It was a Dark and Stormy Night… Whispers Estate


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It may be a cliché to say it was a dark and stormy night, but in this instance as we pulled into the eerily empty downtown of Mitchell, Indiana on our way to tour Whispers Estates, it literally WAS a dark and stormy night. In fact, it rained for the better part of two and a half hours as my 19-year-old daughter and I made the drive south of Bedford but, as we were headed to an actual purported haunted house, we didn’t really mind. It only added to the experience.

Whispers Estates in Mitchell, Indiana

Whispers Estates in Mitchell, Indiana

Frankly, as we crawled to a halt on Warren Street, we both realized this place didn’t need any help from Mother Nature. If spooky has a poster child, it’s Whispers Estates.

Pulling up in the dark, it wasn’t difficult finding the place. Just picture a typical block near the downtown of any small Indiana burg with its large older homes in various shapes and sizes and you’re half way there. Now picture one of those large houses standing silent, dark and foreboding with only creepy purple light streaming from its street lamps and you’ve crossed over to the other side. Whispers Estates announces its presence in silence and – lucky you – you get to pray that silence is the only thing you hear. Given its past history of growls, knocks, self-closing doors, childish singing, falling objects, mysterious footsteps and vague whispers – hence the name, Whispers Estates – before the night is over, you may be begging for a little silence from beyond the grave yourself.

And did I mention the earthquake shaking toilets? Which, in this instance, have nothing to do with either my husband or too many refried beans? More on that in a moment.


Naturally, there’s a funeral home across the street.

We parked on the street, somewhat unsure of what to do as I had forgotten when I registered for our hour-long flashlight tour that we were to meet in the garage in the backyard. I did, however, remember that we were to wear athletic shoes. No hard sole shoes are allowed on any flashlight tours or mini investigations to reduce background noise. This became a reoccurring and somewhat unsettling theme during our visit to Whispers Estates. The home’s owner, Van Renier, and his tour guides are very serious about the goings on at Whispers Estates and, collectively, they take great pains to explain away and debunk ANY unusual occurrences. Their attitude was so upfront about what wasn’t paranormal that, I’ll admit, I was impressed. And then, I’ll admit too, I was nervous.

If they voluntarily explain every odd noise, just what, pray tell, can we attribute to the UNexplained ones? That had me pondering.

My daughter, Jackie – a lover of all things ghostly – stood back on the sidewalk as I climbed the steps to the front porch where a solitary rocker sat. At any moment I expected it to start rocking on its own, but fortunately, it cooperated which was good since I forgotten to put on a pair of Depends. Naturally, a funeral home stands cattycorner to the house and, in this dark little town which seems to have forgotten to pay the light bill, it was the only building well lit. Turning back toward the house, I tried peering through the windows, but could see nothing as they were blacked out. Terrific, I thought. Bring on the dark.

Posters highlight past experiences from visitors to Whispers Estates

Posters highlight past experiences from visitors to Whispers Estates

Back on the sidewalk, we were joined by three middle-aged couples who didn’t know each other, but who all happened to live in Avon. Since there is safety in numbers, we proceeded as a group through the rain to the backyard and entered the garage which serves as a makeshift launching pad to the supernatural world beyond.

There we signed in, handed over our liability release waivers – which declared us to be healthy and which gave the folks at Whispers Estates permission to seek emergency medical treatment if we needed it – we selected our flashlights from a basket on the table, and sat down to await our tour. As we sat, we chatted with the guides while also looking at posters displaying pictures of past visitors who apparently got more their money’s worth. From a police officer with a large bite mark on his arm to a teenager with three strange, red scratches on the back of his neck, evidence mounted that this wasn’t your standard, run-of-the-mill, high-school-fundraiser, pop-up-only-at-Halloween type of experience.

And naturally it was after I read the description of some earthquake-like experiences on the toilet that I heard my daughter ask innocently enough, “Is there a bathroom I can use?”

Great. No more soda for you, grasshopper.

Like most old garages, the one at Whispers Estates is potty free, so one of the tour guides led us through the back door of the house to the small bathroom just off the kitchen. Fortunately, there was a light, but bright as it was, we still looked around nervously while awaiting a good shaking as we took turns doing our business. Had something happened, at least we would have been in the right place.

Returning to the garage, we joined the other six for a lesson on the house’s less than pleasant history. Note – I stuck around and was able to hear this same introduction to the 10 p.m. tour group which was comprised of young girls (who I would guess to be about 10-years-old) and their parents. As I sat in the background listening to this same introduction, I realized that the guide was downplaying certain aspects of the goings on in the house – and rightly so. Once more I was impressed with the staff at Whispers Estates. Apparently, when you give tours at a house that is really haunted, the goal is to not work at scaring the guests. After all, why make the effort when you can let the house do it for you?

My daughter, Jackie, in her element.

My daughter, Jackie, in her element.

Flashlights in hand, the eight of us finally proceeded through the backdoor. One poor man had made the unfortunate error of expressing a lack of enthusiasm for all things paranormal so our first tour guide nominated him to open the doors of each room as we entered. Another victim – I mean, visitor – was nominated to shut the doors of each room behind us. Quickly, we proceeded through the main hallway to the parlor where we sat down and the real tour began.

Rachael Gibbon perished in the house as a child and apparently never left.

Rachael Gibbons perished in the house as a child and apparently never left.

For the record, I’m not going to give away any of the tour highlights. Each room is unique and comes with its own story. For example, in the parlor we were first introduced to Rachel, the young adopted daughter of Dr. John Gibbons and his wife Jessie. One Christmas eve, Rachel snuck downstairs to peek at the presents, but her nightgown caught fire in the parlor and she died a few days later. Mother Jessie died in the master bedroom of tuberculosis. Four other people are also known to have died in the house, not counting any patients of Dr. Gibbons, who apparently couldn’t keep his hands to himself.

The flashlight tour covers the house from attic to basement including a red room that had each of us muttering, “redrum” from Stephen King’s “The Shining.” The good doctor’s exam room did give me a frightful start when I noticed the scale on the floor, mostly because it reminded me of the horribly hateful one in my own bathroom back home. My daughter nearly fainted when she spied an actual rotary phone and may still need counseling.

My teenaged daughter still has nightmares about this old rotary phone

My teenaged daughter still has nightmares about this old rotary phone

As we toured the house, the three women from Avon openly called to Rachel throughout the house, but heard nothing in reply. The house’s owner, Van Renier, joined us at the end of the tour and asked that none of the child spirits be provoked. Van is protective of his young spirit, though not so with the one referred to as “Big Black” who may be responsible for the scar over his right eye – tangible evidence from his own encounter when he was shoved down the stairs of the attic.

Our tour was the first of the night at 8 p.m. and, for the most part, we survived it unscathed. The 9 p.m. tour apparently was not so lucky, given that a large shadow followed them up those same attic stairs responsible for Renier’s scar and, while the group stood in the “redrum” red room, they could hear soft knocking on the door. The guides told us that, as the night progresses, activity picks up so if you’re deadset – excuse my pun – on having an experience, the later the better.

