Learning Again to Love Where You Live
Kathleen Scott’s Story as told to Steph Wiechmann
On one side of my family, I’m fifth generation Muncie. But one of the things that changed my idea of Muncie as home, and my idea of the community, was when I bought my house.
It’s an 1896 Victorian in the Old West End. I got really hip-deep in historic preservation. I was struggling, learning how to restore a house, learning a lot of things that I didn’t know how to do. I really hadn’t even painted walls. But when I first bought my house, there was a good group of people in the neighborhood also renovating houses. They were always happy to cooperate.
“Come on over, I’ll show you how to fix a window,” they’d say.
My sense of place, what’s important to me, is the history of Muncie. But I’ve always felt like there’s something missing here. People don’t value the history. And I’ve never quite figured out why.
I look at myself—I’m almost 60—and I can’t believe I haven’t lived anywhere else. It wasn’t my intention to stay here. But life happens, events happen, and you end up staying. My parents weren’t well, I wasn’t married, and I had a good job.
I started working at the newspaper when I was fifteen. I went in to interview for a switchboard operator position. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I wore this neon green pantsuit with polka dots. It was 1973. I thought it was pretty classy! The business editor didn’t think my attire was that bad, but his second-in-command told him she didn’t think women should wear pants in the office. I got the job, which was to come in at 5:00 AM, see whose newspaper bundles were on the dock, and call those carriers to wake them up because they were late. About a year later, there was an opening for a copy clerk in the newsroom. And that’s what I really wanted to do. By the time I graduated from high school, I was kind of a general assignment reporter.
Muncie was different from what it is now. We’ve lost the downtown railroad terminal, the Ball Stores building, the original Beaux Arts City Hall building. We’ve lost the J.C. Penney’s downtown, where you’d go to ride the escalator for fun. We’ve lost the downtown drugstores, the lunch counters, and a lot of the businesses on the south side. We’ve lost the factories and there’s a lot more poverty.
When I grew up, the factory unions really took care of Muncie families. My father worked for Warner Gear. Everything in our family revolved around the union. The unions had their own swimming hole for the summer, had their own fireworks displays and picnics. In the winter, they would rent out the theater and show movies, and everyone got candy. Once a month on Sundays, the union rented the roller skating rink and all the union kids skated for free. It was great being the child of a union worker. You had privileges that other families didn’t. A lot of families were now middle class because of their father’s factory job. When BorgWarner and Chevy both started to decline, that was a huge difference in lifestyle.
I don’t think Muncie is ever going to be the thriving households of factory workers and union families ever again. But we’ve got to find a new normal that makes it a positive community for everyone. And we’ve seen positives. The downtown decline was negative, but we’ve come back from that.
For me, I’ve always embraced change. But sometimes it’s hard. Like, the house I grew up in, the house my parents built along Walnut Street. After my Mom died, we sold it. It’s been several things because it’s now in a commercial area. First, it was an Indian food store and now it’s a barber shop.
And the thing about living in a historic house is that it kind of wears you down. You get tired of all the renovation and repairs. Because once you finish something, you realize that something you did 10 years ago needs to be redone. And in a downtown neighborhood in Muncie, you have to live with a lot of things—like drugs, petty theft. The neighborhood has had some pretty big downs. And the ups are not as high as they had been.
But now I’m seeing some really good things happening. I’m seeing a lot of younger people, good people—urban homesteaders—moving in, because it’s cheap to live there. They’re into the reuse aspects. It’s a positive. So, how do we bring all of Muncie into that positive growth and not leave parts behind? How do we raise up everyone?
A lot of my childhood friends say that Muncie is a great place to “be from.” And I’ve always taken exception to that. I think we need to work to make Muncie a great place to “be in,” to live in.
Steph Wiechmann moved to Muncie in 2007 to start her job with Indiana Public Radio (IPR), where she is a Senior Producer and the local host for the afternoon news program “All Things Considered.” She is also the Membership Chair for Muncie Young Professionals, a group that has helped young people with networking and professional development since 2006.