Decatur & Berne: small-town living at its best

Elvis lives! And so do Jimmy Dean, Marilyn Monroe and other long-gone celebs! And, you can see them all in Arnold’s Fabulous Fifties Drive-in Restaurant along US Highway 27 in Decatur, only 18 miles from Fort Wayne. The décor and roller-skating car hops will transport you back to more innocent times and nostalgia. You can order phosphates, write on the walls, take a selfie of you and Elvis’s life-size cardboard cutout, and just plain have fun in the 1950-60s-themed eatery.

And right down the road is Decatur’s other claim to fame with even more memorabilia, including the beloved Burma Shave signs: the Back 40 Junction. This extremely popular lunch and dinner buffet (www.worldfamousback40junction. com/) is famed for its all-you-can-eat Friday night crab legs and prime rib and all-you-can-eat Saturday night ribs in addition to tons of other edible offerings. Other unique restaurants include The Galley, Two Brothers Bar and Restaurant and the West End Restaurant.

And don’t miss an amazing 5-star dining experience at Marko’s on 2nd, which serves creative and delicious dinner entrees, including hand-cut steaks, fresh seafood and homemade sauces using top-quality ingredients, all in their intimate bistro atmosphere.

This lovely diminutive town, founded in 1836, is the county seat of Adams County and boasts 9,405 residents (2010 census). Its Adams Memorial Hospital was designated one of the “Top 100” Critical Access Hospitals in the U.S. Decatur is also home to Fleetwood RV and Bunge Limited.

“Some of my favorite memories include playing in Cannon (Legion) Park, going to drive-in movies with my parents, and walking downtown to shop in the Kiddie Shop, E.F. Gass Salon, Niblick’s, Holthouse Drug and the Pioneer Restaurant where I held my very first job,” recalled Vicki Henkel, of Fremont, Ohio, who grew up in Decatur.

“My dad Jim Pollock coached Little League there for years and, as an avid sports fan, I spent many hours at baseball games at Hanna Nuttman Park. Many friends and family still live there – great, great memories!”

Berne, another Adams County town, was settled in 1852 by Swiss Mennonites, who named the community for the capital in Switzerland. According to the 2010 census, Berne was home to 3,999 people, and also to such notable entities as the Limberlost State Historical Site (Hoosier naturalist and best-selling author Gene Stratton-Porter’s 1895-built log cabin home), Pine Lake and Swiss Heritage Village and Museum. Several local Amish showcase their cabinetry and other woodworking items in Berne’s renowned furniture stores – Clauser Furniture, Habegger Furniture, Smith Brothers of Berne and Yager Furniture.

One of the must-sees is the Clock Tower and Muensterberg Plaza. Constructed in 2010, the Clock Tower is modeled after the Zytglogge in Bern, Switzerland. In 2009, before the project was even completed, some passionate residents had already formed attachments to the edifice and created the Clock Tower Enthusiasts Club.

Thinking of tripping overnight in Berne for the popular Swiss Days, held this year on July 24-27? Check out the Schug House Inn or the Clock Tower Inn Berne, for accommodations. This action-packed family festival celebrates the town’s heritage with genuine Swiss costumes, food, vendors, music and dancing (Beer Barrel Polka, anyone?).

If water is your passion, check out Pine Lake’s lovely outdoor waterpark (www.pinelakewaterpark.com) which offers paddleboat rentals, three large water slides, a splash pad area, 30-foot tower platform jumps, drop slide, kiddy slides, log walk, and much more. (Admission: Ages 4-9 – $6; Ages 10-up – $7. Groups of 20+ may receive $1 off each admission and need to call a minimum of one day before arrival to receive discount). Check out the cable ride, too – you grab onto a cable, swing out about 20 feet and then you just drop into the water. Come feel like a kid again at Pine Lake!

Richard R. Schrock of Berne was awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, and the Dilley sextuplets, the U.S.’s first surviving sextuplets, were born here – they are now 21.

Twila Zehr Patterson of Fort Wayne grew up in Berne and so did her husband, Troy. “We would ride our bikes to the White Cottage, which was the only ice cream store there and in winters we would go sledding behind the public library and slide down the hill of snow cleared off the parking lot. We also enjoyed biking to the swimming pool and baseball diamond in summer.”

Elise Henkel Schrock, who now lives in Decatur, spent a happy childhood on Dearborn Street with her brother, Kurt, and sister, Denise, and their parents, both music teachers.

“Berne was an awesome community to grow up in,” said Schrock. “The Lord led my dad to a teaching job in Adams County, so this was my hometown and a quaint, cozy, safe and a great Christian community for a child to grow up in!

“We lived only two blocks from Lehman Park and my parents would get a season pass to the swimming pool, where I would spend entire afternoons. In the evenings, we would go to the park for the ball games. As a mother myself, I would take my children to the Berne pool when they were young and they loved it there as well.

“Today I love visiting Berne and reliving my childhood memories.”

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