When Sue and I moved to Southeastern, Indiana 16-years ago this summer, I was more than a little naive about life in the country. Sue set out her shingle in Sunman, but the 71-acres we purchased was (and is) in a no-man's land halfway between Sunman and Milan. Our post office and police are Sunman. Our fire department and telephone exchange comes from Milan. The kid's parochial school in Sunman but if they would go to the public school, it'd be Milan. Because of Sue's work and because my driving path naturally takes us through Sunman on the way to I-74, I, admittedly, have felt a little closer to Sunman. Still, I have a soft spot in my heart for Milan although I don't get to go there very often.
I remember being out in Indiana about one month when I happened to stumble upon Roselyn McKittrick's antique store in Milan. I don't recall saying much more than "hello" to anyone during my brief visit. The very next day, Sue said, "I heard you were in the Milan anitque shop yesterday..." I was stunned at how fast the news spread out there--particularly how something so seemingly insignificant as a "stranger" visiting an antique store. Not that I ever would, but small-town, rural Indiana would obviously not be the place to have an "affair" or keep a secret.
Last Sunday, March 20th, I drove up to the Broad Ripple arts' colony suburb of Indianapolis to meet Bobby Plump at his bar; "Bobby Plump's Last Shot." I was there to do an interview with Bobby about his days with the 1954 Milan High School State Basketball Champs. Bobby is an instantly likeable guy who is ready to tell a story about his famous game-winning "last shot" at the drop of a hat. The wonderful David vs. Goliath real life story (Milan, with 161 students beat Muncie Central with over 1660 students, 32-30) was the inspiration for the movie "Hoosiers." In addition to the interview, Bobby and a friend and fellow former Milanian, Tom Kohlmeier, shared with me plans for an expanded Milan '54 basketball museum. They are in the fund raising stage and hope to turn the old Milan bank building into a museum (a "temporary museum" has been there for about 20-years.) It wouldn't take too much money and could be a great attraction and a real boost to the town!
But Milan of today is not like the bustling Milan of 1954 and the pair acknowledged some resistance and skepticism among a few present day town folks, who seem to have lost hope the town will bounce back from the recent economic downfall. Boarded up storefronts are everywhere and the town laments the loss of young people who are moving elsewhere as they get older.
The ancient Milan water tower still proclaims the "1954 Milan Champs" and there are some who feel the future of the town is fading as openly as the lettering on the rusty landmark. But I tend to agree with optimistic people like Bobby and Tom and Roselyn who see the potential of celebrating a unique history "story" (like nearby Metamora and Oldenburg) as keys to a brighter future. Maybe you can help, too! http://www.milan54.org/ has the details!