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Lincoln's DeJuan Gillis nears the bar on a high jump attempt Thursday at the Evansville Central Regional.

'The heart of Indiana government'

Streaming rays of bright afternoon sun shone through the wavy windows of Grouseland Friday and onto the backs and shoulders of local elected officials yet again, city council members giving nod to predecessors who came long, long before.

“This is the heart of Indiana government,” said city council president Tim Salters excitedly. “Why wouldn’t we want to meet here? I absolutely love it.”

City council members last year opted to meet on the porch of the William Henry Harrison mansion at 3 W. Scott St. This year, they moved inside to the original council chambers, a room where Harrison himself would have met with legislators and dignitaries alike more than 200 years ago.

The meeting last year served as a kickoff to the annual Spirit of Vincennes Rendezvous, and when invited back for a second time, Salters said they jumped at the chance to relive a bit of local history.

“Vincennes loves its history,” Salters said, “so we have to lean into that.

“And being able to do something here once a year, showcasing what we have, the investment we’ve made and continue to make into Grouseland, it’s wonderful.”

Grouseland, too, only recently underwent a more than $1.2 million restoration designed by New York’s Mesick Cohen Wilson and Baker. The project focused largely on the home’s first floor as well as some exterior masonry and a complete reconstruction of both its front and side porches.

The project, too, gave some love to much of the home’s woodwork, saw its original windows replaced with new, glass blown ones and a whole host of other details.

Then nearly a year ago, Lisa Ice-Jones, the Grouseland Foundation’s executive director, announced that the organization had secured a $250,000 grant from an “anonymous Kentucky foundation,” money to finish out the mansion’s interior with the appropriate furnishings, things like period-correct wallpaper, draperies, paint and even bedding.

Candlelit tours of the mansion will begin at 7:30 p.m. tonight as part of the 47th annual Spirit of Vincennes Rendezvous, held today and Sunday at the French Commons.

• • •

City council members made quick work of rather little business on Friday during their meeting at Grouseland.

Expected to be on their agenda was an amendment to an existing ordinance that would close public parks from midnight to 5 a.m., but Chris Moore, superintendent of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, reportedly asked that it be taken off the table for consideration.

Moore two weeks ago went before members asking that the parks be closed to the public from dusk to dawn in an effort to curb loitering by local youth, especially at Gregg Park, and a rash of crime that had come with it.

The council kicked the proposed amendment to its Parks and Public Spaces Committee for further discussion; members volleyed ideas for nearly two hours before deciding to recommend to the full council that the parks be closed from midnight to 5 p.m.

Moore, at the culmination of that meeting, expressed his frustration with the committee’s decision.

The current ordinance actually closes the parks from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., but those hours have really never been enforced. He wanted more restricted hours, not looser ones, he told the committee.

Then adding a bit of urgency to the issue was a drive-by shooting that occurred at Lester Square Park during the committee meeting; while Gregg Park has seen the most issues in recent months, none of the parks have been without incident, police and parks officials have said.

Just before 8 p.m. on May 18, police say a passenger inside a vehicle pulled up to the intersection of Ninth and Church streets and fired a gun at a group of individuals inside the adjacent Lester Square Park.

No one was injured, and detectives were able to find the person responsible, a juvenile, within hours of the incident. Then, just this week, police said they arrested a second juvenile in connection to the shooting.

That shooting followed another, similar incident at Gregg Park weeks before wherein someone reported that a shot was fired into their vehicle as they drove by the park near Washington Avenue and Niblack Boulevard.

Some time after, police reported the arrest of some juveniles in connection with that shooting as well.

No one was injured then either.

Both incidents, however, occurred during the evening hours, not late at night. Parks officials and police have said the primary issues, particularly at Gregg Park, have been reckless driving, underage drinking, vandalism and, sometimes, battery.

Ryan Lough, president of the Parks and Public Spaces Committee, reported to city council members during their brief meeting Friday that he planned to continue pursuing a solution to the problem despite the original amendment being pulled from consideration.

Now that they’re aware there are problems, they should persist, he said, indicating that the committee would likely draft its own amendment to current legislation.

Council members, too, discussed at length other possible solutions, everything from putting gates up to an increased police presence, additional security cameras and even more aggressive lighting.

“We had a lot of good discussion during that meeting,” he said. “And while I don’t have an update yet, I am working on it, and I look forward to having more discussions with (parks officials) about what can be done.

“As soon as I have (an amended ordinance) completed, I’ll make sure it gets in front of us.”

