retired from professional music, Harrell looks back at the city that inspired his love of music.
I attribute a lot of my career to the educational system that Evansville provided. It was fantastic. My first memory of music was in fifth grade — deciding on which instrument I wanted to play. For some reason or another, I was attracted to the trombone. It just was fascinating to me how you could make different tones, different notes, and there are no valves on it.
In high school, the teachers were just fantastic. They encouraged me and guided me. There were so many different programs — high school band, marching band, high school orchestra, and an all-city orchestra and band. The programs were phenomenal, and it was like every day there were some sort of challenges or contests. Solo contests, band contests, orchestra contests — there was always something happening.
I strongly feel that the school system emphasized music. I never had any time to get into trouble because I was constantly practicing for something. (When students) get involved in the arts, there’s always a challenge. (Musicians) never perfect it. We’re always trying to get better.[pagebreak]
The Great Escape Home
By Erin Mattingly
I’m from Evansville, Ind. I didn’t always like saying that. When I was little, I wanted to live in Florida or California. According to the Encyclopedia of Earth, 65.7 percent of the world is covered by ocean, and we, in Middle America, have to drive 10 hours just to see it. Later, I dreamed of leaving my hometown for the starry lights of New York City or Boston, cities full of wonder, creativity, and possibility. It seemed that everything was happening somewhere else, and I wanted to be a part of it.
My great escape began in college when I moved to Oxford, Miss., to attend Ole Miss. Oxford is a college town with an antique heart. Classical Revival campus buildings are interspersed among the antebellum oak trees. I drank sweet tea, ate fried catfish and maple syrup in the back of run-down grocery stores, and loved my daddy and Colonel Reb like any good Southern girl.
Oxford is small, though, roughly 12,000 people, and the population doubles when the university’s classes resume. Its quaint charm pulled me in, and I became complacent in my uncomplicated life. My boyfriend had been accepted into law school at Ole Miss, and upon graduation, he planned to settle in Oxford permanently. We had been dating for two years, and my plans began to synchronize with his. He told me he’d take care of me, I wouldn’t have to work, and we’d never miss a home football game. I stopped dreaming of bustling metropolises. My chest felt heavy all the time, and I couldn’t breathe.
My life took a pivotal turn that year when I visited a friend in London. I was in awe. The history, the architecture, the fashion and personality — it was glamorous and sophisticated. I met people from France, Spain, and Australia. I took in everything and remembered the adventurous, spontaneous person I used to be. I took a deep breath for the first time in months. Things fizzled with my boyfriend when I returned.
London called again that summer when I studied abroad. I toured Westminster Abbey and the Tate Modern and watched Othello performed at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. I visited Holland, Northern Ireland, and spent a week increasing my melanin production on a Portuguese beach. The world kept getting bigger and bigger. After seven weeks abroad, I reluctantly returned home. I finished up my final semester at Ole Miss and came to the daunting realization that I would soon be unceremoniously expelled into the real world.
As much as I tried to get excited about this inevitable next chapter in my life, I considered the economic times. New graduates were having trouble finding a job in a downsizing market. Several friends had moved back in with their parents. Anna, an Ole Miss friend with the same affinity for exploration as me, suggested an alternative: New Zealand. I knew little about this country, but my research showed it hosted mountains, beaches, volcanoes, and rainforests. I was sold.
When Anna and I arrived in New Zealand, we didn’t have jobs, an apartment, or a single contact to assist us. After five months of working and saving, I planned a trip to see the New Zealand countryside. I flew to Christchurch and drove around the coast of the South Island in a Volkswagen camper van. I toured the celebrated wine region of Central Otago, sampled world-famous oysters in Bluff, and looked down upon the busy city of Queenstown from snow-capped mountains.
New Zealand has impacted me in a way I never thought possible. I have had my share of ups and downs, learned, and grown. Still, I was surprised how eager I was to return to the United States. After years of
expanding my horizons, I was looking forward to familiarity.
I started to notice how much Evansville was in me — my personality, my backbone, and my spirit. My high school friends laugh louder and cry harder with me than anyone else I’ve met. I appreciate the closeness of family, friends, and community in this city. We’ve all got a commonality; that muddy Ohio River water flows through our veins — whether we like it or not. I don’t know where I will end up, but I know where I am from. I will never forget.[pagebreak]
Dressed by the Best
By Adryan Dillon
My sister recently told me that she thinks I’m from the moon. A salesperson at Barneys commented on my strong English skills when he took me for a Russian girl due to my oversized faux fur hat. The woman who waxed my eyebrows thought my accent was surely southern, and that doesn’t mean Southern Indiana. And before the holidays, a colleague at my Chicago office wished me a happy trip “back east” to see my family.
I’m from Evansville. To be exact, Darmstadt, all the way out there by the Vanderburgh 4-H Center on the North Side. I love the north side of town. It has all the essentials: a beautiful public library, the airport, a movie theater with cheaper ticket prices, and Gracie’s Chinese Cuisine.
I left Evansville when I graduated high school in 2006 to attend Indiana University. I spent summers in London and New York City. Before I saw more of the world, I needed a summer closer to home, so I interned for Tucker Publishing Group. I loved driving Downtown every day for my first real job. I spent my lunch break on Main Street and learned about all sorts of places and people in the city.
One of those people was iconic fashion designer Roy Halston Frowick. Known as Halston, he changed the fashion industry in the 1970s, and decades after his death, a company bought the rights to his name for millions of dollars to re-launch the brand. His story was featured in Evansville Living that summer.
Halston’s rise from Bosse High School to Studio 54 amazed me. His list of friends and acquaintances included Jackie Kennedy, Andy Warhol, Jerry Hall, Liza Minnelli, and Evansville residents such as my gym teacher at Scott Elementary School and Halston’s childhood neighbor, Sarah Flach. Flach’s mother, Estella, received one of Halston’s first pillbox hats.
I didn’t want to be a fashion designer, but I learned a lot from Halston. He pursued his future without bypassing the lessons of his upbringing. His forward-thinking, glamour-for-all-women ethos developed in Evansville. Halston’s sister Sue Watkins summed up what Evansville meant to her brother: “He learned everything there,” she wrote in the July/August 2007 issue. “It’s where we knew he was going to make it.”
At age 23, I’m not sure where I would like to “make it” to, but Halston’s story showed me that fashion sense, more importantly an individual sense of style, could come from Indiana. I work fulltime at a public relations firm where a photo of Halston hangs at my desk, and I also write freelance fashion stories for the RedEye, a sister publication of the Chicago Tribune.
Those stories take me to incredible places. Last year, I found out I would be attending the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. The CBS-televised event featured today’s top models, designers, and celebrities. I was beyond excited but clueless of what to wear. I shopped up and down Chicago’s Michigan Avenue for a not too flashy (or expensive) but still statement-making dress.
I met sartorial destiny during a pass-through of Bloomingdale’s where I saw a red dress hanging on the sale rack. I knew it instantly, as I picked up the dress in my size from the rack. The dress was from the recently revived Halston Heritage collection. When I put it on, I felt like a girl from Evansville.