As for me, I will admit, I’ve never had an encounter with anything paranormal. But I’m not saying I don’t believe. Two people whom I have known all of my life and who will remain anonymous have had experiences and they are two of the most honest and least imaginative people I know. As for me, nothing.

Of course there had to be clown dolls....yikes!

Of course there had to be clown dolls….yikes!

I shared that with Van who did give me the greatest chill of the night. As we discussed his own experiences in the house which have led him to believe and my lack of paranormal experience, he said, “You can’t un-ring the bell. Do you really want to fall down the rabbit hole? Because once it happens, you can’t go back and pretend it didn’t.”

Eventually, everyone has their “Oh sh*t” moment. Now that’s a scary thought.

For me, it has yet to happen, I think. In Jessie’s bedroom I experienced a feeling – I won’t give it away so as to not prejudice you should you go – just as our guide began to describe this very same feeling. Was it paranormal? I don’t know, though I do plan to go back. I don’t know, however, if I really want to thoroughly ring that bell. But curiosity is a wicked mistress so I’m sure at some point, I will go back.

I left with a t-shirt stating, "I was examined by Dr. John."

I left with a t-shirt stating, “I was examined by Dr. John.”

If you would like to un-ring that bell for yourself, Whispers Estates offers flashlight tours hourly from 8 p.m. to midnight and mini-investigations starting at midnight through either 3 or 4 a.m. (the times change from month to month) beginning at the end of August and running every weekend through October. Halloween is primetime so make your reservations early as tours and investigations fill up fast and the number of participants is limited. While regular tour hours end after Halloween, Whispers Estates is happy to schedule visitations for groups of 10 or more at other times throughout the year. My suggestion? Even if there are only seven or eight of you, given them a call and ask. They may just accommodate you.

Flashlight tours run $10 per person and, in my opinion, are well worth it even if you don’t end up wetting yourself in the process. Mini investigations run $10 per hour per person, thus an investigation from midnight to 3 a.m. will cost you $30 per person, and 4 a.m. will cost you $40. I haven’t participated in a mini investigation yet so I can’t tell you what goes on, but it is definitely on the bucket list and you can get a sense for these investigations on YouTube.

For more information on Whispers Estates and to schedule a tour or mini investigation, check out the website at:

To follow the mansion’s haunted happenings like the Whispers Estates Facebook page at:!/whispersestate?fref=ts

Next Week – I discover the wondrous exhibits at the Wayne County Historical Museum in Richmond.

Follow me on Twitter at or email at

Jackie and I, pre-haunted house tour.

Jackie and I, pre-haunted house tour.

By Robin Winzenread Fritz

Reprinted with permission from the Greensburg Daily News and Indiana Media Group

Winding My Way Through Indiana’s Wineries


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I’m having a fruit fit and we’re not talking salad. I can’t decide whether I want blueberry, blackberry, red raspberry, cherry, plum or apple. And let’s not forget grape. Fortunately, as part of the Rushville Psi Iota Xi Fall Wine Tour, I can sample each delicious fruit-filled wine before I decide which – or even how many – bottles to buy and take home. And trust me, it’s a difficult decision. I’m currently drooling over the blueberry at Ertel Cellars Winery just a few miles southeast of Batesville, and we’ve only just started the tour. Plus, I have a hankering for merlot, the day is young, the wine samples will be plentiful, and I have to carry what I buy.

Gleaming bottles of wine at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

Gleaming bottles of wine at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

Good thing I work out.

And good thing the Psi Iota Xi wine tour comes with a chauffeured tour bus because, if past history is any indication, I’m a cheap date and will need it. Fortunately, Psi Iota Xi has pulled out all of the stops with the tour I’m on, and it’s doing the same again with its upcoming 2014 fall wine tour highlighting three area wineries, including Buck Creek Winery, Simmons Winery and Mallow Run Winery. This year’s tour is set for Saturday, November 1st, and, in addition to the tour bus transportation, it includes a sampling of wines at each location, one meal and prizes in addition to garden and back room tours.

What can I say? Sign me up – again!

Also, take note, you may receive a free wine trail wine glass at each location. We did on our tour, but I’m not sure if that’s part of the November 1st tour. As the glasses are cute and, well, are wine glasses, it’s worth asking about at the first stop. Still, cute as they are, they pale in comparison to my new favorite plastic wine glass with straw and a lid to keep bugs out, courtesy of my friend, Michelle, who introduced me to wine touring by bus in all of its many glories. Now THAT’S a friend!

Vats of future goodness doing their thing at Ertel Cellars Winery

Vats of future goodness doing their thing at Ertel Cellars Winery

The three wineries to be toured on November 1st are just some of the seven wineries that make up the “Indy Wine Trail,” one of five designated wine trails in Indiana. The wine trails stretch from Braiali Winery in far northeastern Indiana (on the “Wineries of Indiana’s North East Trail”) to the Pepper’s Ridge Winery in the Evansville area (part of the “Hoosier Wine Trail”) and include various parts in between. The Indy Wine Trail – not to be confused with the “Indiana Wine Trail” – also includes urban wineries in Indianapolis such as Chateau Thomas in addition to Simmons, the furthest south on the Indy Wine Trail, near Columbus.

The five Indiana wine trails are the brain child of the Indiana Wine Grape Council and were created to foster collaboration between regional wineries in an effort to offer customers a localized wine experience. Visitors can travel from winery to winery to learn about the various wines produced in the state with wine tastings offered regularly at each location. As the trails include visits to several wineries, everyone is encouraged to designate a driver – such as our poor tour bus operator who gets to travel to each winery without touching a single drop so have mercy and tip him or her well – and drink responsibly.

The tasting room and restaurant at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

The tasting room and restaurant at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

At Buck Creek Winery in southeastern Marion County, Psi Iota Xi tour guests will sample from Buck Creek’s large collection of red and white wines and will get a private tour of the back room. With names like Dew Drop (a sweet white with a hint of peach and citrus) and Christmas Cherry (a vibrant red made from sweet and tart cherries), deciding which to buy at Buck Creek may also have you eenie, meenie, minie, mowing your way around a half dozen bottles too. Or maybe that’s just me.

At Simmons Winery, tour guests will enjoy lunch while sampling wines and wandering the winery’s beautiful gardens. Located on the family’s 115-year-old farm in northeastern Bartholomew County, Simmons also offers a market during the summer months and features pumpkins come fall. With red, white and blush wines available, Simmons – like many of Indiana’s wineries – also makes several specialty wines, including a sweet dessert wine, Vidal Ice, and Winter Spice, a sweet red Marechal Foch combined with brown sugar and mulling spices which is great served warm, especially during the holidays.

Decisions, decisions.....

Decisions, decisions…..

At Mallow Run Winery located near Bargersville in Johnson County, try the Dry Traminette which is made completely from grapes grown in Indiana. A dry white with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and apple, it’s perfect for a fall stroll around the grounds. And, like many of Indiana’s other wineries, Mallow Run offers several sweet fruit wines, including its number one selling rhubarb wine, a zippy little number with a tart zing, not to mention a gold medal “best in show” award from this year’s Indy International Wine Competition.

