Keating Competition 2012

2012 Keating Competition Winners And Finalists

Katie Mettler of Indiana University won the 26th Annual Thomas R. Keating Feature Writing Program in Indianapolis with her story of a former karate master now homeless after being seriously injured in a mugging. Mettler was awarded first place and prize money of $2,500 for her feature story.

Finishing in second and earning $1,250 was Victoria Ison of Ball State University, and Claire Wiseman of Indiana University earned third place and $750.

The Fountain Square Historic District in Indianapolis was the site and subject matter for the Keating program’s 2012 Writing Challenge. Keating finalists were dropped off at Fountain Square at 11:30 a.m. Saturday morning and given four hours to develop and write a feature story. The Indianapolis Star provided space in its newsroom for the finalists to craft their stories.

Jeffrey H. Smulyan, chairman, president and CEO of Emmis Communications, was the keynote speaker. He spoke about how the media need to find new business models for their products.

First Place: Katie Mettler, Indiana University

Joel Munger is a pastry chef, a Taekwondo master, a brother and a boyfriend.

He is also homeless.

Since a violent mugging in 2005 that caused him severe brain trauma, Joel’s life has been a series of landmarks: Family Dollar, Joe’s Cycles, Roberts Park United Methodist Church, and Fountain Square’s bright blue namesake.

He uses them to remember.

When you’ve been hit over the head by a concrete brick, recollection isn’t always easy. Neither is navigation.

At 52, Joel navigates life the best he can, usually atop his charcoal and yellow USA Murray bicycle. He got the bike from “Maureen the bike lady,” a woman from the Indianapolis Society of St. Vincent DePaul who gives bikes to those experiencing homelessness.

Usually Joel is cruising around town on his pride and joy, but not today.

Today he has a flat tire.

Walking beside his limping transportation, the thin, smiling, gentle man pondered how he was going to get the wheels turning again, both on his bike and in his mind.

The mugging was sometime in 2005, but his memory is still fuzzy. His phone didn’t have the credit and his mind didn’t have the time to find the answer.

Thus is the norm since that night.

Joel was walking to a friend’s house for dinner, an expensive ring on his finger and a couple hundred dollars in his pocket. The alley was dark, and Joel was unprepared.

The man approached him from behind, Joel said, hitting him over the head with a concrete block.

Losing his balance, Joel thought a quick prayer.

“Lord give me the strength of my father.”

His Taekwondo training kicked in, and he bounced up in the ready position.

Apparently his attacker wasn’t looking for a fight, and he fled.

Bleeding in excess, the then 45-year-old wandered on to his friend’s home, where they kept him awake all night for observation.

He never got stitches or a medical diagnosis. He couldn’t afford it, no insurance.

“If you go to a hospital, you better have a lot of money, insurance or both,” he said. “So that wasn’t going to happen.”

Since then he has struggled to hold a job. At the time of the attack, he was working in bakeries across the city and teaching Taekwondo. Once, he even worked as the pastry chef at the Columbia Club in downtown Indianapolis.

Now he can’t remember simple things, like important dates and names, let alone recipes and complex Taekwondo techniques.

His sister Elizabeth helped pay his rent for several years, until her husband succumb to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Joel told her he would be fine on his own.

But he wasn’t, and a little more than a year ago, he lost his home.

“I didn’t know what to do,” he said.

Raised Methodist with a deep spiritual background, Joel turned to Roberts Park United Methodist Church, 401 N. Delaware Street in downtown Indianapolis.

He moved from shelters to missions, and finally found a half-way house in Fountain Square.

Midtown Mental Health-First Home, 931 Woodlawn, Indianapolis, became his home.

As the season changes from fall to winter, Joel has hope for what comes next.

The election last Tuesday helped.

A fan of President Barack Obama’s, Joel was relieved when he woke up Wednesday to his face and not Mitt Romney’s on the front page of the Indianapolis Star.

He took notes in the months leading up to the election. He had to. He wanted to remember the candidates’ names when he entered the polling booth to cast his vote.

Joel is meticulous and thoughtful, both in actions and words.

“I should be able to answer simple questions and remember simple things,” he said. “But sometimes I just can’t, and it’s embarrassing.”

He sat on the back curb of First Home, blue rubber gloves covering his large knuckles and calloused palms, the only evidence of his Taekwondo life pre-2005. He disassembles the back tire of his Murray.

Pumping air into the leaky inter tube, he soaks in the warm rays of the mid-afternoon sun.

He waves to a member of the church band in the parking lot he cleans, next to the cold stone building where he lays his head at night.

As he speaks of his brain injury and the MRI that will tell him how to fix it, he pauses to investigate the tube.

“Oh, I think I got it,” he hesitates. “I did, hot dog!”

Little victories, he says.

“I ain’t about to give up, I’m not even going to give up on myself,” he says. “A lot of people are homeless because they’re knuckleheads. Those are pretty few are far between from what I understand.”

