LAPORTE — Thelma Pataluch was a child of the Great Depression but had just enough money from chores she did at home to regularly stop at Lenick’s Dairy for a milkshake with some of her friends.
"We couldn’t afford it every day, but about once or twice a week we’d get over there to have our milkshakes," the 95-year old Pataluch said.
She also remembers stopping in occasionally for an ice cream cone, and the horse drawn wagons used to deliver milk in glass bottles from the dairy to doorsteps in her Grove Street neighborhood.
Memories of the popular hangout from long ago were stirred by plans to convert much of the property into a community garden and park.
The 1,800-square-foot storefront will be saved.
It will be completely remodeled for use as an education resource center for teaching good nutrition and other things related to health.
"We’ll add air conditioning. Heating. It’ll be able to be used all year round (when) even the gardens aren’t growing," said Nate Loucks, pastor at State Street Community Church.
The church, already operating a community garden in another disadvantaged neighborhood across Ind. 2 on Jackson Street, recently acquired the old Lenick’s Dairy property on Brighton Street.
A $240,000 grant from the Healthcare Foundation of LaPorte is helping to fund the $500,000 project.
Loucks said community gardens improve access to fresh produce, especially in economically struggling areas where it’s often easier and less expensive to turn to less nutritional food.
The dairy was founded in 1908 by Frank Lenick, a butter maker by trade who went into business for himself after some dairy farmer friends in the area convinced him to distribute their milk, according to LaPorte County historian Fern Eddy Schultz.
They brought him their milk in steel containers, and by 1914 the dairy produced its first pasteurized bottle. Lenick started making ice cream a year later, and in 1934 he opened a soda fountain, Schultz said.
Bill Drewes, 86, of LaPorte, said his father, Carl, was a milkman for Lenick’s Dairy and wore spiked shoes in the winter so he wouldn’t slip on the ice while walking bottles to doorsteps from his horse-drawn wagon.
"I’d go on Sundays with him on his route down the avenues. He’d go and collect the money from the people who owed," Drewes said.
John Mills, 57, remembers his grandmother taking him there for a soda on her short trips into town in the 1960s and '70s. The place always seemed busy.
"After school or after a ball game, that’s where they would go: Lenick’s Dairy," said Mills, who grew up on Schultz Road a few miles north of the LaPorte city limits.
He also said his father and grandfather bought soured milk from Lenick’s and other local dairies for a half cent a gallon and gave it to the hogs they raised to stretch the feed money.
"They would slurp that stuff up. I was like giving them candy," Mills said.
Fred Lenick, and later his son, Norman, ran the operation until it closed in the 1980s, Schultz said.
Loucks said about half of the old dairy building has caved in.
The storefront is in such poor condition the remodeling will be almost like a rebuild.
"It’s in really bad shape. Not a whole lot of work has been done to it over the last 20, 30 years," Loucks said