Hoosier History Live! features host Nelson Price, Saturdays noon to 1 p.m. on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis.

Saturdays, noon to 1 p.m. ET on WICR 88.7 FM.
And always online at hoosierhistorylive.org!

May 11 show

Phil Gulley on Indiana festivals, summer jobs and other things Hoosier

As a teenager, Phil Gulley may have had the worst summer job in Indiana history. The popular Hoosier storyteller, humorist and Quaker pastor based in Danville once shared details with Nelson about the distasteful job of his youth.

Philip Gulley.Tune in to our show to hear the unappetizing specifics, as Nelson is joined by Phil, whose bestselling, nationally distributed books include Front Porch Tales (1997) and Home Town Tales (1998), which were inspired by real people and episodes. He's also the author of  Home to Harmony (2000) and other books in his acclaimed series of inspirational and humorous stories about the fictional town of Harmony. It seems to have at least a passing resemblance to Danville.

Known for his folksy style, Phil is a popular speaker and a columnist for Indianapolis Monthly magazine. He also has written non-fiction books such as I Love You Miss Huddleston and Other Inappropriate Longings of My Indiana Childhood (2009).

Because Phil has spoken and written about the propensity of Indiana towns to throw festivals and fairs in honor of just about every product or crop - ranging from persimmons and pork to popcorn - expect Nelson to ask about that topic as well. They also will explore the importance of porches.

"I believe all that is wrong with our world can be attributed to the shortage of front porches and the talks we had on them," Phil writes in Porch Talk (2007), a collection of stories that won praise from the likes of Charles Osgood, host of CBS Sunday Morning. "Somewhere around 1950, builders left off the front porch to save money, and we've had nothing but problems ever since."

Valparaiso, Ind., throws a popcorn festival every September. Here is an Orville Redenbacher mascot made of popcorn from one of Valpo’s popcorn parades.In Danville, Phil and his wife, Joan, live in a home - with a porch - that's filled with antiques, as well as with furniture Phil made himself. They also own a farmhouse in southern Indiana. The Gulleys are the parents of two sons, Spencer and Sam.

In addition to his books of vignettes about the quirky characters and life lessons associated with small towns, Phil, a graduate of Christian Theological Seminary, has written several books focused on theology. They include If the Church Were Christian (2010) and The Evolution of Faith: How God is Creating a Better Christianity (2011).

He is pastor of Fairfield Friends Meeting in the town of Camby, which is just southwest of Indianapolis. The protagonist in Home to Harmony and the other books in the Harmony series also is a Quaker pastor.

Phil, 52, who grew up in a Catholic family, once told Nelson he had a one-word explanation for why he became a Quaker as a teenager: "Girls."

Interior of the new Fairfield Friends Meetinghouse in Camby, Ind., which was dedicated in 2012.   Apparently there weren't many of them among the parishioners at his family's church in Hendricks County. But a local Friends meeting - as Quaker worship services are called - was attended by several young women whom Phil found attractive.

"So I showed up for the wrong reasons," Phil told Nelson. "But you know something? When I started studying Quaker beliefs - the emphasis on simplicity, pacifism and the tolerance for diverse people - they resonated with me."

In Home Town Tales, he wrote: "When I was young and unattached, the women in my Quaker meeting paid me considerable attention. But then Quaker women tend to take an inordinate interest in people who need help. And I needed help. I was six feet tall and weighed 110 pounds."

Phil's career as an author was launched when, while in seminary in the 1990s, he was serving as the pastor of Irvington Friends Meeting in Indianapolis. His musings for the church's newsletter came to the attention of Paul Harvey Jr., the son of the late, legendary broadcaster. The Harveys showed Phil's tales to a national publisher - and book contracts followed.

Like his columns for Indianapolis Monthly, Phil's vignettes in Home Town Tales explore such topics as the arrival of a new Walmart and include wry humor, self-disclosure and insights about human nature. The inclination of Indiana towns to celebrate a product or crop as an excuse for a summer festival has been the focus of one of his popular essays.

