Friday, December 3, 2021
READY FOR SANTA
Greek’s Pizzeria, 20 S. Harrison St., is ready for Santa’s arrival tonight downtown Shelbyville. | photo by JACK BOYCE
Former Opera House, Toy Department floor Re-opens Tonight
by KELLEY WALKER PERRY
Blessing’s Opera House, located at 18 Public Square, is the second oldest building downtown. For a couple of years, Rob Nolley and Jason Foltz – best friends and business partners – have been renovating the space in order to offer Shelbyville a grand wedding and event venue.
Contractors busily completed the finishing touches on Wednesday, ahead of the holiday celebration and parade downtown today.
“We thought it would be a good time to have an open house,” Nolley said. “Hopefully, a lot of people will come.”
The open house will be held from 5 to 10 p.m. It will include vendors from Mainstreet’s Mistletoe Market, a DJ playing Christmas music, a cash bar and tours of the facility.
“We’ll be ready to show it on Friday,” Nolley promised.
Actually, Foltz and Nolley have shown the space several times throughout the renovation process. They have been amused to showcase the facility for brides-to-be.
“Two big dudes showing around these girls,” Nolley snickered. “We are hiring a wedding and event planner.”
But Nolley and Foltz seem to be doing just fine, in the meantime.
“We’ve booked a lot of events already,” Nolley said.
They have Christmas parties booked later this month, and a couple of large fundraisers and weddings are slated for next year. Pudder’s restaurant, owned by Alicia and Val Phares and located at the building’s ground level, already has a liquor license and will manage the bar for all events.
At one time, the Blessing building housed a hardware store on the first floor and an opera house on the second floor. In 1880, the former opera house became the Doble and DePrez Hardware Company; then, in 1885, just J.G. DePrez Company Hardware. For most of its recent history, it’s been called the J.G. DePrez Building, or simply the DePrez Building.
“The DePrez Building was “The building,” Nolley recalled. He visited often in his childhood, and maintains very fond memories of trips downtown with his grandparents – at that time, the entire second floor was the toy department.
“It was like FAO Schwartz in Shelbyville,” he said.
For 100 years, J.G. DePrez continued business there; but the building’s age of grandeur came to a presumed end when it closed in 1986.
Steve Pfendler owned the building for a time; Nolley had been looking for downtown real estate for years, but he had to go to Europe when Pfendler put it on the market. Paul Dillow bought the building and used a portion of the space for his restaurant, 18 on the Square – Nolley utilized the fourth floor as office space. He began to realize the building’s charm even more.
About a year later, Dillow permanently closed the restaurant and asked if Nolley would like to buy the building. It was a dream come true. Still, he had some trepidations.
“It was 150 years old and very maintenance intensive. I was kind of scared,” Nolley said.
But he was also excited. He called up his best friend, Jason Foltz.
“Have you ever thought about owning a building?” Nolley asked.
The friends bought the building two years ago in May and became business partners, with Foltz, a farmer, taking care of “handyman-type stuff” and dealing with contractors; and Nolley, president of the city’s Common Council and owner of Tubesock, Inc., in charge of the business end, handling tenant relations and accounts.
Renovations and Revelations
Trash accumulated for many years – most from the second floor, which had become “the trash bin of the building” – was hauled away bit-by-bit. All in all, it took about 10 roll-offs. At first, work went slowly; Foltz and Nolley weren’t in a hurry to finish the project.
But once they climbed up onto the scaffolding, began stripping the hideous lime-green wallpaper off the walls and started smelling the old pipe and cigar smoke – a ghostly reminder of a bygone era – they got more interested.
Beneath the paper all along the southside wall and some of the northside wall were hand-painted frescoes of Roman columns, a sunset; and, on the stage wall, a mural likely leftover from “The Lady of Lyons,” which was the final five-act opera performed there.
“When we found that, everything changed,” Nolley said. “We realized we had to go ahead and finish this as quickly as possible.”