South Knox to tap new superintendent

Members of the South Knox School Corp. Board of Trustees next month will hold a public hearing on a potential contract for a new superintendent.

Posted to the school corporation’s website is a public hearing notice for 6 p.m. on June 13 at the middle-high school’s cafeteria, located at 6136 Indiana 61.

The notice says the school board will meet to “discuss and hear objections to and support for a proposed superintendent’s contract.”

The candidate is named as Jeff Cochren, the current principal at Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City, a school within the North Spencer County School Corp.

The proposed contract indicates that, should he accept, his employment would begin on July 1 and be effective through June 30, 2026.

After being presented to the public during the hearing on June 13, the notice indicates that the board will then vote on it during their next regularly-scheduled meeting, which has been set for 7 p.m. on June 20. That meeting, too, will be held at the middle-high school’s cafeteria.

Previous meetings have been held in the activities room at the elementary school.

The school board began its search for a new superintendent in early March after voting 4-1 to buy out the remaining year in current superintendent Tim Grove’s contract.

Grove’s last official day is June 30. He’s been with the school corporation for 11 years.

The board’s decision to buy out Grove’s contract was, however, met with much opposition from teachers and parents alike, members’ decision to do so coming even after a standing-room only crowd pleaded with them to change their minds and keep Grove on.

Tensions have remained high in recent weeks as dozens of teachers and parents continue to diligently attend board meetings and monitor closely its efforts to find a new superintendent.

Many asked repeatedly to have a handful of administrators be involved in the interview process, citing trust that was broken as a result of the persistent silence surrounding the board’s decision to buy out Grove’s contract.

Board members, however, have said they are following the advice of special legal counsel through the Indiana State School Boards Association and have opted to keep interviews private so as to also protect the identity of those candidates who applied.

Too, board members, put out a survey to garner feedback from teachers and parents about the kind of qualities and qualifications they’d like to see in a new superintendent. And while board members did decline to include any administrators in their search, they have said they weighed heavily the results of that survey.

Board member Michael Edwards earlier this month said that they’d received more than 200 responses that were being incorporated into questions asked of candidates during the interview process, which officially began earlier this month.

Board member Alicia “Bunny” Houchins cast the only dissenting vote to separate with Grove’s contract and has maintained her support for him throughout this tumultuous process.

The other school board members, for the most part, have remained silent and refused to answer community members’ questions about what led to the separation.

Many teachers and parents, as well as Houchins herself, have expressed their belief that it had something to do with unrest following action taken against the boys varsity basketball coach, specifically an incident on the court during a game in January.

Most think the riff between the superintendent and the board began when Grove opted to penalize coach David Burkett, suspending him for two games.

The board, however, overrode the administration’s decision, allowing him to coach. They put forth the separation agreement just about a month later.

Back when I was a kid...

Last Sunday, as I soaked up the sunshine from my back deck, dogs snoozing at my feet, the breeze blew in a familiar childhood sound in the key of C.

From blocks away I heard the tinny sounds of “The Entertainer,” a ragtime piano tune propelling itself out of the speaker that sits atop the ice cream truck.

Soon, the ice cream man was clanging his bell in time with the music, puttering along at no more than 3 miles per hour, giving every kid in the land a chance to beg their tired parents for the cold, sweet treats he had on offer.

My mouth instinctively watered at the memory of grabbing three quarters from my mom and running out to the edge of the street, making the difficult decision between an ice cream sandwich, a drumstick cone, or an orange creamsicle. Indulgences I didn’t realize could be purchased in a box at the grocery store.

Crickets, tree frogs, bees buzzing, and the songs of the ice cream truck — the first sounds of summer that ushered in my months of freedom from classroom desks and elbow macaroni and construction paper craft projects. My little body lived for summer.

• • •

Yesterday afternoon, as the youngsters next door hopped off the bus after their last day of the school year, I asked if they were excited about summer, but they seemed less than enthused.

“Not really,” the 9-year-old said, noting that her parents won’t let her have a cell phone so she’s going to be “bored.”

Her 11-year-old sister agreed, already anxious about how she could ever survive the two months of summer without a smartphone to keep her connected to her friends 24-7.

To them, I must have sounded like an old woman when I started down the path of “back when I was your age,” sharing my stories of 15-hour days of sunshine lived with wild abandon.

In the 1980s I could ride my little red Huffy bike around town for hours, the hot wind blowing through my Dorothy Hamill haircut as I peddled past the shoe factory to hit up our town’s little library or the dime store across the street. Or perhaps on to Nolting’s Grocery where my grandma would take a moment from her workday as a cashier to squeeze my cheeks and give me a Twix candy bar.