As for the aforementioned Dry Traminette, that wine is actually produced from a grape specifically cultivated to grow in the harsh climate of the Midwest. The Traminette grape was created by Herb Barrett at the University of Illinois originally as a table grape, but it was found to have excellent wine qualities in addition to partial resistance to several fungal diseases. The Traminette also proved to be more cold hardy than its more established parent, the Gewurztraminer grape, while retaining its flavorful character. The Indiana Wine Growers Council has named wine made from the Traminette grape as the signature wine of Indiana so, as a fellow Hoosier, you should definitely give it a try.

So many bottles, so little time....

So many bottles, so little time….

According to Purdue University, Indiana’s wine industry annually contributes more than $72 million to the state’s economy, with Indiana wine sales growing on average by more than 15 percent a year. The exploding number of wineries in Indiana – from nine to nearly 80 since 1989 – have certainly helped with the growth in those numbers. Indiana’s wineries currently grow grapes on more than 600 acres, with Indiana wine production exceeding 1 million gallons a year – which translates into 5 million bottles, half of which I’ve probably sampled. Ok, maybe not, but it’s definitely on my bucket list.

As for this fall’s wine tour, Psi Iota Xi has opened it up to the public, but as the tour bus is only so big, it’s first come, first served with a limit of 55 seats. Tickets cost $60 per person in advance and include the very worthwhile tour bus transportation for the day, wine tastings at each winery, a delicious meal, and a drawing for prizes. Again, tickets must be purchased in advance – no same day sales – and can be purchased from the Rushville Public Library. For more information call Jan Garrison at 765-561-1105 or e-mail or Robin Sowder at

The bus departs from St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Rushville at 9:30 a.m. – go to the west side of the church and just look for the big bus. Return time is approximately 5:30 p.m., but as that’s approximate, you may want to text your designated driver from the bus.

Traminette grapes ready to be harvested

Traminette grapes ready to be harvested

As for Psi Iota Xi, it is a charitable women’s philanthropic organization with chapters throughout the Midwest and places a special emphasis on speech and hearing-related causes. With that said, it’s great to be able to support a worthy cause while also enjoying a Saturday outing to experience some of the wonders Indiana has to offer, even if the end result blurs my speech in the process.

If you can’t make the tour, I encourage you to still check out Indiana’s wineries, several of which also have restaurants on site. Hours and days of operation differ at each winery, with some locations changing their availability based upon the seasons. For more information, to get directions or to plan your own visit to any of the three wineries on this year’s Psi Iota Xi tour, check out their websites at:

Buck Creek Winery –

Simmons Winery –

Mallow Run Winery –

For information on the Indy Wine Grape Council and the Indiana wine trails, go to:

Next Week – I explore Stream Cliff Herb Farm and Winery.

Follow my blog at: and on Twitter at or email at

Me with an empty wine glass - a true crime against humanity

Me with an empty wine glass – a true crime against humanity

By Robin Winzenread Fritz

Reprinted with permission from the Greensburg Daily News

At Home with Indiana Artist T. C. Steele


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I’m standing in a living room, admiring the bold olive green paint, the dark polished woodwork and the shelves lined with books. But it’s the west wall that keeps grabbing my attention. Nearly every available space is covered in paintings, including landscapes and portraits, all skillfully done and breathtakingly beautiful. But, in the home of Hoosier artist T.C. Steele in southern Brown County, staring at his amazing works of art, I shouldn’t expect otherwise.

Inside the home of T.C. Steele and his wife, Selma

Inside the home of T.C. Steele and his wife, Selma

I’m visiting the T.C. Steele State Historic Site just two miles south of Belmont off of State Road 46 west of Nashville and I’m thoroughly enjoying the blissful atmosphere. Any Hoosier who’s ever traveled in Brown County in the fall knows that the leaf peeper traffic can sometimes rival that of I-465 during rush hour, but turning on to T.C. Steele Road – which is NOT well marked, by the way – it’s possible to leave the thundering Harleys behind. This quiet, winding, tree-covered road is, in places, barely big enough for two cars to pass and is gravel in spots. On the Saturday I visited, I saw not a single one as I drove to the 211 acre site.

Books and paintings fill the home

Books and paintings fill the home

Coming to the former homestead of Indiana’s foremost landscape artist, one is immediately taken by the beauty of the place. Steele’s former home is an amalgam of towering oak and tulip trees, formal gardens, sweeping lawns, climbing vines and goldfish ponds which once served as emergency water sources for the home in its early years when it lacked running water. Dark red buildings – from the artist’s former outdoor studio to his larger, dream studio, to the home he shared with his second wife, Selma – dot the landscape and, frankly, as an amateur artist, it made me want to grab an easel and paint.

The grounds and formal gardens, which Selma Steele created for her husband to do just that, paint, are free for visitors to explore along with several hiking trails scattered about the 211 acre site. I popped into the office/gift shop to inquire about a tour and, discovering I had a 45-minute wait, I gladly spent it exploring and hiking. A slow idle among the gardens to the goldfish pond rewarded me with not one but 21 frogs sunning themselves on lily pads, and I had the pleasure of dodging dozens of falling acorns as I explored the Dewar log cabin which Selma Steele rescued from demolition and had moved to the property in the early 1930s.

Interpreter John Moore discussing the art work of T. C. Steele

Interpreter John Moore discussing the art work of T. C. Steele

After a half mile trek on the aptly named “Trail of Silences” which is not aptly rated as moderate given my desk-job physic, I waited outside the doors of Steele’s large studio for the tour. By this time a handful of other visitors had arrived, but, still, we barely constituted a crowd. After a brief background on Steele, his wife and their home, known as The House of the Singing Winds, Indiana State Interpreter John Moore unlocked the studio door and we were plunged into the world of the artist.

The "House of the Singing Winds" is in the background.

The “House of the Singing Winds” is in the background.

Theodore Clement Steele – T.C. to family and friends – was the most prominent artist of the Hoosier Group, a circle of talented, nationally recognized Indiana artists which also included Otto Stark and William J. Forsyth. Born in Gosport, Indiana in 1847, Steele lived most of his life in Indiana with the exception of five years spent training in portraiture at the Royal Academy in Munich, Germany. While in Germany, Steele was exposed to the work of landscape painters who embraced en plein air impressionism – a style of painting aimed at catching natural light while painting on site and out of doors – and it would eventually change his own style of painting and lead him to this out-of-the-way hilltop in remote Brown County.

Inside T. C. Steele's studio. The portraits highlight his work prior to his exposure to impressionism. The landscapes illustrate how his painting style changed over time.

Inside T. C. Steele’s studio. The portraits highlight his work prior to his exposure to impressionism. The landscapes illustrate how his painting style changed over time.

Upon returning to the United States in 1885, Steele began making his fortune as a portrait artist in Indianapolis– this being the pre-selfie days of ever present cameras – and he and his first wife, Libbie, amassed enough money to purchase a summer home in Brookville where he practiced his landscape painting skills. That Steele once called Brookville home was news to me, and it turned out to be just one of the many interesting tidbits I learned during our tour of Steele’s studio and home. To know that one of my favorite artists once lived as close to me as Brookville was surprising to say the least. One can’t help but wonder what may have happened to Franklin County had Steele remained in Brookville, rather than forsaking it for Brown County in 1906.

