It is a sleepy rural community, made up of farmlands, of growing crops and livestock. In winter, youth enjoy sliding down rustic roads on their sleds or being hauled by sleigh-driven ponies; at 4-H time, blue ribbons and pie-eating contests brighten the summer days. And the fields of colorful grain and sweet corn are a feast for the eyes in summer.
Welcome to Whitley County, established in 1838, where Columbia City boasts the county seat. A 2010 census shows the population is truly-small town: 33,292 comprised of South Whitley, Columbia City, Larwill and Churubusco.
Jennifer Romano, marketing director of the Whitely County Chamber and editor of the popular “Talk of the Town” online newspaper, has fond memories of her home town.
“I grew up on a farm here and what I’ve always most enjoyed about living in a small community like Whitley County is the sense of love and support amongst neighbors, since we’re all neighbors who are always there for each other,” said Romano.
“My siblings and I spent a lot of time in the surrounding fields, building forts, collecting bugs and picking berries and apples. We raised a big garden each year and my mother canned the produce. We had rabbits and chickens and spent time with our imaginations. My childhood memories are filled with magic and I think much of that was the wide open space and the freedom to wander and wonder.
“Also, going into town was a real treat when we were kids, particularly when our travels would bring us to the root beer stand or Dairy Queen. On rare occasions, we were treated to small ice cream cones or French fries on a ride to town in our convertible Volkswagen Beetle. I remember sun so bright it was hard to keep my eyes open, my messy blonde hair all over the place and hurrying to finish my ice cream before it melted.”
Her family also spent many beach hours at Shriner Lake when she was a child.
“I learned to swim there, and whenever I smell peppermint, I think of the mint plants growing wild along the shoreline near the beach and how we’d fill our cheeks with the minty leaves when we were swimming. I also remember peering down into the greenish water while floating atop an old tire inner tube, looking for fish or buried pirate treasure. We were always looking for treasures and were convinced we’d make a great find someday! We would swim until it was almost dark, not leaving the water until we absolutely had to.”
Columbia City’s Old Settler’s Festival celebrates the best of the past being brought into the future; the five-day event occurs each June. Or let your inner Native American out each August and attend the day-long Mihsihkinaahkwa Pow-Wow at Morsches Park in Columbia City (www.columbiacityparks.us).
Like shopping for cute baby and children’s clothing? Check out Apple Pie Boutique (260-244-7437). Looking for your new home in this peaceful community? Give Ann Fahl at Orizon Real Estate (260-248-8961) a call and she’ll do her best to find you the home of your dreams.
“I like the idea of the small-town atmosphere,” said Fahl, echoing Romano’s sentiments. “I love the residents here, and give back a lot to my community simply because I enjoy living here so much. And a special perk is being close to Warsaw and Fort Wayne.”
Brad Minear of Minear Real Estate (260-244-0009) grew up in the Tri-Lakes area and has vivid recollections of how much he enjoyed fishing and other lake activities there.
“Tri-Lakes is one of the top 10 lakes in Indiana,” said Minear, “and now living in Columbia City, I am especially pleased that the location falls between Fort Wayne and Warsaw. This is a great place to raise kids with nice schools and wonderful people.”
Check out the four-day Turtle Days each June in Churubusco – that fun festival is based on a 500-pound turtle (Oscar, the Beast of ‘Busco) witnessed in a farmer’s pond in 1898. The rumored alligator snapper was never found, but people still seek permission to hunt for it. (Sorry, folks, the current owner is declining for now).
Wanna swim where there are not so many scary monsters? Dip your toes in cooling Blue Lake and take home a mess of bass and bluegill for a fish fry.
Hungry in ‘Busco? One of the longtime favorite restaurant/ice cream stands is The Magic Wand, an indoor/outdoor restaurant, which includes a separate outdoor window for taking orders – speaking for myself, I adore their tater tots!
Roxie Schuster, a roper who owns a farm in Larwill, moved there from the Texas panhandle many years ago. She says farming and ranching have always been important to her family.
“We grow hay and rent ground to local farmers and have bred and raised Corriente cattle to rope and provide food,” said Schuster, who owns the General Store in Dunfee that sells antiques and antiquities on the County Line Road. “We are close and teach our children and grandchildren to appreciate the land and livestock with a good, happy work ethic.”
For those of you who remember, Larwill is also the birthplace of Jill Long Thomson, former under Secretary of Agriculture under President Bill Clinton 1995-2001; U.S. Representative; and former candidate for Governor of Indiana.
South Whitley’s most well-known company is probably the party house Shindigz (www.shindigz.com), which has been in around since 1926, and is both a world-wide party superstore and also a catalog and internet-based business.
Whitley Manufacturing (www.whitleyman.com) is also based in South Whitley, as is Ag Plus (www.agplusinc.com) an agribusiness since 1912. South Whitley is also where country music singer Janie Fricke grew up. She was one of the most popular female singers in the 1980, being female vovalist of the year in 1982 and 1983.
Kim Sedor, who owns The Cake Lady LLC and lives in Columbia City, couldn’t be happier.
“I moved here in 2001 from Fort Wayne and was drawn by the size of the town,” said Sedor, adding that the people were “very welcoming” when she and her son put down roots there.
“We like how Whitley County has so much to offer, including a beautiful YMCA and Peabody Library. Since opening my new business – The Cake Lady, LLC – I don’t think I could’ve pulled it off staying in Fort Wayne. I’ve tried to keep my business involved in community activities, such as the sponsorship in a girl’s softball team at Morsches Park, which has a lot of year-round events, including sports, the father/daughter dance, the mother/ son Halloween party and more.
“You’ll find many people who moved away from here when they went to college or to further their careers. But when it comes down to starting a family and settling down they find themselves moving back here because of all that we have to offer and because of the good memories they have from growing up here themselves. I am very happy I chose to move here and the people I have come to know.”