RICH JAMES: Even without annexation, Winfield has changed

2013-08-11T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Even without annexation, Winfield has changedBy Rich James nwitimes.com
August 11, 2013 12:00 am  • 

I remember it like it was yesterday.

It was Monday morning and Garry Rinkenberger and John Curley rushed into the Lake County commissioners meeting with stacks of documents.

Rinkenberger and Curley spent the prior weekend running from farm to farm and house to house acquiring signatures calling for the incorporation of the town of Winfield.

There was a sense of urgency because word had leaked that Merrillville at its Monday night meeting planned to annex the bulk of what turned out to be the town of Winfield.

Rinkenberger, whose ancestors were among the early settlers, and Curley, the township assessor/trustee, were out to protect Winfield from the evils that were sure to come from being part of Merrillville.

That was 20 years ago. And, oh, how things have changed. Part of Rinkenberger Farms has been turned into upscale subdivisions. Curley passed away unexpectedly a few years ago.

There were about 1,000 residents in Winfield 20 years ago. There were 4,530 according to a 2011 census estimate.

The median value for a house or condo in Winfield is $252,900. For the state it is $123,100.

Over the 20 years Winfield has been a town, Gary’s population has plummeted, largely because of black flight.

Merrillville’s population has remained fairly steady, although an influx of blacks from Gary has led to white flight to Crown Point, Winfield and points east and south.

And in keeping with the demographic changes, very recent news headlines have told real-life stories.

In Gary, 37 teens with the city Youth Service Bureau and the Youth Leadership Council began painting over graffiti on abandoned buildings along Broadway.

Niavia Wilson, 17, is too young to have known Gary’s glory days. She said, “I hear stories that the city was great and there were bustling stores everywhere. It seems people gave up, but I’m glad a group of people haven’t …”

Merrillville officials have expressed concern about a spike in crime, particularly after two churches were burglarized.

In Crown Point, where urban problems are a rarity, officials are taking steps to keep it that way.

The Crown Point council last week launched discussions on what to do with a growing number of vacated and unsafe commercial buildings.

A city committee will discuss ways of regulating such structures so the day won’t come when teens will be asked to paint over graffiti.

That brings us to Winfield, which still doesn’t have its own police force.

Just in the last couple of months, Winfield has adopted a Neighborhood Watch program and imposed a curfew on teens – the kinds of things they hoped to avoid by incorporating and slamming the door on Merrillville.

For better or worse, change, it seems, is the only thing that endures.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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