They invited an expert from the Indiana Historical Society to view the frescoes. He said there was no good way to preserve the watercolor paintings.
“For now, we’re gonna leave it as-is – and enjoy it while it lasts,” Nolley said.
Nolley and Foltz went salvage shopping for antique bars and other unique, historic building materials. The original wall sconces – a reminder that Blessing’s was the first gas lit building in the city – are staying put, although they are disconnected and will be purely decorative.
“We’ve done a ton of research,” Nolley said. “It’s been a blast.”
Of course, as with any renovation of an old building, it has also been gross.
“The floor was absolutely disgusting,” Nolley said. But, disgusting or not, he couldn’t help feeling a thrill when the rented floor scrubber revealed marks where the old toy shelving used to sit.
The biggest obstacle has been the fact that the second floor had no plumbing or mechanical in place. A contractor had to run it up from the basement, and was still busy getting things hooked up on Wednesday.
Most of the renovation work has been done by contractors who are friends and relatives of either Foltz or Nolley: one is a union electrical contractor; another owns a plumbing and HVAC business.
“I’m not a handy person at all,” Nolley said, laughing. “I’m a history fanatic.”
The Man Behind the Building
John Blessing, a Maryland native, lost both of his parents at a young age – at just 9 years of age, he began supporting himself in various ways. He was a Mexican-American War veteran who later became a tobacco farmer; engaged in the distillery business; and ran a canal boat before coming to live in Shelbyville. Here, he continued in the distillery trade until 1866, when he chose to start over in the hardware business.
Blessing’s Opera House was erected by Blessing in 1869. The building housed his hardware store on the first floor and an opera hall on the second floor. In its heyday, the opera house held a Grand Ball open to the public for $1 a ticket; a military band concert and violin solo performance for 25 cents; an all-day celebration of the adoption of the 15th amendment, featuring an evening speech by Frederick Douglass; an Elks Club fiddle contest; and many other events of entertainment and cultural value.
Blessing was not only a good businessman who had a hand on the city’s heartbeat – he was also a family man and a philanthropist. He married and had three daughters, but never forgot what it felt like to be an orphan. His building hosted the Orphans’ Home Fair, which was held to benefit the Orphans’ Home – better known as the Gordon Children’s Home – in 1891. The orphanage opened a year later.
“He was always in the back of my mind,” Nolley said, of Blessing.
Then in March, someone knocked on his office door.
“I’m Matt Blessing. I’m looking for Rob Nolley,” the man said.
He is John Blessing’s third-great nephew. After his job in Pennsylvania transferred him to Greenfield, the first thing he wanted to see was the family’s opera house. He shared with Nolley a boxful of memorabilia: photos, old event programs and such. Nolley plans to frame and display copies of those – along with John Blessing’s preserved signature, which was located on the wall of the property during its restoration.
Matt Blessing will be the guest of honor at the grand opening and open house on Friday.
Contractors place the final paver piece of the downtown redevelopment project yesterday. | photos by JOHN WALKER
Shelbyville’s Festival of Lights opens today at Blue River Memorial Park, 725 Lee Blvd. The lights display will remain on from 5 to 9:30 p.m. each evening through Dec. 30.
A pediatric COVID vaccination clinic will be held Saturday, Dec. 11, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. MHP will administer the newly approved COVID vaccine for ages 5-11, which is one-third of the adult dose. The COVID vaccine for pediatric patients ages 12-plus will also be administered. Please call MHP Pediatrics (317) 398-7337 to schedule your vaccine appointment.
Seniors Elias Clark and Grace Schlabach are king and queen, respectively, of the Southwestern High School Sweetheart Court. Sophomores Josh Wenger and Ellie Gosser are prince and princess. The court is composed of Ryan Griffin (12), Kennedy Pile (12), Jonah DeArmitt (11), Lauryn Blondell (11), Gavin Elliott (11), Loriann Beckner (11), Bryn Pfanschmidt (10), Sam Taylor (10), Ben Kahler (9), Sydney Griffin (9), Garrett Elliott (9), and Grace Lee (9).
