FINAL EDITION: Wednesday, March 1, 2023
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: How a Restaurant Shaped a Town
BELOW: Historical Bluebird photos, including those above, will be donated to Freeman Family Funeral Home in Morristown for display.
by KRISTIAAN RAWLINGS
On Saturday, December 17, 2022 - a date which will live in symmetry - the Bluebird Restaurant closed, Gene Wicker died, and Marietta Holtel was laid to rest, marking the end of an era for those who call and have called Morristown home.
“We just can’t believe it,” Marsha Hamilton, Wicker’s daughter, said of the family diner’s closure. “The Bluebird was the heart of the community. It’s like Indianapolis saying, ‘Let’s tear down Monument Circle.’”
Nearly a century ago, Zella Kinsey, just a few years out of high school, and her husband Oscar bought a confectionery on East Main Street in the building that now houses Fountaintown Gas Co. They immediately moved it down Main Street where Wortman and Meyer Groceries and Meats had been located. The Bluebird, a moniker created by Morristown student Chase Webb in a naming contest, opened Jan. 1, 1925. A year later, the Kinseys became parents to a girl, Marietta.
Although the restaurant eventually expanded to take over much of the block, nearby businesses at various points included a coffee shop, Pauley’s Variety Store (owned by Jane Pauley’s grandparents and which later became Jimmie’s), a barbershop with a pool room in the rear, Zike’s Grocery, and Zimmerman’s Grocery.
During an expansion and remodel, Lyall Wortman removed a brick wall separating two rooms and built a counter. He and his young son Robert (Bob) then painstakingly installed bamboo wall coverings.
In those youthful days, Bob Wortman and Marietta Kinsey established a friendship that lasted a lifetime. (The year Marietta graduated from Morristown High School - 1944 - she married Robert Hurst. She worked at L.S. Ayres for 39 years, and after Mr. Hurst died, Marietta married William Holtel, associate editor of The Shelbyville News.)
Knowing Wortman’s familiarity with the Bluebird over several decades - he even owned the building at one point - I called to arrange an interview.
“I changed our plans a little,” Wortman said as I stepped into his home. “They have coffee on at the Bluebird for us. Nobody else is there.”
Owner Donna Tracy was waiting at the entrance. The fixtures were still in place a month after closing, with ownership changes and mile markers evident through framed photos stacked on tables. A few showed the Colonel’s sign, installed by the Wortman Company and a reminder of Ted and Emily Cullin, who had bought the Bluebird in the early 1950s. Many stories could be told about that heyday. Here’s one:
Wortman, then-president of the Morristown High School Alumni Association, lured Colonel Harlan Sanders to Morristown to help the Bluebird cater an alumni dinner. Cullin was game but had no interest in the Colonel’s offer of making Morristown the fourth Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. But Cullin changed his mind mid-meal while 400 diners raved about the fried chicken.
“By the end of the night, Ted had his pen out hunting down the Colonel,” Wortman said.
Although the franchise was dropped in the 1960s, the same broasting techniques remained, keeping the Bluebird’s fried chicken famous throughout the area. A full selection of homemade pies added to the restaurant’s lore.
The Bluebird also benefited from its location along U.S. 52 in the pre-interstate days.
“(Emily Cullin) told me that people coming from Cincinnati would line up on Race Day to pick up their chicken (for the Indy 500),” Tracy said.
But the good times nearly came to an end Mothers’ Day 1965, after over 700 were served, when a fire started in the back and raced to the front. Edwin Yarling, owner-operator of the nearby Morristown Lanes, was one of the first on the scene, and he removed the cash register and took it to the bowling alley for safekeeping, The Shelbyville News reported. The entire interior was gutted, and then-owner Elmer Carlton shuttered the debris-littered restaurant.
“The building just sat here for a long time,” Tracy said.
But Wortman stepped up, bought and repaired the structure, and found a proprietor for the Bluebird. And Mary Tracy, Donna’s grandmother, brought the final stage of stability when she and her husband Beryl took over in 1972. Margaret Anne “Peggy” Myer - Beryl’s daughter and Donna’s aunt - assumed management duties.
“Papaw (repaired) everything, Mamaw made stuff, and Peggy yelled and made sure things went right,” Tracy said, laughing.
The “Round Table,” composed of off-season farmers including Mr. Wicker, once again had a home. The Zimmerman Grocery building was purchased to create a bar, and local clubs came when the Tracys expanded and established meeting spaces dubbed “the Brown room” and later “the Blue room.”
“We’re real original here,” Donna Tracy panned, referring to the brown and blue plush carpet in each of the spaces. The rooms also hosted card groups and family gatherings.
