As a Gary native and one who has lived and worked in the city for decades, I thought it would be easy to pen a piece explaining what’s great about my beloved city. I soon found it was easier said than done as my list of attributes grew longer and longer. I finally settled on three areas — her past, her people and her promise.
Nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan with beaches and dunes that rival some vacation destinations, Gary has a rich and interesting history. Senior residents often share memories of Gary in its heyday complete with a bustling downtown area, a flourishing steel industry and an educational system that was the model for other districts around the country to follow.
Gary will forever be in the history books for being home to Michael Jackson and The Jackson 5, electing the first black mayor of a mid-sized American city and, most recently, electing the first female African-American mayor in Indiana. A proud history is a great blueprint for growth and revitalization.
I say without hesitation that the best thing about Gary is its people. Yes, young and old, Garyites are some of the most kind-hearted, loyal people on the planet. Despite the challenges and negative labels the city has faced, there is a significant population of residents who recognize the bright spots, are active in community organizations and are helping write Gary’s comeback story.
The talent here is plentiful. Just stop by the West Side Theater Guild or the Wirt-Emerson School of Visual and Performing Arts. Take a listen to the Gary Civic Symphony Orchestra or visit the Marshall J. Gardner Arts Center. I can go on and on.
Gary also has a very strong faith community that continues to play a vital role in the city’s revival. Many of the creative initiatives being implemented, such as urban gardens, park/vacant lot adoption and community cleanups, are being spearheaded by churches.
Last, Gary is a city filled with promise. I never grow tired of hearing people talk about what Gary “used to be” because it helps fuel hope and vision of what it can become.
The recent renovation of an already beautiful Marquette Park, steady demolition of abandoned homes and the repaving of major thoroughfares are clear signs of progress.
There is certainly more work to be done — more jobs to create, more economic development initiatives to implement, more educational opportunities for youths, more crime to combat. Yet Gary’s rich history and dedicated residents are key ingredients to her rising potential.
Scores of books have been written about the “Steel City” chronicling the good old days and the not so good days, but still she stands resilient and ready for what the future holds.