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A glimpse at Gary’s past

Susan Binkley groundskeeper Aquatorium Miller stands near statue aviatipioneer Octave Chanute. | Jeff Manes~for Sun-Times Media

Susan Binkley, a groundskeeper at the Aquatorium in Miller, stands near a statue of aviation pioneer Octave Chanute. | Jeff Manes~for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 24, 2013 6:07AM



“I never spent more than 30 cents for lunch in my life.”

— S.S. Kresge

My chat with Susan Binkley took place at the Aquatorium in the Miller neighborhood of Gary on the shore of Lake Michigan. It was a gorgeous day, and she traveled by bicycle for the interview.

Binkley, 59, is a widow who has raised two adult children and is a member of the Miller Garden Club.

***

“I was born at Mercy Hospital in Gary,” Binkley began. “We lived in Glen Park. I graduated from Lew Wallace High School.”

Childhood memories of Gary?

“I remember getting on the bus on Ridge Road and taking that downtown with my grandmother. We would go shopping at Goldblatt’s, (J.C.) Penney’s, Gordon’s and Kresge’s. My mom would have me pick up her Bunco cards at Kresge’s Five and Dime.

“Goldblatt’s had the lunch counter with the bar stools. I always got the tomato stuffed with tuna salad. That was a big deal to sit on the bar stool. You could walk up to the counter and order a pound of chocolate covered raisins. They sold lunch meat cut by the butcher. There were kegs of dill pickles. This was all before the malls were even thought of.”

A different era. Anything else?

“I remember wanting to ride in the back of the bus. My grandmother said, ‘No, we have to sit up here. That’s for other people back there. The bus was still segregated in the 1950s.”

Maiden name?

“Sorba. It’s Ukrainian. My great-grandparents and grandparents all came over on the boat together. My great-grandparents didn’t like it here and moved back to the old country. They never adjusted. My grandparents stayed.”

You have a connection with Sumava Resorts near the Kankakee River in extreme northern Newton County.

“Back in the ‘50s, my family won lots 18 and 19 in a drawing. I remember going to Sumava as a little girl. The property wasn’t right on the river, but it was flood plain. You couldn’t build on those lots. They were for camping. I remember a small store or bakery.”

I lived above that bakery as a kid; it also served as the post office.

“Years later, my brother tried to give the lots back to the county or the town, but nobody wanted it because we were still paying taxes on the land. He ended up giving the lots to his neighbor across the street.”

College?

“I was a seven-and-a-half year bachelor student at Indiana University Northwest. I started out a psychology major. My original idea was to work with chemical imbalances that cause psychological disorders. But, I would’ve had to get a PhD which would have taken another six years going to school part time. I was a 29-year old freshman to begin with. I thought, ‘Wow, I could get my doctorate and my social security on the same day.’ I switched majors and earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts..

“I also got involved with the school newspaper and worked about every job there was including editor. I did a lot of photography. Eventually, I worked for the Post-Tribune for five years in advertising design. It was actually a union job as an engraver.”

The Miller Garden Club?

“We keep up the planters along Lake Street. We did all the planting here at the Aquatorium, the Old Town Hall, the South Shore station gardens, the library, and the fire station. We like to use native species. I enjoy gardening and landscaping.”

Miller?

“Miller is an amazing community. We can do so much with so little. And we are a melting pot. We don’t see racial colors here – just artistic and environmental colors, along with a few colorful characters.

“We seem to draw the creative types here: visual, literary, musical and performance arts, along with teachers from all walks of life. Miller has always been a magnet for creativity. We have many actors, opera singers and symphony musicians living here now.”

***

I like Millerites. Binkley also is a pet and house sitter who has been known to take the elderly back and forth for their cancer treatments. It’s people like her who make the neighborhood such a quaint and scenic place.



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