One of T. C. Steele's landscapes from his summers spent in Brookville, Indiana.

One of T. C. Steele’s landscapes from his summers spent in Brookville, Indiana.

But forsake it he did, leaving Brookville in grief after the death of his first wife. Eventually Steele met his second wife, Selma Neubacher – who, at 23 years his junior, was an artist friend of his three children – and, after scouting around Brown County for some time, Steele purchased this hilltop as the site of his next summer home in 1907.

That same year the Steeles built their home, expanding upon it over time and adding other outbuildings as needs arose. During their years at The House of the Singing Winds, the view from the porches – as seen in many of Steele’s paintings – was expansive as the area had been logged and farmed, unlike the rather wooded grounds surrounding the home today. On the day I visited, it was possible to compare an actual view of the home with one Steele had painted decades ago from the same vantage point. The Indiana State Museum manages the site and with over 300 of Steele’s paintings at its disposal, changes the exhibits often, but as the home is featured in many of his paintings, you will most likely have the same opportunity to do so yourself, should you visit.

One of T. C. Steele's paintings of "The House of the Singing Winds."

One of T. C. Steele’s paintings of “The House of the Singing Winds.” Note how few trees are in the background from those early days in Brown County.

T.C. Steele died in July, 1926 and is buried alongside Selma on the grounds which proved to be another surprise for me as I hadn’t planned on standing at his grave, but was honored to do so. Selma Steele struggled financially after his death, but remained at The House of the Singing Winds until her death in 1945. Upon her passing, it was discovered that Steele’s last painting – a still life of Selma’s peonies – was still upon his easel.

Selma left the property and paintings to the State of Indiana as a tribute to her husband and his work, but it fell into disrepair until the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Indiana State Museums and Historic Sites took over its care in the 1980s. Extensive repairs, renovations and restorations were undertaken, and Steele’s paintings were restored. Today, it is a testament to T.C. and Selma’s individual talents, his with a paint brush, hers with a garden trowel.

A T. C. Steele landscape

A T. C. Steele landscape

The T.C. Steele State Historic Site is open year round, Tuesdays through Saturdays 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. and Sundays from 1 to 5 P.M. The site is closed on Mondays and holidays. With the exception of the Dewar Cabin, the buildings are not open to the public except during the daily guided tours which are frequent and well worth the wait and cost. Parking is free and readily available, and visitors can explore the grounds, gardens and trails for free too, but admission is charged for tours. Prices are $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and $2 for students and children over the age of three. Children under the age of three are free. Group rates are available too and members of the Indiana State Museum or any one of its other 10 historic sites get free admission.

For more information on the T.C. Steele State Historic Site or to plan your visit, check out the following links.

Friends of T.C. Steele –

Indiana State Museum –

Next Week – I go road tripping with friends on an Indiana wine tour.

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1549478_10202551576884070_1779412726_nBy Robin Winzenread Fritz

Swimming with the Fishes, Scuba Style


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I’m kneeling on a wooden platform, surrounded by fellow wannabe divers wearing wetsuits, tanks and gear. Facing my instructor, I take off my mask, show it to him and put it back on my face. Pressing the top of my mask tight against my forehead, I breathe out hard through my nose while raising my face to the sky. I repeat that motion once, twice, and a third time just for good measure then look at him and smile. He gives me a big hug and I sigh in relief. For me, I’ve just climbed a major hurdle toward my certification as a PADI scuba diver.

Scuba diving opens up a whole new world - Photo by Scuba Steve Gardner

Scuba diving opens up a whole new world – Photo by Scuba Steve Gardner

While it may sound like a simple procedure, I actually just accomplished this feat 25 feet underwater in a flooded Indiana quarry as part of my check-out dive to attain my Open Water Diver certification. After successfully completing my classroom instruction and pool training, I now demonstrate my proficiency out in the open water to receive my longed-for and highly-coveted “C” card – my PADI SCUBA certification.

Taking my mask off underwater, putting it back on and clearing it of water had proven to be a real challenge for me – hence the congratulatory hug – but, thanks to the patient training of my instructor, Randy, I finally figure out this skill and many others needed for certification. Now, my certification card in hand, I’m free to fill my tank with air, don my gear and dive 60 feet beneath the surface – with a buddy, of course.

Coral and colorful fish await - all you need is to get certified! Photo by Scuba Steve Gardner

Coral and colorful fish await – all you need is to get certified! Photo by Scuba Steve Gardner

Scuba diving may not rank up there with basketball as one of Indiana’s preferred sports, but for a state landlocked in the Midwest, it does have its fair share of enthusiasts. From dive clubs at area universities such as the Purdue Scuba Diving Club to public organizations such as the Indy Dive Club, opportunities are available to not only train and get certified, but to take part in dive trips and underwater excursions, earn college credit and meet fellow divers as well. From underwater pumpkin carving and scavenger hunts to dive trips around the world, Hoosiers of all ages are getting trained, taking part and having fun.

Unlike basketball, however, scuba diving is considered an extreme sport, necessitating the required certification. Without it, divers are unable to fill their tanks with air or gas and are unable to take part in diving activities with dive centers around the world. But diving instruction isn’t just a requirement for certification – it’s also a practical step to swim with the fishes in a safe and responsible manner too.

Quarries are popular options for check-out dives because of a lack of waves and strong currents. Photo by Scuba Steve Gardner

Quarries are popular options for check-out dives because of a lack of waves and strong currents. Photo by Scuba Steve Gardner

Scuba diving involves using a tank of pressurized air or gas, such as nitrox, and a regulator along with a buoyance control device (or BCD) to descend safely beneath the surface. The BCD combined with weights enables a diver to descend or surface in a controlled manner depending upon how much air is added to the BCD while the regulator – either a mouth piece or a full-face mask – enables the diver to breathe the air or gas in the tank. Learning how to control one’s descent and subsequent ascent to the surface is a big focus of diver training, along with safety procedures, such as how to put on your mask or regulator underwater should they be knocked loose while diving.

Scuba Steve Gardner gets his diving gear ready at an Indiana quarry.

Scuba Steve Gardner gets his diving gear ready at an Indiana quarry.

And it DOES happen – a wayward flipper from a too-close dive buddy can send a regulator spiraling briefly out of grasp. Moreover, learning how to avoid or contend with such emergencies as running out of air or helping a fellow diver in need of assistance are also part of the basic diving instruction. With diving, even something as simple as communication can be tricky since shouting is clearly out of the question. Fortunately those types of scenarios and many more are the focus of certification training. And I should know. Thanks to my training, I once safely vomited into my regulator while 30 feet down and lived to tell the tale.

PADI – short for Professional Association of Diving Instructors – is the world’s most widely recognized scuba diving training organization and has been around for over 40 years. PADI offers several different levels of dive training via dive centers and organizations, including several in Indiana. To get started would-be divers need to be in good health and have adequate swimming skills, but no prior experience is required.