“I just can’t name all the ways it’s been involved in the community,” Hamilton recalled. “The Lions Club, book clubs, rug crafting groups. They even used to have a dinner theater there.”
The dinner theater began in the late 1970s, featured the likes of (Kathleen) Miller and (Robin) Hopkins, and lasted over 20 years. Dessert and a show were offered in the early years, and the theater evolved to include a buffet with soup and salad, and dessert at intermission.
Donna started at the Bluebird in the kitchen when she was 13 and returned to work each summer. “Everyone thinks I graduated from here (Morristown High School) because I was always here,” she said.
Myer retired in 1993, the same year Mary Tracy was named Morristown Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year. It was then Donna, who had an established career in business, moved back from Ohio to take over.
She continued to helm the ship despite suffering a stroke in December 2012 and enduring another major fire in December 2013. The family and crew pulled together to reopen in time for Mothers’ Day 2014.
“We were exhausted,” Tracy said.
Her dad decided a vacation to Mexico was in order and closed the restaurant for five days.
“That started a tradition, and since my dad passed away, I made it longer,” Donna said.
Last year, she decided to make it a permanent vacation. The building was put on the market in September and a potential purchase has been in the works, with representatives recently telling the Morristown Town Council a “national tenant” has plans for a retail store in the space.
The last public meal was served December 17. That same day, Wicker, who was born the year the restaurant opened and ate lunch there every day his senior year of high school with friend Jim Wilson, passed away. The same day, the Wortman family gathered at the Bluebird one final time, but Bob couldn’t make it; he was attending the funeral of his life-long friend, Marietta.
So what happens when a local business closes? Its supporters find ways to keep making a difference. And so do the staff. Tracy, who lives in the home once owned by her grandparents and remains active in community affairs, is no exception.
“I have a fenced-in yard with a doggie door,” she said. “Why would I go anywhere else?”
Price Presents Local Black History
Patricia Price speaks about local Black American History at last night’s Shelby County Democrat meeting. Price focused her comments on Walter S. Fort, who served as principal of Shelbyville’s Booker T. Washington School before becoming the first Black employee at Shelbyville High School, where he was director of testing and research. He served locally from 1927 to 1955. Price also mentioned other notable local Black citizens, entrepreneurs and educators past and present, including current Coulston Elementary School Principal Nicole Terrell. | photo by KRISTIAAN RAWLINGS
The Shelbyville Plan Commission on Monday night unanimously approved a petition to rezone 1501 South Harrison Street, a block building with a shingle roof, from single-family residential to Business General. Petitioners Tom Davis and Bill Poland plan to renovate the building, including replacing windows, adding siding, and reroofing, and for Genesis Property Development to use it for office space. There will be three or four employees on site, Poland said.
The Shelbyville Board of Public Works yesterday issued an order to appear to the owner of 309 East Mechanic St. regarding nuisance issues.
Last week we reported on Shelbyville High School alumnus ZaLeeya Martin’s record-setting performance for Hanover College. She again one-upped herself over the weekend, setting a new Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference 60-meter dash record.
Editor’s note: Happy 43rd wedding anniversary today to my parents, Myron and Mary Kay Rawlings.
Closing Note: First, a special “thank you” to Anna Tungate, who has been the face of The Addison Times at so many government meetings and events. This literally could not have been done without her skilled work. On another note, several readers have asked about access to past articles. I will be working on creating a searchable archive of all Saturday Shelby/Addison Times material and will be in touch once that is complete. - Kristiaan A. Rawlings
HOOSIER NEWS: Legislation to allow local school board elections to become partisan died in the House Monday. It’s very unlikely the issue will be revived this year. The bill, HB 1428, would’ve allowed ballot referendums, prompted either by a local school board or by citizen petition, that could’ve made school board elections partisan. On the deadline for House bills to clear that chamber, the measure wasn’t called down for a vote. House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) said it was hard to find a “sweet spot” on the issue. “Do you force people to go through primaries?” Huston said. “Is it just for the general election you need to declare a potential party affiliation?” House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) said there was clearly not enough support in the Republican caucus – and none in his. “Deep down, I think most legislators feel like this is one area that we just should not be putting more politics into the system,” GiaQuinta said. A similar bill on the issue, SB 188, didn’t get a committee vote and died in the Senate earlier this year. (Indiana Public Media)
by JACK BOYCE
Such was the query from the Addison Times editor: “Can you provide some local photos for the readers?”
Mr. Rawlings gave me an idea of how many photos per week would be acceptable, and I couldn't wait to charge the batteries for my Sony digital camera and pack three lenses. (One is enough, but three are better).
