Recently I spent a day at a workshop in Kokomo, and that led to meandering Howard County.
Now, most of us know Kokomo as a place notorious for its stoplights. Traveling US 31 to northern Indiana, your journey is intersected and interrupted by the boulevards of Kokomo. On the way to where you’re going, it’s a nuisance, but on the way back, it’s a literal smorgasbord of franchise dining and retail, not to mention Starbucks.
Starting and stopping through Kokomo, especially right next to the giant Delphi plant on US 31, gives you plenty of time to ponder the auto industry, not exactly cause for joy these days. Being caught there during a shift change used to be another nuisance, but nowadays it would be rather encouraging.
My workshop was held at the Johanning Civic Center, a large building on the east side of the road, which also houses Kokomo’s Automotive Heritage Museum. I stopped in there and wandered up and down the rows of classic cars, arranged chronologically so that the rise of the industry is illustrated in lavish detail. The autos are truly beautiful, reflecting the fascination of many generations of designers and builders who worked on them over time. What family does not share in their history? My mother once told me about riding in a rumble seat, and I pointed out to a fellow visitor the treads that showed how to climb up and in. Tremendous amounts of metal, chrome, and glass went into the Buicks of the ’50s, my father’s favorites.
In another part of town, the campus of Indiana University Kokomo has been a center of culture and learning for the city, with its art gallery, festivals, and lecture series. I have enjoyed visits to the university and also to the 1891 Seiberling Mansion, home of the Howard County Historical Society, which just won the Indiana Historical Society’s Outstanding Historical Organization Award. (Nice job, Kelly!) The society’s mission statement is well expressed: “The Howard County Historical Society believes in the daily relevance of history. As the custodian of Howard County’s unique heritage, the society preserves our community’s collective experiences. In sharing that history, we foster a sense of community — connecting us to our neighbors, the past to the future, and our home to the world.”
Like travelers at the intersections of Kokomo, the community now faces a crossroads between the past and the future, between its unique heritage and the widening world. I’d be first in line to support the I-69 extension to Evansville, but I’m not so sure we should bypass Kokomo.