Children - like my son, Jordan - can get certified to dive too.

Children – like my son, Jordan – can get certified to dive too.

Children as young as eight can take part in introductory programs conducted in shallow water, but they must be 10 years-old to receive their Junior Open Water Diver certification which allows them to dive to 12 meters or approximately 39 feet. Because research is non-existent on the effects of deep water diving on young, growing bodies, the best bet for now is to limit their exposure to sustained pressure created at depth.

To attain the next level of certification – Open Water Diver – individuals must be at least 15 or older but, again, no prior experience is required. The basic Open Water Diver certification enables one to dive to at least 60 feet which, frankly, opens up a big wide world of coral reefs, brightly colored fish, undulating rays and a great deal more. In fact the Florida Keys – a favorite destination for many Midwest divers – ranges mostly between five to 60 feet in depth and, with an average water temperature hovering around 78 degrees, makes for some excellent diving.

Individuals interested in a greater challenge can go on to earn their Advanced Open Water Diver certification which includes training for deeper dives in the neighborhood of 110 feet and which includes some additional competencies including options to choose between cave diving, wreck diving and night diving instruction among others.

Scuba Steve Gardner gives the "go up" sign. Diving has a different language down below.

Scuba Steve Gardner gives the “go up” sign. Diving has a different language down below.

With any level of certification, however, students must either attend instruction online or in a class room setting and are required to pass quizzes and a certification test. An essential component of diving is safe ascension – in other words, learning to avoid decompression sickness, commonly referred to as “the bends,” which is a potential deadly condition resulting from dissolved gas trapped in the body from a too rapid rise to the surface.

Diving instruction also includes learning to set-up the gear, such as properly attaching the regulator to both the BDC and the tank, and includes actual time with the gear in a pool to practice such things as underwater navigation, removing and clearing one’s mask and regulator, descending and ascending in a controlled manner and communicating with hand signals.

Scuba Steve Gardner getting ready to dive the South Pacific.

Scuba Steve Gardner getting ready to dive the South Pacific.

Several organizations in south and central Indiana offer PADI diving instruction and Hoosiers further south can take advantage of training offered at dive centers in the nearby Cincinnati area as well. Southern Indiana Scuba of Bloomington, offers a “Try Scuba” class for only $20 which includes trying out real scuba equipment in a shallow pool – meaning you can stand up at any time – to get a taste of the experience before committing to classes. The “Discover Scuba Experience” offered by Midwest Scuba Center in Avon takes it one-step further, providing the use of equipment alongside a PADI-certified instructor in deeper pool water for the cost of just $50. If that experience has you hooked, Midwest Scuba will credit that $50 toward any additional course training. Divers Supply Indy – home of the Indy Dive Club – also offers dive instruction at various levels from its home on the southeast side of Indianapolis.

So much to see! Photo by Scuba Steve Gardner

So much to see! Photo by Scuba Steve Gardner

Southern Indiana Scuba’s “Try Scuba” experience” is offered at the Foundation for Youth in nearby Columbus at 1:00 p.m. once a month with the next two sessions set for September 27 and October 25. For other programs, check the websites at each location to compare prices, dates and times for instruction.

Costs vary based on equipment rentals and whether you prefer private instruction (which can run $550 per person at Southern Indiana Scuba) or group classes (which run between $350 to $295 at Southern Indiana Scuba and Divers Supply Indy) or online instruction for a portion of the training. Regardless of the course taken, students are expected to bring their own mask, snorkel and fins and must complete the required check-out dives (which are not included in the costs) to obtain their certification. Check-out dives usually run from between $99 to $150 and can be completed in Indiana or at any PADI-recognized dive center around the world.

Me getting ready for my first ocean dive in the Florida Keys. Photo by Scuba Steve Gardner

Me getting ready for my first ocean dive in the Florida Keys. Photo by Scuba Steve Gardner

As for me, there was no turning back. Once certified, I joined my brother-in-law (Master Diver Steve Gardner, a.k.a. Scuba Steve to friends and family), on my first ocean dives in the Florida Keys. Yes, I was initially intimidated – after all, the Gulf of Mexico is a big, BIG place when land is nowhere to be seen – but once we sank below the surface and I spied actual conchs walking along the snow white sand with their massive shells intact, I was hooked. From tiny neon blue fishes to large staghorn coral, it was a world of color and life and beauty unlike anything I had seen before. Getting certified had ups and downs which challenged me and tested me in ways in which I needed to be challenged and tested. But the reward was entry into a colorful ocean of possibilities.

For more information on PADI and dive instruction in Indiana, check out the following links.


Southern Indiana Scuba –

Midwest Scuba –

Divers Supply Indy –

Next Week – I visit the historic homestead of Hoosier artist T.C. Steele and his wife, Selma.

Follow my blog at: and on Twitter at or email at

306095_3273584271876_301052071_nBy Robin Winzenread Fritz

Reprinted with permission from the Greensburg Daily News.

Down Under in Downtown Indy


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I’m standing on Whistler Plaza just west of the City Market in downtown Indianapolis on a gray, dripping wet Saturday afternoon waiting for my friend, Libby, who is joining me for a tour of the market’s underground “catacombs” provided by the Indiana Landmarks organization.

Look for this sign on Whistler Plaza to register for the catacombs tour.

Look for this sign on Whistler Plaza to register for the catacombs tour.

But today the tour is starting five minutes early and she’s running about five minutes late which is ironic since she’s a downtown lawyer who bills her clients in six minute intervals.

Fortunately, the tour starts with a very interesting lesson on the history of the market, so as we stand on the plaza listening to volunteer tour guide, Craig Barker, talk about the large brick arch anchoring the southeast corner, Libby is able to check in, sign the waiver and catch up in time for me to tease her about lawyers having no real sense of time. Armed with a dry wit herself, she’s just in time to hear Barker say the large brick arch beside us actually remained hidden away for years, prompting Libby to ask as dryly as possible, “Wait, hidden? How? It’s seems a pretty big thing to hide.”

Big and hidden indeed. But, unbeknownst to many who frequent downtown, it’s not the only sizeable architectural gem that has spent some serious time out of sight and out of mind. For beneath our feet lie even more large brick arches, in addition to tunnels, and it’s these hidden gems which comprise the subject of the catacomb tour we are about to undertake.

The last above-ground remnant of Tomlinson Hall on the plaza just west of City Market

The last above-ground remnant of Tomlinson Hall on the plaza just west of City Market

As I stand there listening to Barker tell how the arch was hidden between two buildings no longer standing on the site and wasn’t rediscovered until the early 1970s, I can’t help but wonder how many times I passed through this plaza while working downtown, and never really contemplated what the arch was or why it was there. Now, thanks to Mr. Barker and Indiana Landmarks, I know.

Advertisement for a Valentine's dance at Tomlinson Hall

Advertisement for a Valentine’s dance at Tomlinson Hall – Picture courtesy of Historic

This arch and the series of arches beneath our feet are the last standing remnants of Tomlinson Hall, an imposing auditorium that once dwarfed City Market in size and played host to political rallies, speeches, conventions, musicals and dances, including Count Basie and his world famous orchestra which performed at a Valentine’s dance in 1953. The hall was built in 1886 to compliment City Market and the former Marion County Courthouse across the way on Market Street, and the “catacombs” beneath Tomlinson served as underground storage for the hall and the market next door.