I discovered so many Addison Times readers actually were pleased with the photos and couldn't wait until the next electronic offering. So now we are up to four photos per week.
This begs the question, what was my favorite? Sunrise, sunset, the moon, total eclipse events, Shelby County 4-H’ers. And the junior high students from Shelbyville Middle School: everyone benefits when you have an event that involves young people and community leaders ingratiating themselves for 60 minutes. Everyone wins.
So the many places visited with my wife Jean as my spotter opened our eyes to the many hard working, grateful people and the beautiful sights in Shelbyville and Shelby County. Yes, right in our own backyard. We now see the beauty of many things that we did not see before. Hopefully The Times subscribers do as well.
It all goes back to the thousands who follow this local electronic invention of Kristiaan Rawlings, The Addison Times. Reporters and photographers were allowed to roam, report, record and photograph what the readers wanted. This was such another learning experience. I talked on WSVL radio for over 20 years and operated local cable TV channel 3 at the same time. But a new way for me to get information to the community in a single snapshot was also rewarding. Thanks to modern electronics, I could take a photo with my Sony camera, use the bluetooth software built-in to send it to my smartphone and make corrections. The next button sent the photo to the editor's desk ready to go.
So what will be the next surprise? An explanation here about the five girls in colorful dresses. We were in Berlin, Ohio - Amish territory - when my driver, Louie Alexander, yelled, “Jack, get your camera ready!” I was ready, telescopic lens in place, and the moment was captured through the windshield of our car. I still don't have an answer about their evening bicycle ride. But I do know, you must continue to be ready when the unknown is just around the corner or at the top of a hill.
Best wishes to all! - Jack
This Week in Shelby County" works by George L. Stubbs Sr. are owned by the Shelby County Historical Society (Grover Center) and used with permission.
THIS DAY IN SHELBY COUNTY HISTORY
News around Shelbyville and the surrounding area as reported on or about this date in history. Selections are curated from the Shelby County Public Library Genealogy Department.
20 YEARS AGO: 2003
Al Parsons received a $7,500 Teacher Creativity Fellowship Program grant from Lilly Endowment. Parsons planned to travel to Southern England to study canals. He would spend a week or two helping rebuild the almost 200-year-old Grand Western Cancel.
Rep. Roland Stine, Rep. Bob Cherry and Sen. Bob Jackman were the featured guests at a “Third House” free breakfast at the Kopper Kettle in Morristown. Donna Tracy, president of the Morristown Chamber, led the event’s organization.
30 YEARS AGO: 1993
A six-inch snowfall had “brought out some ingenuity - and a lot of foolhardiness - in some Shelbyville boys,” The Shelbyville News reported. Boys had been “grabbing onto the backs of passing semi-trailer trucks and sliding along the street on the snow. Fortunately, there was no report of any of them being injured,” the paper said.
40 YEARS AGO: 1983
Judge George Tolen submitted his official resignation to the governor. Appointed to the judgeship in 1970, Tolen, a Democrat, had won election in 1972 and 1978. Tolen said he was “worn out” and ready to retire. Tolen, who was about to turn 62, said he would not practice law after retiring from the bench.
50 YEARS AGO: 1973
The new Craig portable electronic calculator arrived at Spurlin Radio & TV. The calculator with a rechargeable battery or AC operation was $150 (approximately $1,000 in today’s money).
60 YEARS AGO: 1963
Jerry Mays won the Lora B. Pearson School spelling contest. Runner-up was Alan Moss. Other finalists were Toni Brown, Candice Pierson, Sherri Ramey and Connie Reeves. Howard Ballard was the pronouncer and Herman Royer, principal of the school, was judge.
Robert Chappelow, of near Lewis Creek, was hired as Dog Catcher of Shelbyville. Chappelow’s job was to reduce the number of strays around town and to stop by the police station frequently while on patrol and answer complaints about dogs.
City officials mailed a request to the state asking to install a traffic light at Amos Road and 421.
70 YEARS AGO: 1953
The city street department placed 14 trash receptacles downtown Shelbyville in hopes it would help keep litter off the streets. The receptacles were made from old oil drums with the tops removed. The drums had been painted white with the word “Trash” printed on them in black letters.
80 YEARS AGO: 1943
The Strand Theater, which opened March 1916, announced plans to celebrate its 27th anniversary with four weeks of entertainment, including such features as “The China Girl,” “Arabian Nights,” and “Nightmare.”
90 YEARS AGO: 1933
Six banks in Shelbyville, including the Farmers National and Shelby National Bank of Shelbyville, established withdrawal limits. Local bank officials blamed instability of Indianapolis banks for the restrictions.