Look for The Addison Times’ moving “newsstand” in tonight’s parade - and be sure to get candy and a complimentary newspaper from our staff!
Yesterday, the state reported 23 new positive coronavirus cases from the previous day in Shelby County, and 36 new tests. The number of deaths for Shelby County remained the same, at 129. The State lists the fully vaccinated number for Shelby County at 21,882, an increase of 32 from the previous day.
HOOSIER NEWS: Fishers will begin a free driverless electric car shuttle system downtown later this month. The 6-month pilot program will take riders from near 106th Street and Lantern Road to Commercial Drive north of 116th Street beginning Dec. 20. May Mobility will run five hybrid Lexus RX 450h vehicles and one wheelchair-accessible Polaris GEM fully electric vehicle Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with shuttles arriving every 10 to 15 minutes at nine stops.
NATIONAL NEWS: A new study published in Science found that urban trees turn green earlier in the spring - on average six days earlier - compared to rural trees, an effect believed to result from the hotter temperatures in cities compared to unpopulated areas in the same climate, and also the additional lights that dot the urban landscape. That could be an issue for the trees in the big city: bud too early and you’re susceptible to frost, and bloom too early and pollinators may not show up in time to do their job. (NPR)
Front and Center Stage
King Wyatt Schonfeld, Princess Serenity Sanders, Queen Taylor Dennis, and Puss in Boots Anniston Evans rehearse for this weekend’s Shelby County Players production, “Puss in Boots,” directed by Debbie Stafford. “It’s a perfect cast. They’ve all mixed well together,” Stafford said of the Young Audience Production. Other students on stage will be Peyton Rader, Dion Lee, Brady Diehl, Kendall Isley, Kat Ahmad, Audrey Diehl, David Quillen, Courtney Gross, Danielle Tressler and Gregory Quillen. Chanta Quillen is producer; Laura Stieneker-Taylor, stage manager; Tricia Evans, properties manager; and Lucy Furiak, costume designer. The production opens tonight at SCP Offstage, 1416 Miller Ave. Information and showtimes are listed here. | by ANNA TUNGATE
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: 2001
Local police shopped with more than 60 local children, sponsored by the Santa Cops program. The event, which provided Christmas presents to children in need, was organized by Sylvia Favors and Amy Brown.
Toray Resin Co. of Michigan announced plans to purchase Nippisun Indiana Corp., which had a plant on Shelbyville’s Mausoleum Road that employed about 100.
30 YEARS AGO: 1991
A Fairland man who admitted to breaking into his neighbor’s home to steal beer could get a six-month sentence, court records said. The man had admitted entering into his neighbor’s home more than 200 times in three years, mostly to steal beer.
Denny Blind, coach of the Shelbyville High School boys basketball team in the mid-1960s, was among 13 people who would be inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in a March 1992 ceremony, officials announced. As a player, Blind led Lafayette Jerrson to consecutive state finals in 1950 and 1951 and played for Purdue. He won three sectionals in 10 years as coach at Attica, Warsaw and Shelbyville.
40 YEARS AGO: 1981
The Farmers National Bank board of directors passed a resolution honoring the life and death of Nate Kaufman, a director of the bank for many years who had died Nov. 18. The resolution was signed by Arthur M. Thurston, chairman of the board, and directors Robert Bennett, Carlos Craven, Peter DePrez, William Hart, Paul Keffaber, John Murphy, Robert Reed, W.O. Scott, Moris Tobin, Richard Unger and Dorine Wolsiefer.
Jeanne Rowland, 1232 Oak Lane, passed $100,000 in sales for the local Culligan Company over the previous year. It was the fifth year in a row for Rowland’s feat.
50 YEARS AGO: 1971
The first-ever hot lunch was served at Pearson school. Students each received two prepackaged containers: one containing hot food and the other cold. The goal was to expand the prepacked lunch program to Hendricks, the only school in the Shelbyville Central district remaining without hot lunch available.
