DYER | The town began its life as a small farming community, but is now a town of neighborhoods and local businesses "living in the shadow of Chicago," as lifelong resident Paul Benninghoff puts it.
Benninghoff proudly points out his ties to two of Dyer's historically prominent families, the Hilbrichs and Keilmans. As a member of the Dyer Historical Society, Benninghoff appreciates the town's past and also is upbeat about its future.
The past year, town officials, business owners and residents worked hard to ensure that future is a bright one. The town received three high-profile grants. Money from the Lake Michigan Coastal Zone Management Program is funding an environmental study of the pond in Pheasant Hills Park.
Dyer also received $250,000 from Indiana's Safe Routes to School program; the money will go toward building a sidewalk on the south side of U.S. 30, west of the Castlewood subdivision and east of Calumet Avenue. A $550,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency grant will fund between 85 and 90 percent of the Berens Monaldi flood control project's third phase, said Rick Eberly, interim town manager.
New businesses continued to move into Dyer, including Foodie's Marketcafe, the Aqua Car Wash and Ruben's Mexican Grill.
"(During) the last three years, over 30 new businesses have opened in town," Eberly said. "We think that is a big positive."
Dyer officials and business professionals continue to emphasize local businesses, shopping and jobs as the town moves into a new year.
"They are trying to hold on to that small town feel, which is very hard to do when you've grown quickly in so short a time," Benninghoff said.
Residents get a taste of that small-town flavor each summer and fall, when Dyer hosts its Summerfest - one of the oldest summer festivals in Lake County -- and Hometown Fest.
They also have an expanding list of recreational opportunities, thanks to some capital improvements made this past year. Three half-court basketball play areas were added at Northgate Park, and the park's tennis courts were refurbished. Development also began at Central Park, with three new ballfields added at the park's north end.
"We always look at current economic times" when planning for programs and events, keeping in mind that many Dyer residents and their families are looking for fun close to home, said Mark Heintz, parks director. "We really look for the staycation (opportunities). If people can't spend money (on travel) they can go take advantage of local parks, special events, programs, pathways."
Dyer continues to rely on its small army of volunteers to get things done. These volunteers staff Dyer's boards and commissions, as well as special committees. Redevelopment Commission President Jethroe Smith, who is also involved in Dyer's Enhancement Team and festival activities, moved to Dyer in 1992. Dyer's schools drew him, but "I also liked the area. It's urban, but not too urban."
And when it comes to getting involved in town matters, Dyer has an open door policy.
"In Dyer, when it comes to (volunteering), if you've got the energy, we'll take you," Smith said. "There are a lot of opportunities (to get involved.)"
The Redevelopment Commission's Facade Improvement program got its first project last year. Commercial businesses at 1512-1514 Joliet St. underwent a facelift thanks to a grant from the program.
"It's a very nice facade renovation," said Eberly. The Redevelopment Commission will match the money business owners put toward the facade improvements, up to $25,000. Town officials are hoping the Joliet Street project will inspire others to participate.