“No one can help you unless you give them the tools. Just like this bike, I couldn’t fix it unless somebody gave me the tools.”

And he rolled the bike across the lot, the wheels turning once again.

Second place: Victoria Ison, Ball State University

The Fountain Square neighborhood of Indianapolis is undergoing some change. It’s been undergoing change for a while, actually.

Residents Denise Wilcox and James Stone were raised on Prospect Street. They still live there, in a house right next door to the one Stone grew up in.

“I’ve been everywhere,” Stone said, recalling service in the Army in Vietnam and months spent in Arizona and Colorado, among other states. “But I always come back home. I like always having my house to come back to.”

Stone and Wilcox remember a childhood where stepping outside meant stepping into a game of football or hide and seek with the neighborhood kids. They rode their bikes up and down the streets and smoked cigarettes on the steps of St. Patrick’s parish church, where their parents couldn’t see them.

Then Stone got drafted and Wilcox got married. He went to Vietnam; she moved to Florida. It was more than 30 years before the childhood friends met again. Both had been married, had children and lost spouses. They had a lot of catching up to do, but it wasn’t a tough transition back into knowing each other.

“She just came up behind me one day when I was out there on the sidewalk, grabbed my hand and said, ‘You fool, you’re coming with me,’” Stone said.

“No, I didn’t and you know it,” Wilcox protested, coming in from the kitchen and laughing at Stone. Then, sobering a little, she said, “We grew up together. It just felt right.”

Standing together, Stone and Wilcox fill most of the space in the living room of their home on 932 Woodlawn Ave. The width of the house is only about three arm spans across, and the inside has 70s-style wood paneling and more knick-knacks than will fit.

Stone admitted his home is no palace, but said he loves it anyway. The front yard is filled with birdfeeders, wind chimes and spotless garden gnomes – clear evidence of the time Stone spends caring for it.

He owns the house next door, too. That’s 934 Woodlawn Ave., where his mother and grandmother raised his five siblings and himself.

“I’ve got memories; of course I’ve got memories. I’ve been here all my life,” Stone said. “But who’s going to take care of it all when I die?”

That concern is a perhaps more pressing for Stone than it might be for the average 60-something. That’s because he’s battling cancer.

The disease is still in its early stages and Stone, who lost his mother last month to old age, doesn’t want to talk about it. There’s hope for recovery – enough so that he and Wilcox have started looking for other places to live.

It’s not that they don’t love Fountain Square – they’ve watched the neighborhood change over the years as it dealt with drug and crime problems and the construction of nearby 1-70 and the demolition of houses that accompanied that. They’ve seen businesses come and go and watched family and friends die or move away.

But it’s the current situation that has them worried.

“They’re trying to turn it into another Broad Ripple,” Wilcox said. “It’s not.”

“It’s changed so much now,” Stone added, looking up from the lottery ticket he was scratching and gazing almost forlornly out the window. “I can’t keep up with it.”

Little things bother Wilcox and Stone – little things such as how long the re-done stoplight at the intersection of Prospect and Virginia streets takes to change, or all the new shop owners who aren’t friendly to long-time residents. And the parking problems on their street – well, that’s not a little thing.

“There ain’t no places to park,” Stone said, still looking out the window, and glaring now, at the church across the street. “You can’t even have company on the weekends; the Spanish come and take every single space and they hit your cars and don’t even apologize for it.”

Stone used to attend St. Patrick’s Catholic parish. Over the years, however, the demographics of the church have changed.

“It’s not that they’re Hispanic,” Wilcox said. “There are plenty of nice Hispanics and it doesn’t have anything to do with race at all. It’s just that they’re rude, and they don’t leave any place to park.”

The two talk for a good ten minutes about the parking problems; it’s clearly a conversation they’ve had many times before. Stories about dent bumpers turn into stories about stolen license plates, which turn into stories about drunk and rescued pastors and other neighborhood adventures had over the years.

As much as Stone proclaims his bitterness and readiness to move on, Wilcox doesn’t seem ready to let him. Her parents, in the eighties now, still live down the street in the house she grew up in. They tell stories about the neighborhood how the neighborhood was in their parents’ time, and live in and alongside houses that were built in the nineteenth century.

Like it or not, their lives are built on stories. Leaning against the living room doorway with a lit cigarette in her hand, Wilcox shares one and its accompanying life lesson that her time away from Fountain Square taught her.

“Don’t make any long-range plans to live somewhere forever, because there may be somewhere you just fall in love with, you know?”

Third Place: Claire Wiseman, Indiana University

The sunshine house on Morris Street is not quite finished.

The porch is still a skeleton frame and the back stoop is an assembly of cinderblocks. On Saturday, the metal roofing materials were propped against a tree in the backyard.