60 YEARS AGO: 1961
Mr. and Mrs. Ray Sears, 339 Roosevelt Dr., hosted 20 Butler girls, members of the Pi Beta Phi sorority, including their daughter, Sue. The group chartered a bus as part of an annual sorority “walk-out” event.
Stone facing was added to the front of the new First Federal Savings and Loan Asociation building, 2 Public Square. Several other renovations had been made to the structure over the previous few months.
70 YEARS AGO: 1951
Shelbyville Street Department employees patched the cavernous E. Washington St. railroad crossing. City Engineer Joe Banta said the bill would be sent to the New York Central railroad for payment. The crossing had an estimated 30 chuck-holes and had been the source of numerous complaints to city officials from irate motorists who had blown tires and scraped under-carriages. Banta had sent a letter to the railroad threatening to fix the issue and bill the railroad but never received a response.
The Chamber of Commerce reported that Santa had spoken with 2,300 kids after arriving downtown via train.
80 YEARS AGO: 1941
Annabelle Polston, 11, died after suffering burns while trying to rekindle a wood fire at her grandparents’ home, 833 W. Franklin. The girl’s clothing had caught on fire while she threw kerosene on the flames. The Hendricks Elementary student was the daughter of Wesley and Freda Polston.
Mayor Ed Shook re-appointed Maurice Moberly as police chief. Moberly had resigned from his duties months earlier due to illness.
90 YEARS AGO: 1931
The new Noble Township School was dedicated. Prior to the school re-opening, pupils had been sent to Geneva and to surrounding small buildings. The school’s teachers were Redin Patterson, principal; McKinley Monroe, Clarice Custaden, Mrs. Russell Howard and Eva Hatton.
100 YEARS AGO: 1921
The revived milk program provided a pint of milk each day for 195 “undernourished” children. The Amos herd of cattle had been tested for TB before the milk was distributed. Previous milk clinic programs had helped bring underweight children up to average weight within a year, school officials said.
Vandegrift & Morris, 118 W. Hendricks St., announced that holophane headline lenses were in stock and in compliance with the new state law. “All car owners have 30 days to equip their cars with an approved dimmer lense,” an ad said. “After 30 days the law will be rigidly enforced.
MEET THE STAFF: LuAnn Mason
LuAnn Mason’s first position as a reporter was in the fourth grade of the Chicago elementary school she attended. She wrote monthly about the events going on in the special education classroom for the school’s newspaper that was printed with a mimeograph machine. The machine was cranked by hand to produce multiple pages. Her passion to provide the news to the public soared from there – reporter and photographer for junior high, high school, and Indiana University newspapers and yearbooks, The Marion Chronicle-Tribune, Sports Hotline, The Muncie Star, and newspapers, newsletters, and other publications here during her 37 years as a local resident.
Theft was reported in the 1400 block of W. McKay Road, Shelbyville.
JAIL BOOK-INS: Lucas D. Higdon, 42, writ of attachment, nonsupport; Andrew S. Justice, 32, failure to appear (2 counts); Brittany R. Moss, 33, manufacturing meth; and Michael P. Riddle, 38, failure to appear
Todd Clayton, 61, of Shelbyville passed away Tuesday, November 30, 2021 at Columbus Regional Health. He was born August 16, 1960 in Franklin, IN to Robert Clayton and Patricia (Minor) Skaggs.
Todd was a former member of Town and Country Christian Church and current member of Shelbyville Community Church. He was very active in the God Squad at Town and Country Christian Church teaching the little ones.
He was learning how to fly and maintain RC Airplanes as a fun hobby. He was an Indianapolis Colts fan, and enjoyed watching NASCAR. His most precious times were spent with his family and making memories with his grandkids. Todd is survived by his wife of 32 years, Andrea “Lynn” Clayton, his sons, Matthew Clayton (Ashley) and Brandon Clayton, his daughter, Melissa Self (Jon); his grandchildren, Eli Self and Wyatt Clayton.