During its heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s, City Market was the one-stop shop of its time, a forerunner to today’s supermarkets, while Tomlinson Hall was an entertainment destination with a main hall that seated up to 3,500 people. Unfortunately, Tomlinson Hall suffered a serious fire in January of 1958, leading to its demolition with the arch from the southeastern tower being the only above-ground feature still intact. Fortunately, nearby City Market and the underground storage area also survived the fire.

Tomlinson Hall and City Market - Picture courtesy of Historic

Tomlinson Hall and City Market – Picture courtesy of Historic

After the history lesson, which included several pictures of Tomlinson Hall and City Market from their horse-and-buggy days, Barker led us into the market’s modern-day west wing and down a flight of stairs to a rather industrial looking hallway beside a rather nondescript gray metal door. For a moment, it made me think of Willy Wonka right before he opened the tiny door into his chocolate factory, but rather than finding Ompaloompas, I wondered if there were be some rather healthy rodents waiting on the other side instead. Sadly, no on both accounts.

The only known interior picture of Tomlinson Hall features the 1892 National Prohibition Convention - Picture courtesy of Historic

The only known interior picture of Tomlinson Hall features the 1892 National Prohibition Convention – Picture courtesy of Historic

Leading the way, Barker took us through the door, flashlight in hand, past some modern utility pipes to the right at which point we turned left and, low and behold, there they stood, the brick arches of the catacombs, calling out to be explored.

Technically, the area in question isn’t a real catacomb as nary a grave, skull or body can be found – which may or may not be a disappointment, depending upon your personal tastes – and, which in reality was once just a fancy basement to a large building at one time, but what basement it was. Built of a series of brick arches that angle off in every direction, it IS an imposing sight to see and is just well lit enough to be somewhat spooky. Call me crazy, but when I explore something underground called catacombs, I love a little ambiance and, in this case, the combination of low light and ample darkness delivers.

Down in the depths of Indy

Down in the depths of Indy

I won’t give away the particular secrets of the tour as it really needs to be taken to be appreciated. Needless to say, Barker led us throughout the space and regaled us with various tales of happenings down below which make you want to explore Indianapolis’ history even more. Walking through this space, touching the worn bricks and getting a “catacomb kiss” – a drip of water from the rain falling overhead – has you wondering what else is hiding away in downtown Indianapolis that has a history and stories to share and which deserve to be told.

Fortunately someone with Indiana Landmarks felt that way about the catacombs, though no one can recall who first came up with the idea for the tours. According to Kelly Gascoine, Program Coordinator for Indiana Landmarks, the organization began offering the tours to guests in town for the Super Bowl in 2011. The tours proved to be so popular, the organization decided to continue offering them on a more regular basis and they’ve been popular ever since.

Tours are offered in 30 minute increments from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the first and third Saturdays of May through October, but groups of 10 or more can schedule tours at other times throughout the year too. In short, Indiana Landmarks is willing to work with you as it is proud of Indiana’s heritage and it never hurts to ask.

Indiana Landmarks' tour guide and volunteer Craig Barker shares a story in the catacombs

Indiana Landmarks’ tour guide and volunteer Craig Barker shares a story in the catacombs

The tours have proven to be so popular, that Indiana Landmarks recommends making reservations, though on the Saturday we attended, they were able to accommodate several drop in visitors, including Margareta Thorsen and Jenny Shih, the president and vice president respectfully of the National Association of Women in Construction, who were visiting Indianapolis for an industry convention and who were able to share their knowledgeable opinions about the structure. After the tour, in fact, Thorsen and Shih both commented that in earthquake prone California where they both live, such a tour couldn’t even be offered to the public due to liability issues.

What's a catacomb tour without a little ambiance?

What’s a catacomb tour without a little ambiance?

The tours cost $12 for people ages 12 and up, unless you’re a member of Indiana Landmarks at which you can take the tour at the discounted price of $10. For ages 6 to 12, the price is $6. Proceeds from the tour are split evenly between Indiana Landmarks and City Market, with Indiana Landmarks’ portion used to help preserve historic sites in and around Central Indiana and the state.

If tickets are bought in advance through Eventbrite, one can select the time of the tour preferred and print them out at home or you can take a chance and drop in on a tour which normally start at the top and bottom of the hour. Three volunteers were on hand the Saturday we visited, and we broke up into two groups of 10, but the weather was uncooperative that day and may have damped attendance so be forewarned. In essence, drop in guests may miss out if the weather is nice and downtown is hopping with activity.

The online ticket I purchased stated in large letters that attendees must wear covered shoes, but for those of us like me who only notice that warning while standing in line moments before the tour need not fear as drop-in guests in flip flops and unobservant idiots in sandals like myself were not turned away. Looking back at the website days later, I noticed that it states covered shoes are recommended – as opposed to required – as is stated on the ticket.

Participants do need to sign a liability waiver as the dirt floor is very uneven, and guests in wheelchairs, walkers, or strollers or even those with canes can’t be accommodated at this time which is unfortunate, but which is a reality when touring a space that hasn’t seen the light of day in over a 120 years.

Market Street in front of Tomlinson Hall - Picture courtsey of Indiana Landmarks.

Market Street in front of Tomlinson Hall – Picture courtsey of Indiana Landmarks.

The tour is rather quick, but well worth the $12 as it catapults you into a space that harkens back to a simpler time. Looking at old sepia-toned pictures of Market Street crammed with horses and vendor stalls and people before Tomlinson Hall fills you with a sense of wonder. Our downtowns from Indianapolis to Greensburg to Madison at one time really were the place where one went to get it all. From meat to milk to nails to haircuts, they were the heart and soul of our communities. Yes, time marches on and things change, but sometimes we would do well to spend a little more time contemplating what life was like in another era.

The City Market catacomb tour is one such opportunity.

For more information on Tomlinson Hall and the catacomb tour, visit Indiana Landmarks’ website at Tickets for the tour can be purchased online at

For more information on Indianapolis’ historic treasures, check out Historic My friend, Libby, is a contributing writer to Historic Indianapolis and walks the walk from her restored home in the old historic Northside District where she sits on the board of the Old Northside Neighborhood Association. You can catch up with Libby and her articles at

394004_2982208907674_1533869970_nNext Week – I get certified to scuba dive and tell you how you can do the same.

Follow my blog at: and on Twitter at

By Robin Winzenread Fritz

Reprinted with permission from the Greensburg Daily News and Indiana Media Group.


A World Away From Walmart


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I sometimes forget that, even in Indiana, most people don’t actually grow up on farms exposed to compost heaps, escaping cows, stubborn goats, birthing hogs and the occasional animal castration – a useful skill my father thought my sister and I should know when we started dating. So I’ve long since grown accustomed to being greeted by “Stinky Boy” – the male goat who awaits visitors to Troyer’s Country Store and Bakery from his pen adjacent to the gravel parking lot.

