- Associated Press - Saturday, May 10, 2014

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) - Perhaps it’s true you can’t really go home again, but former and current Muncie residents searching for memories of their childhood can always find familiar glimpses of them on Lost Muncie.

And an ever-increasing number of people are looking for those memories on the Facebook page, which early this year passed the 10,000-member mark and has just continued to grow.

The rate at which members of the open group share and comment on photos of local buildings — some gone and some still standing — or mementos from long-ago local businesses, or simple queries of the “Hey, who else remembers …?” variety is dizzying.

“Remember coming to Muncie and shopping at Grants department store, later to become Hills and Hobby Lobby, was it also Kings and something else? I remember a nightclub called Kings Corner that shared the parking lot with a movie theater and ice cream store also.”

Lost Muncie actually got its start elsewhere on the Internet, well before the rise of Facebook.

Larry Broadwater, the site’s creator, had always been interested in history (note his day job as a history teacher in West Lebanon, Indiana), but local history and genealogy are particular loves of his. As is Muncie itself; when he was a kid growing up in Yorktown, “going to Muncie was such a big deal,” he told The Star Press (http://tspne.ws/1fUPTbd ) in a recent phone interview. “It was so exciting; there was so much going on.”

Broadwater’s fascination with Muncie continued into adulthood, when he attended computer programming classes at Ball State University during the early days of the Internet in the 1990s. Initially, he started a web page on which he posted old pictures of Muncie. After The Star Press started a website and began offering message boards on it, Broadwater started a Lost Muncie page there, figuring “This is even better,” he said.

Through that medium, Broadwater met Jeff Koenker, a fellow fan of Muncie history, if possible even a bigger one, whose collection of Muncie photos, reference materials and memorabilia Broadwater notes appears to be endless. In the world of Lost Muncie, Broadwater said of Koenker, “He is the Smithsonian.”

Broadwater got onto Facebook in its early days, and realized Lost Muncie could do even more there than as a message board, so he made the switch and recruited frequent-poster Koenker to serve as an administrator for the group with him. Though Lost Muncie drew followers in its earlier forms, “It’s just taken off” on Facebook, Broadwater said.

The ease of posting photos or written items and then responding to what others post on Facebook seems to suit Lost Muncie well, Broadwater said.

“I was telling some of my students at work today how much Ball State has changed over the years. Most don’t even remember Irving Gym (Men’s Gym to us oldies). They have no idea that at one time there were no buildings north of Riverside.” (from a recent post by Koenker)

Broadwater and Koenker each check in on the site at least once a day, and periodically post photos and/or text about some bit of local history. Broadwater acknowledged he’s run through much of his own collection of Muncie memorabilia by now, but he added that Koenker’s store of local history is so vast — and his interest in researching it so consuming — that “I think Jeff’s just scratched the surface.”

Koenker in particular posts regular photos of once-familiar sites or artifacts from local schools and businesses, along with information about them he’s researched carefully using resources such as old phone books and directories he keeps close at hand. Noting he’s also interested in regional history outside of the immediate Muncie area, Koenker said the further back you go, the fewer photos you find, which makes those glimpses of the past particularly interesting to him.

A lifelong Muncie resident who is now Bracken Library book stacks supervisor at his alma mater, Ball State, Koenker calls his own interest in Muncie history “an addiction.” The old photographs and postcards and other pieces of local history he seeks out and displays in his office and at his home are often exactly the sort of things that make good Lost Muncie posts.

The keepers of the Lost Muncie site make a point of monitoring it carefully, checking on new member requests to make sure they’re real people before approving them, and trying to keep postings on topic. Posts about political or otherwise divisive issues are discouraged, as are those focused on personal family history such as old family photos that wouldn’t be of general public interest. “The Internet’s got a million places to do that stuff,” Broadwater said.

That’s not to say every post to the site is a fond look back or a rosy-tinted version of local history. In March, Koenker posted the image of an old bookmark advertising the sale of Ku Klux Klan Christmas cards (or rather, “kards,”), inviting members to comment but adding, “Please, no heated comments … this is just part of Muncie’s history (and a sad part).” Various responses noted events or people the posters recalled who were connected with the KKK, or even addressed the group’s wider history in the region.

“Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s when I was growing up, families didn’t eat out as much as they do today, what was your favorite restaurant to go to as a child? I liked the Flagpole at 12th and Hoyt.”

Both Koenker and Broadwater attribute a lot of the interest in Lost Muncie to baby boomers and their nostalgic impulses. “People look back and see Muncie from the lens of their childhood,” Broadwater said.

Plenty of current Muncie residents are members of the group and enjoy posting and commenting on the site, but many of its avid followers now live elsewhere and enjoy revisiting the spots they remember from growing up here or visiting local family members when they were young.

A recent query on the site about where various posters now live drew responses from all over the United States, including Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Michigan and California, plus other cities in Indiana. (Some of those responding noted they had no wish ever to live in Muncie again, but that apparently didn’t stop them from revisiting their old hometown in memory and online.)

Dena Kouremetis fits that Lost Muncie profile of a baby boomer who moved away from Muncie long ago and hasn’t been back much, but who still looks back on her childhood here. She moved to Muncie with her family at age 9, and moved away in 1973, right after graduating from Ball State.

Now a writer living in California, she still has cousins who live here, as well as Facebook friends from Muncie. “I guess I just discovered it (Lost Muncie) when I started looking up Muncie on Facebook,” she said in a phone interview, describing herself as an avid reader of Lost Muncie now.

She recalls the Muncie of her childhood and teenage years as a thriving community that included both the university (“a beacon in Muncie’s existence”) and the blue-collar manufacturing industry. She sees that split between town/gown “teams” reinforced on Lost Muncie, where talking lovingly about memories of one or the other aspect of the city’s past can alienate someone else.

Though she doesn’t remember a lot of the local landmarks, Kouremetis — who has written several blog posts about Muncie on her own site — said the bits of history on Lost Muncie “made me appreciate a time in my life that was kind of like parenthesis. … The 12 years that I lived there actually contributed a whole hell of a lot to my formative years.

“I think people in general like to go back to that time in their lives,” she added.

Having made only two brief visits to Muncie since 1973, Kouremetis is actually planning to revisit Muncie in person this summer, to tour the much-changed Ball State campus and other key areas of town from her childhood.

Susan Orebaugh is another Lost Muncie member, one of those who still live here. “It’s just kind of a nostalgic thing,” she said. She joined the group after “it just popped up on Facebook. … Somebody I knew commented on it and it popped up on my thread.”

She enjoys seeing mention of familiar things from her Delaware County childhood or places like the Pixie Diner or Clara’s Pizza, though she added she’s sometimes startled to see a posted photo and think it’s a recent one, only to realize it’s not so much.

Restaurants are among the most popular topics for Lost Muncie postings, along with movie theaters and other likely teen hangouts — no surprise, considering the number of people recalling places that made an impression on their youthful selves, Koenker said.

“I still love the history of it,” Broadwater said. To many Lost Muncie members, their shared accounts of their grandparents working at a local plant or where they went shopping or out to eat as children are “just memories,” but to Broadwater they’re much more. “As a history nerd, this is what history’s all about,” he said. “This is the oral history of America.”

___

Information from: The Star Press, http://www.thestarpress.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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