VALPARAISO | An 18-year-old history buff and local high school student is the creator of a new exhibit at the Porter County Museum.
Wheeler, which focuses on the history of the tiny Union Township town, is the brainchild of Darrel Liebl, a senior at Wheeler High.
Liebl, who interns at the museum, uncovered the town’s history through books, the Internet and interviews with former and current Wheeler residents.
The result is a hallway extension of the We Are Porter County exhibit that highlights interesting facts about the town.
“I love history and to learn about history,” said Liebl, who aspires to become a history professor. “And how many people get to say they work at a museum?”
According to one of Liebl’s exhibit placards, Thomas Campbell journeyed from New York to Indiana in 1833 “with dreams of a new life in the untamed West.”
Campbell plotted the town in 1858 around a railroad line, and when the first train came through the new town, Campbell asked the engineer his name. The man responded, “Wheeler.”
Sports were also popular in Wheeler, which at one time boasted a senior pro baseball team.
“This has filled a hole in our We Are Porter County exhibit,” said Emily Royer, a museum staff member. “We knew we had to tell specific stories, and Darrel filled that void.”
At the opening, Liebl discussed his project with a small group — comprised mostly of current and former Wheeler residents.
“I wanted to hear some of the history,” said Barb McDowell, a 1961 Wheeler High graduate.
Wheeler High’s 1960 graduating class had 33 students, said alumnus Gerald Spagna, who said he was “somewhat” familiar with Wheeler’s history.
“I wanted to see more and know more,” said Spagna, now of Valparaiso.
Museum director Kevin Pazour said Liebl was a very “eager” temporary member of the staff.
“It’s been a neat thing to see him evolve during this process,” Pazour said. “We hope to involve other interns from area schools to help us expand and focus on different towns in the county.”
Pazour reminisced, saying he, too, was an intern at the museum when he attended Washington Township High School.
“That’s how I started here,” Pazour said. “If it works out for Darrel, he’ll be the next director of the museum.”