Remodeler Adan Segura assembled a glass shower door in the backyard. “I’m behind like crazy,” Segura said.

But the siding was up, and it was yellow, and really more than yellow. It was egg-yolk or sunshine with red accents and white window frames. Next to its white and beige neighbors, it stands out.

“It’s bright,” owner Billie Jo Bishop said, leaning on the counter in her kitchen. “I say that it’s like having sunshine every day.”

She sees the house as a symbol of positive change. A chance to help revitalize Fountain Square and improve her family’s lifestyle.

Across the street, at the Family Dollar, cashier Penny Shepard begs to differ.

“We’re waiting for the double arches to get delivered,” Shepard said.

Bishop and her boyfriend Jeff Hinrich bought the house on a bank sale in May. They moved in six weeks ago. Before Morris Street, they lived near Lucas Oil Stadium, and before that, they were thoroughly suburban. Bishop wanted to get her daughter out of Brownsburg, Indiana.

“I had this grand idea that I would just give her different opportunities to see that the world was bigger than just suburbia,” Bishop said.

She stood in her newly-finished kitchen and handed the family’s golden-doodle, daisy, a treat to quiet her down. Fountain Square, Bishop said, gave the family exciting opportunities.

“It’s a different lifestyle. You think that out in suburbia that it’s a lower pace, a slower pace, but it’s not. It’s all about how do you compete with the Joneses, and in the city it’s about just be yourself and accept everyone else.”

They want to help the area’s revitalization. They eat locally, shop locally, and plan to cultivate a community garden in the vacant lot next door. They want families like theirs to move into the area.

“It’s not just a hipster place,” Bishop said. “Because I am far from hipster.”

But their “grandiose” plans for gentrification are not as sure as they were at the start.

Every time someone walks past and chuckles, she wonders.

She wonders: will the community resent their changes? Will they think the family is uppity?

They tease her about the “Ronald McDonald House,” but Bishop thinks it’s all in good fun.

Remodeling and decorating the house has allowed her to collect and combine and express many of the things she likes.

The walls are decorated with her daughter’s artwork. Upstairs, the craft room is almost ready for the projects that bounce around her head. And the house’s exterior fulfils a dream.

“I’ve always known that I wanted a yellow and white house,” Bishop said.

Despite their chosen siding, she insists the feedback has been thoroughly positive. Now, they just need the house to be finished.

“It’s about ‘how do we just change our lifestyle, get different experiences for our daughter, and that was our idea,” Bishop said. “Now we just, we have no idea what we’re doing now.”

She looked toward the back, where, hidden from view, Segura was installing the glass shower door.

“We have no idea.”

Across the street, the Family Dollar accepts Mastercard and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Stamps and Medicare and Medicaid and Visa.

At the cash register, Shepard rang 25 dollars worth of cleaning supplies and talked about the house across the street.

“Honestly, it’s ugly,” Shepard said. “It’s in a historic neighborhood and they took a historic house and turned it into that.”

Shepard’s said the family should have restored the hundred-year-old house to its former glory, rather than remodeling it. That’s what she would have done.

Shepard and her daughter had hoped to buy the house when it went up for bank sale. They’d even peeked in the windows, imagining the possibilities. But Bishop and Hinrich beat them to it.

So every time she goes in for a shift, and every time her daughter comes to visit, she’s faced with a glaring reminder of what could have been.

“I mean, that would be like me going to an ultra-modern neighborhood where they’ve got nothing but ultra-modern houses and building a Victorian,” Shepard said.

Customer Lisa Cox said she agreed. It’s an eyesore, she said.

“All of the other houses are dull and then all of a sudden, BAM, there’s the sun,” Cox said

A man wandered toward the cash register, large headphones resting around his neck.

“Howdy!” Shepard said.

“Robs..” he muttered, offering less than a word before wandering away toward the tinsel display.

“Yep,” she said. “That’s my neighborhood.”

The family hopes their house will be finished before the beginning of December. Segura is working against impending bad weather, and he knows Hinrichs and Bishop are getting frustrated with his slow pace.

Still, he said, he has to take the time to do it right. He likes this house. He even designed the siding.

“It’s something different, something nice,” Segura said. “This is kind of the only house around here that has this kind of design.”

He’s remodeled 16 houses in this neighborhood through his company MAS Remodeling Corp. He sees Fountain Square as the next Broadripple, or better, because of the people who are buying houses here.

Segura finished installing the shower door with the help of one of his employees. They cleaned up and stood outside, looking for the next project. They need to finish the deck, and the roof. And he’ll make the deck a nice, neutral gray.

“We already have a bright color on the house, whatever we put on next is gonna have to be soft tones, just to help” Segura said. “Otherwise, it’s gonna be too much.”

For this year’s winners, see the main Keating Competition page.  The annual writing contest pays homage to the late Indianapolis Star journalist Tom Keating, a beloved columnist who told the stories of everyday people.