Often I would ride to the public park next to the schoolhouse, running as fast as I could while pushing the merry-go-round at top speed before jumping on and twirling in circles until I was half-sick; then springing up-and-down on the seesaw, having a ball even if I was alone.

I could have contentedly pumped my legs back-and-forth on a swing for days, going ever higher and higher, leaning back with legs outstretched while I looked up at specks of clouds floating past against the bright blue sky.

Back then, there were no regimented travel club sports teams or competitive dance squad practice schedules to keep; no luxury family vacations or going to waterparks. No computers, no cellphones.

We kids just . . . played. Sometimes together in little packs, sometimes alone.

That is not to say things were perfect, but there were plenty of perfect moments.

Summers at home meant eating ripe cherry tomatoes straight from the vine, breathing in the smell of wild green onions as Mom mowed the grass, and playing hide-and-seek with neighborhood kids and cousins until dark.

My big brother, nine years my senior, often let me follow him around, occasionally even setting up his pup tent in the backyard so we could “camp.”

We would take some Little Debbie cakes for sustenance, grab flashlights heavy enough to concuss a man, and I would slide into my Strawberry Shortcake sleeping bag. I was always afraid of the dark but always certain Bradley would guard me while I slept.

In the early morning he would pack his tackle box and I would dig in the dirt for some wriggling live bait. Bradley would grab his grownup fishing poles and I would pack my Snoopy pole and matching life jacket as we set off for our uncle Jimmy’s pond.

I loved to fish, except for how bad I felt for the little crappie or bluegill if I actually caught one — the big hook sticking out of a little mouth. Really, I just loved to cast a line and reel it back in, over-and-over again. To sit in a rowboat with my brother and hear only the click of the pole’s release, the sound of the fishing line flying out against the wind, and the ripple of the water as the bobber landed.

By mid-June I would be standing alongside my mom as we went through what seemed like endless rows of strawberries in my grandparents’ garden — my fingertips stained red by the time picking ended for the day.

But I never minded, particularly because many of those strawberries were destined to be cut, sugared, and spooned on top of homemade shortbread or angel food cake.

On Tuesdays we swam at nearby Hardy Lake, a big murky watering hole that sold the best toaster oven pizzas at the concession stand. Of course, I had no other toaster oven pizzas to compare it to, but I liked them almost as much as I liked the swimming.

Summer offered little pieces of rural heaven for my young heart and developing mind, and it’s a peaceful joy I wish more of today’s youth could experience and feel.

When the U.S. Surgeon General on Tuesday issued a warning about the “profound risk of harm” social media can have on children and adolescents, I don’t think anyone was surprised.

After all, we adults are already aware of the detrimental effects social media can have on us. Our blood pressure raises as we read hateful Facebook posts crafted by people we thought we respected. The curated lives displayed on Instagram — happy couples still seemingly in love years later, perfect families in matching outfits, the dream vacations to tropical lands — fill us with jealousy and eat at our souls. The fear of missing out when we see videos of our friends having a rousing good time without us, realizing we weren’t invited.

If adults who spend hours a day scrolling social media on their phones find their own levels of depression and anxiety increasing, how much more might those same platforms hurt the hearts and minds of young people?

The surgeon general’s advisory report notes there are clear correlations between adolescent social media use and depression and anxiety, poor sleep, online harassment, poor self-esteem, body image issues and eating disorders, especially for young girls.

Kids who spend three hours or more a day on social media platforms have double the risk of anxiety and depression.

This is not to say there isn’t value in our technological advancements and social media connections. Some kids, particularly those who are part of marginalized groups, can actually gain self confidence when linked up online with other people they can relate to.

I don’t know what the right answer is — I won’t pretend to understand the challenges of raising a youngster in today’s culture.

But what I do know for sure is that I am grateful to have grown up in “the before.” A time before smartphone screens and tablet screens started taunting kids and adults with all the life we’re missing out on, with all the ways we’re not good enough.

Kids already have enough self-doubt, so we should probably be careful about how much we allow lightning speed WiFi to propel those insecurities further.

This summer, let’s help the youngsters in our lives break free from the baggage of social media and show them the joys of simple summer pleasures: fishing poles and backyard tents, long bike rides and homemade ice cream, berry picking and pie making.

In our quest to help our kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews, perhaps we’ll rediscover the joys of living and playing in our own piece of rural heaven.