Morris Bush, of West Broadway Street, had made his own radio set from old parts and was able to talk to others throughout the country and Canada and Cuba.
100 YEARS AGO: 1923
William Henderson, 66, living one-half mile east of the bridge over Blue River near the Shelby County line, was charged with manufacturing homemade liquor. One hundred empty bottles had been found at his home.
Goldie Pettit was arrested in Indianapolis on a charge of bigamy. Goldie admitted to being married six times, but said her ex-husband Frank was dead. (The Republican said Frank Pettit was alive, at least as of “last week.”) Goldie had been ordered to leave Shelbyville by Mayor Lee Hoop after “she became involved in so much trouble.”
Theft was reported in the 900 block of Belvedere Dr., Shelbyville.
JAIL BOOK-INS: Kiel A. Bensheimer, 36, failure to appear; Nicholas T. Greene, 23, probation violation; Michael D. Gregory, 58, OVWI; Barbara J. Lux, 66, failure to appear; Harlin Morris-Jeffers, 40, fleeing, resisting law enforcement, reckless driving; Amy Trout, 42, driving while suspended.
Sandra S. Scudder, 81, of Shelbyville, passed away Monday, February 27, 2023 at her residence. She was born March 31, 1941 in Shirley, IN to George Gobel and Bertha (Fuller) Gobel.
Sandra graduated from Shelbyville High School in 1960. She was a member of Liberty United Methodist Church. She was involved in a group known as ‘Tops’ which was a health care program. Directly out of high school, Sandy began working in the cafeteria at Navel Avionics in Indianapolis. Soon after that, their family began to grow. At that point she started her 38 year adventure as a caretaker of Forest Hill Cemetery with her husband John. That started her love for mowing and being outside in the warm weather. Sandy also loved to cook big dinners, especially for her loved ones. She was a caretaker at heart and loved her family dearly.
She married John R. Scudder on October 3, 1965, and he survives. Sandy is also survived by her daughter, Susan A. Stickford; son, Rolland A. Scudder (wife, Tammy); grandchildren, LeAnna Nugent, Burgandy Nugent (husband, John Witte), Ashley Scudder-Alvis (husband, Damon), Daniel Stickford, Christopher Scudder, Sara Stickford-Glaser (husband, Evan); great grandchildren, BreAnna Leap, Quinn Glaser, Presley Glaser; sister Carol Adams; nieces and nephews, Vickie Marshall, Debbie Flack, Mike Scudder, Teresa Evans, Kenneth Adams, Sherry Adams Zamora. She was preceded in death by parents and brother, William Gobel.
Visitation will be Friday March 3, 2023 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Murphy-Parks Funeral Service, 703 S. Harrison Street, Shelbyville, IN 46176. Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. on Saturday March 4, 2023 at funeral home with Rev. Albert Blackburn officiating. Burial will be in Forest Hill Cemetery. Funeral Directors Greg Parks, Sheila Parks, Stuart Parks, and Darin Schutt are honored to serve Sandy’s family. Online condolences may be shared at www.murphyparks.com.
Mark Alan Ratliff, 63, Shelbyville, IN passed away on Monday, February 27, 2023 in Indianapolis, IN. He was born on April 2, 1959 in Franklin, IN.
Survivors include, wife, Vicki Ratliff; mother, Fern Ratliff; son, Jacob (Stephanie) Ratliff; daughters, Amanda (Justin) Brown, Megan (Scotty) Cawein; brother, Steve (Linda) Ratliff; granchildren, Madison, Mason & Macy Ratliff, Ethan & Bailey Brown, Landon Cawein; several cousins & close friends. Preceded in death by, father, Richard Ratliff; grandmothers, Alice Griffin & Beulah Inabnitt.
Mark graduated from Purdue University with a Bachelors in Forestry where he was also part of the Honor Society. He had back packed part of Appalachian Trail. He liked playing tennis, horseback riding, and being outdoors, hunting fishing and camping. He loved spending time with his grandchildren.
Service will be Friday March 3, 2023 at 11 a.m. at Crossroad Community Church, 475 Progress Pkwy, Shelbyville, IN 46176 with visitation on Thursday, March 2, 2023 from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m. at Bell Mortuary & Crematory, 1444 W US HWY 52, Fountaintown, IN 46130. Officiating will be Andrew Lee. Online condolences at www. bellmortuary.com.
KAR - 30-
Thank you Kristiaan! I will miss reading your news every morning with my first cup of coffee. God bless you in all your future endeavors!
Thank you, will certainly miss the paper.
Good job, well done!