Adrian and Novalee meet "Stinky Boy" at Troyer's Country Store and Bakery

Adrian and Novalee meet “Stinky Boy” at Troyer’s Country Store and Bakery

I recently discovered, however, that that is a new experience for my city-dwelling friend Candy and my Virginia-bound grandbabies, Adrian and Novalee. Apparently, shopping at an Amish grocery store, going to steam engine shows or visiting the semi-annual Amish school system consignment auction (subjects for future columns) isn’t something many city folk do on a Saturday morning.

Fortunately for me, that’s not the case. Surrounded by my Amish neighbors, I sometimes take for granted that I can run down the road nearly anytime and pick up some farm fresh eggs, homemade noodles, a handmade harness and the occasional pony too. I guess Walmart isn’t the answer to everything and that’s a good thing. So, sharing these experiences with my family and friends is high on the list, hence our recent field trips to Troyer’s.

Located on State Road 3 near the Rush County/Decatur County line, Troyer’s is an experience well worth the trip, especially around the upcoming fall holidays when the air grows crisp and baking something wonderful in the oven is a great way to spend an afternoon. The long driveway to Troyer’s off State Road 3 runs past a small paddock and outbuildings and ends at a large wooden barn next to the house. Trust me, it doesn’t look like the typical entrance to a grocery store, but there’s a large sign with posted hours so pull in and keep going.

The store itself stands at the end of the road just northwest of the house and it often has fresh-picked in-season produce piled high in the bins out front along with notices for collie pups and feed for sale. You can park in front of the store if you like, but take my advice and park on the south side next to the

Can't a goat get a little love?

Can’t a goat get a little love?

pasture which “Stinky Boy” calls home instead. Often he will come over to greet you, planting his cloven hooves on the fence and reaching far over for you to pet him. Trust me, he’s a cutie with his floppy ears and big yellow devil eyes.

By the way, cute as he is, never, ever, ever pet “Stinky Boy.” There’s a reason he’s earned that nickname from us and you’ll only be sorry if you do. I love snuggling with goats – they’re like big silly dogs – but male bucks have a few bad habits which I won’t go into here. So admire him from afar, along with the chickens just west of his pen, and blow him a kiss instead. You won’t hurt his feelings. And Google “why do male goats stink” and you’ll thank me for suggesting you not pet him.

Stepping inside, one immediately notices the lack of light compared to the big modern box stores most of us frequent for food. Overhead there are lights, but they’re fed by gas lines and usually aren’t turned on when the day is bright and sunny. There are small grocery carts for use along with hand baskets too, and you should grab one or the other. Even if you’ve just come to look, odds are you’ll end up leaving with something tasty. So grab a basket now and be prepared.

The front porch at Troyer's

The front porch at Troyer’s

My friend Candy had to do just that – go back and grab a basket – in between wandering slowly up and down each aisle while whispering, “Isn’t this place a treasure.” It was the bulk spices that got her. Troyer’s is the best kept chef’s secret this side of Greensburg. Nearly every imaginable spice and staple are available in a variety of bulk sizes and at reasonable prices too. Candy was taken with the dehydrated celery and quickly grabbed a bag while I studied the bean soup mixes which no doubt taste yummy, but are also just so darn pretty to look at too. You could easily put together some interesting cooking-themed gift baskets from items off the shelves at Troyer’s and you won’t break the bank in the process.

Other aisles drip with tempting goodies, including honey, vanilla peaches, jams and jellies, pie fillings, pickled eggs, baby corn, a variety of popcorns, salts, oils and toppings, and assorted sugars, flours, nuts, sprinkles and everything one could possibly need to bake up a buffet load of tasty treats. Seriously, the variety of baking staples at Troyer’s puts Walmart to shame.

On a separate trip with my grandbabies, I stood in the candy aisle contemplating the jellied candies shaped like fried eggs and thought how fun they would be to give out at Halloween if we ever had trick or treaters stop by which we don’t since we live in the middle of nowhere. Adrian and Novalee each selected hefty-sized bags of candy – sweet tarts for Adrian and gum balls for Novalee – and I selected a bag of candied orange slices too. Life is short and candy with the grandbabies is good, plus dentists need customers too and I really like the orange slices.

Beans on the shelves just screaming for soup

Beans on the shelves just screaming for soup

Once you get past the intriguing novelty of so many bulk seasonings and spices – including beautiful pink Himalayan salt – you will no doubt follow your nose to the back of the store where the baked goods are ready to be taken home and immediately devoured. Loaves of fresh-baked bread from white to wheat to cinnamon-laced goodness are usually available early in the day, but thin out quickly, along with other treats that often go fast such as cookies, cakes, pies and pumpkin rolls filled with creamy vanilla icing. If visiting on a Friday or Saturday morning, it’s best to get there in the a.m. if at all possible. Plus, the smell makes it worth waking up early – just bring your own coffee.

Troyer’s recently expanded to add a full service deli counter in the back and while it’s not necessarily filled with mayonnaise-based picnic fare like the ones at Walmart, it does include a great many cured meats and wonderful cheeses. My daughter, Jackie, is particularly smitten with the pepper jack cheese – as am I – but, frankly, we love them all. When it comes to cheese, I know no prejudice.

The store has an intriguing sewing section with bolts of fabric in the dark solid colors most preferred by Troyer’s Amish shoppers and there are Amish clothing staples too, including black socks and stocking caps. Candy was pleased to find old-fashioned metal snaps, along with jewel colored threads and lace on the bolt. Zippers, however, are nowhere to be found, but buttons are available in limited varieties.

Popcorn in bulk

Popcorn in bulk

Scented soaps are available with my husband, the hunter, preferring the “fresh earth” scent. Leave it to a man to want to take a shower and come out smelling like dirt. I prefer the lavender myself, but then, I’m not out hunting supper when the nights grow long and deer season finally opens.

Candy was also pleasantly surprised to discover that, in addition to cash, Troyer’s also takes credit and debit cards which can be a little disconcerting when the young lady ringing you up is wearing a bonnet but won’t wear zippers.

As for Amish grocery stores, Troyer’s isn’t alone, though there aren’t many in our immediate neck of the woods. Country Creations and Deli a few miles south of Versailles on U.S. 421 features many of the same products and baked goods, and several more such stores can be found in nearby Ohio and in Shipshewana and Middlebury further away in northern Indiana. The towns of Grabill and Berne near Fort Wayne are also home to several such markets so if you’re out and about in any of those areas, you may want to look for them as well.

As for me, I will continue to frequent Troyer’s on a regular basis. The food is good and fresh, and I love the novelty of the store. Plus, it says a lot about a place when you can commune with smelly livestock in the parking lot. I like that. Ours is a country of cookie cutter experiences – similar stores, similar neighborhoods, similar landscapes, and I like the outliers. Different is good, so get out and get around, make a memory and find something out of the ordinary like Troyer’s.

But just remember, don’t pet the goat.

Troyer’s Country Store and Bakery,

10599 S State Road 3

Milroy, IN 46156

(765) 629-2604

Open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed on Sunday.