He was preceded in death by his parents, his step-father, Jim Skaggs, his brother, Robert “Bob” Clayton, and his sister, Sherry.
Visitation will be from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday, December 9, 2021 at Murphy-Parks Funeral Services, 703 S. Harrison Street, Shelbyville, IN. Funeral services will be at 11 a.m., Friday, December 10, 2021 at the funeral home with Reverend Brad Davis, and Merry Poppelwell officiating. Burial will be in Forest Lawn Cemetery at a later date. Funeral Directors Greg, Sheila, and Stuart Parks are honored to serve Todd’s family. Memorial contributions may be made to the Todd Clayton Memorial Fund in care of the funeral home. Online condolences may be shared at www.murphyparks.com.
W. Jeannene Payne Martin went to her eternal rest on Monday, November 29, 2021. She was a resident of Morristown Manor. She was born January 27, 1930 in Moral township to William C. and Lela M. Rouse.
Mrs. Martin was a life-long Shelbyville resident. She had worked for Tokheim Corp. (formerly-Gen Pro) and retired from Indiana Cash Drawer. She enjoyed spending time with her family, shopping, and tending her flower gardens. She was a 50-plus member of the Eastern Star. She enjoyed her many friendships.
She is survived by her daughter J. Ann (Joe) Stieneker, and son, Doug (Lori) Payne, grandchildren, Amy (Kevin) Gibson, Traci (Jason) Foltz, Kimberly (Mark) Rains, Shawn Payne and Aaron Payne, her great-grandchildren, Shelby Gibson Jennah Foltz, Luke Foltz, Jacob Rains, and Julianna Rains. She was preceded in death by her parents, infant daughter, Pamela J. Payne and great-grandson, Nathan Gibson.
Visitation will be from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m, Tuesday, December 7, 2021 at Murphy-Parks Funeral Services. Funeral services will follow at 7 p.m., at the funeral home. Funeral Directors Greg, Sheila, and Stuart Parks are honored to serve Jeannene's family. Charitable contributions may be made to Nathan Gibson Scholarship Fund in care of St. Joseph School, or to Riley Hospital for Children. Online condolences may be shared at www.murphyparks.com.
Katherine R. Comstock, 96, of Shelbyville, passed away Tuesday, November 30, 2021 at Heritage House. Born February 24, 1925, in Shelby County, she was the daughter of William Durbin and Bertha (Stickford) Durbin. She married Edward Comstock on December 24, 1942, and he preceded her on April 27, 1991. Survivors include a son, Thomas Comstock (wife Dawn) of Shelbyville; a daughter, Susan Stainbrook (Robert Burke) of Martinsville; four siblings, Dale Durbin of Homer, Harold Durbin of Blue Ridge, Janice Speheger of Noblesville, Joann Ragsdale of Shelbyville; seven grandchildren, and several great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her parents; her spouse; a son, Jerry Wayne Comstock; a daughter, Edna Kay Fouts; and brothers Willard and Fred Durbin.
Mrs. Comstock was a lifelong resident of this area and attended Waldron High School. She had been a sales clerk at the G.C. Murphy Co., retiring in 1983 after 20 years of service. She was a member of First Christian Church. Katherine enjoyed flowers, gardening, and sewing.
Funeral services will be 1 p.m. on Tuesday, December 7, 2021 at Glenn E. George & Son Funeral Home, 437 Amos Road, with Pastor Bill Horner officiating. Friends may call on Tuesday morning from 11 a.m. until the time of the service. Burial will be in Van Pelt Cemetery. Memorial contributions can be made to First Christian Church, in care of the funeral home. Online condolences may be shared at glennegeorgeandson.com.
Charles W. Ford, 90, of Mt Auburn, passed away Wednesday, December 2, 2021 in Bartholomew County Hospital. Services are pending at Murphy-Parks Funeral Services.