Roadtrip: Ferdinand in Dubois County

The monastery of Sisters of St. Benedict in Ferdinand, Ind., is hard to miss. It can even be seen from I-64.Guest Roadtripper William Selm, architectural historian, adjunct faculty member at IUPUI, and expert on German heritage in Indiana, will suggest we take the Roadtrip to Ferdinand, a small town is located in Dubois County in south central Indiana south of Jasper, the county seat.

Ferdinand  has real curb appeal, as you can see its main attraction for miles. It's a massive complex atop a hill, the monastery of the Sisters of St. Benedict, first established in 1867.

The town was founded in 1840 by missionary priest, Father Kundek. He named it for Kaiser Ferdinand von Habsburg of the Austrian Empire. Learn more on the show this Saturday!

History Mystery

In addition to Phil Gulley, well-known authors from Indiana who have been guests on Hoosier History Live! include James Alexander Thom, whose books of historical fiction have become national bestsellers. Dark Rain Thom.The author of Follow the River, Panther in the Sky and many other books, James Alexander Thom was a guest on this radio show with his wife, Dark Rain, who is of Native American heritage. A tribal historian, Dark Rain also is an author and has collaborated with her husband.

Question: What Native American tribe reflects Dark Rain Thom's heritage?

We will also note that there is an 80th birthday party for James Alexander Thom, as well as for Dark Rain Thom, as part of First Friday at the Vonnegut Library at 340 N. Senate Ave. in Indianapolis on June 7 from 6 to 9 p.m. All are welcome.

To win the prize, you must call in with the correct answer during the live show and be willing to be placed on the air. Please do not call if you have won a prize from any WICR show during the last two months. The call-in number is (317) 788-3314, and please do not call until you hear Nelson pose the question on the air.

The prize is four admissions to the Indiana Experience and two admissions to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, courtesy of  Visit Indy.

Your Hoosier History Live! team,

Nelson Price, host and creative director
Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101
Richard Sullivan, webmaster and tech director

Pam Fraizer, graphic designer
Garry Chilluffo, creative consultant
Michele Goodrich, Jed Duvall, grant consultants
Joan Hostetler, photo historian
Dana Waddell, volunteer-at-large


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Facebook logo links to the Hoosier History Live! page.Acknowledgments to Print Resources, Monomedia, Indiana Humanities, Visit Indy, WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Heritage Photo & Research Services, Derrick Lowhorn and many other individuals and organizations. We are an independently produced program and are self-supporting through organizational sponsorships, grants and through individual tax-deductible contributions through Indiana Humanities. We do not receive any government funding. Visit our website to learn how you can support us financially.

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May 18 show - encore presentation

Hollywood icons Red Skelton, Robert Wise and Irene Dunne

Aside from being icons of Hollywood with links to Indiana, what could three luminaries - comedian Red Skelton, acclaimed director Robert Wise (The Sound of Music and West Side Story) and 1930s and '40s movie star Irene Dunne - have in common?

Wes Gehring.All three are the subjects of biographies written by movie historian Wes Gehring, a film professor at Ball State University who joins Nelson in studio for one of the most popular shows in our Hoosier History Live! archives. (Its original air date was Oct. 6, 2012.) 

Wes' most recent book is the just-released Robert Wise Shadowlands (Indiana Historical Society Press), a biography of the Academy Award-winning director who was born in Winchester and grew up in Connersville.

Not only do Wes and Nelson focus on the life and career of Robert Wise (1914-2005) during the show, they also explore the Hoosier roots and careers of Red Skelton, a native of Vincennes, and Irene Dunne, who grew up in Madison.

Wes delved into their lives in Red Skelton: The Mask Behind the Mask (IHS Press, 2008), which explores, as Wes puts it, the comedian's "hardscrabble beginnings with a shockingly dysfunctional family in southern Indiana" and Irene Dunne: First Lady of Hollywood (Scarecrow Press, 2003). It's a look at the versatile actress, who won critical acclaim for her roles in genres ranging from musicals like Show Boat (1936) to comedies (including The Awful Truth in 1937 with Cary Grant) and dramas such as I Remember Mama (1948).

Red Skelton (1913-1997) achieved major stardom in movies, TV, radio and on Broadway after getting his start in vaudeville shows and, before that, in burlesque. Irene Dunne (1898-1990) was nominated five times for an Academy Award but never won.  She also served one term as a delegate to the United Nations.

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