Country Creations and Deli
6851 S. US 421
Versailles, Indiana 47042
(812) 689-4243

Next Week – I visit the underground world of City Market’s catacombs in downtown Indianapolis.

Follow my blog at: and on Twitter at

10311744_10202840249500705_7539723906213096641_sBy Robin Winzenread Fritz

Reprinted with permission from the Greensburg Daily News and Indiana Media Group

Up, Up and Away with Introductory Flying Lessons


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When I first mentioned an introductory flying lesson to my sleepy teenaged son the morning after a Friday-night sleep over, he was just coherent enough to blurt out a colorful expletive before uttering, “Yeah!” Of course, the impending silence when he realized what he had just blurted out to his mother woke him up in a heartbeat and muted his excitement at the same time, but that’s a tale for another time.

Flash forward to a hot Saturday morning in August. My now 17-year-old son, Jordan, and his cousin, Taylor, are very much awake and grinning from ear to ear

Jordan and Taylor deciding who's at the controls first

Jordan and Taylor deciding who’s at the controls first

as they rock, paper, scissor to see who will be at the controls first. Winning with a well-placed scissor, Jordan climbs into the cockpit of a high-winged Cessna, ready to fly the friendly skies. Naturally, he’s taking pictures of the instrument panel. Naturally I’m taking pictures of him taking pictures of the instrument panel. Naturally their instructor is a beautiful Asian version of Jessica Beal in yoga pants who has just made me regret my morning donut. And naturally, this is turning out to be one of the best Christmas gifts ever, thanks to Indianapolis Pilot Services, operating out of the Greenwood Municipal Airport.

The dream of flight is one many young people have, but actually getting up in a small plane and testing the waters can be difficult. But not any more. Thanks to programs at various regional airports – including nearby New Castle and

Anna Nguyen giving Jordan some instructions

Anna Nguyen giving Jordan some instructions

Shelbyville, in addition to Greenwood – opportunities are available from $60 to $199 for a 30-minute flight, which includes letting the student actually take the wheel, or whatever you call that thingy in planes which makes them go up and down. Forgive my ignorance – I stayed on the ground and did Jessica-inspired butt crunches during their ground lesson and missed the appropriate terminology.

If you’re interested in a similar experience – flying, not crunching – Indianapolis Pilot Services advertises its training programs in limited detail via its alter-ego, Jeff Pilot Services, on its website at Prices aren’t mentioned on the website at this writing, partly because the organization works with various partners to offer frequent specials. For example, I purchased a Living Social deal for $109 in October 2013, advertised as a savings from the regular price of $199. A Google search for “Indianapolis Pilot Services Flying Lesson” didn’t bring up any current deals with Living Social or Groupon, but I did discover a $109.99 deal at And, if you happen to miss a pricing special, just call them at 317-610-1081 and ask for the $109 rate. That’s what my sister-in-law did for Taylor and they were happy to match my Living Social purchase price. When prices are involved, it never hurts to ask.

We had one-year in which to use the special voucher which came via email online and I made the reservations online as well – a real convenience when you live and work online like I do. Also, for the best deal, purchase two, book them back to back and take a friend. In this instance, Jordan and Taylor basically tagged along on each other’s ride. While the normal experience takes students from Greenwood to Shelbyville, instructor Anna Nguyen let them fly to Kokomo where they landed, switched seats and took off again, back to Greenwood, a trip which lasted over an hour. There were no immediate appointments after ours and Ms. Nguyen loves to fly, thus we definitely got our money’s worth. So, while I can’t guarantee you’ll get to Kokomo too, there’s always a chance.

Calls to the Greensburg Municipal Airport and the Batesville Airport didn’t turn up any similar introductory flying programs, but the New Castle-Henry County Municipal Airport offers a real deal in comparison. For just $60 a student receives 30-minutes of ground instruction plus 30-minutes in the air – a good buy even when compared to Indianapolis Pilot Services’ special rate of $109.99.

Jordan readying for takeoff

Jordan readying for takeoff

The one caveat to New Castle’s program is its limited availability. While Indianapolis Pilot Services has eight instructors and eight planes at its disposal – including its Ms. Biel look alike and a sister facility in Columbus – New Castle won’t have a full-time instructor back on staff until September 15 and only has two planes which could pose a scheduling problem depending upon the popularity of the program.

The Shelbyville Municipal Airport doesn’t have a specific introductory flight program, but arrangements can be made upon request, though it too is limited to one instructor and two planes. No specific fees have been established at Shelbyville, but when asked, my contact said they would probably match the Greenwood rate. Suggestion? Quote the New Castle rate to them and they may just take you up on it. As nothing is currently written in stone at Shelbyville, you may be able to negotiate a better price.

This suggestion of a similar rate to Greenwoods, however, didn’t surprise me as when I compared rates for actual lessons toward obtaining a private pilot’s license, Shelbyville’s rate was very close to the one offered at Greenwood. Because some individuals need more instruction than others, rates differ because the number of hours of instruction and plane rental fees will differ. The Federal Aviation Administration requires a minimum of 40 hours of flight time, 20 hours of flight instruction, and 20 hours of ground instruction just for starters, but those are minimums only. Students are encouraged to train as long as necessary before making that first important solo flight.

With Indianapolis Pilot Services, the minimum rate in terms of hours would cost around $7,600 – and can be earned in as little as three months if you’re willing to work at it – but on the high end that rate can climb to over $11,600. A pricing sheet is available upon request which breaks the instruction up in terms of pricing and hours for either the Cessna 172 or the Warrior. Fortunately, at over $5 a gallon, aviation fuel is included in the plane rental fee.

Shelbyville’s rates for obtaining a private pilot’s license run similar to Greenwoods with a low of $7,000 up to $10,000 while the New Castle-Henry County Municipal Airport comes in again as the price winner with a range of $6,000 to $8,500 on the high end.

As for Batesville and Greensburg, they do not yet offer any form of flying instruction.

Our future pilots, displaying their school pride

Our future pilots, displaying their school pride

And as for Jordan and Taylor, they landed back in Greenwood smiling even more than when they took off. They regaled us with tales of flying through clouds and watching hot air balloons from above and how we all looked like little ants from up there before asking us if they could take real flying lessons. Naturally we grabbed a flyer. And naturally we said we would look into it. And naturally great memories were made. Nothing more may come of this – after all, they will both be heading to college this time next year – but the spark has been fanned by bright blue skies and pretty white planes. For now, that will do.

Lastly, welcome to my inaugural column, Out Around with Robin. If you have something you think I should try or an event you suggest I attend or a can’t-miss activity that I need to experience, email me at For now, just remember to get out, and get around. There are lots of great things to do in our lovely little part of the Midwestern world. So get out there and do it.

Until next time.

534727_4380758630543_273360442_nBy Robin Winzenread Fritz

For more information contact:

Indianapolis Pilot Services/Jeff Air Pilot Services, LLC,, (317) 610-1081

New Castle-Henry County Municipal Airport,, (765) 529-7903

Shelbyville Municipal Airport,, (317) 392-1284

Reprinted with permission from the Greensburg Daily News and Indiana Media Group