When James “Jim” and Judy Dragon look out their window, they see a community that Jim spent a large portion of his life building. This community is known to some as “Dragonville,” because Jim built many of the houses surrounding his own house, just outside of Gary.
The Dragon family will celebrate James’ 100th birthday on May 25. “I don’t believe it—100 years old. I’m still living!” Jim said, laughing.
Jim knows that his birthday is in May, but recently he and his family found out that his social security records his birthday as May 3, 1919, while his birth certificate from Terre Haute says that he was born on May 17. However, Jim and his family have always celebrated his birthday on May 25.
Jim has four children, 15 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren. Jim and Judy have both lived in Indiana their entire lives. Jim was originally born in Terre Haute, and his parents moved to the Northwest Indiana region while he was young. Jim said his father owned around 20 acres of land, including where Jim’s current house just outside of Gary. His father eventually broke it off into lots and sold it off.
Jim was a bus driver for 31 years for the local Lake Ridge school system. Before he became a bus driver, Jim fought in World War II and was in combat mostly in France. He was a sergeant in the army and a commander of a half track, which is a vehicle with a front end that looks like a truck and a back end that resembles a tank.
While in France, Jim was wounded in the leg from shrapnel. He earned a purple heart and bronze star. He was in the service when his father passed away in 1944, and he still has the telegram that notified him about it.
After the war, he came back to Indiana. He owned and operated his own bus and had a contract with the school system. For 31 years, he drove children from the local grade, middle, and high schools.
“It’s funny because people will come up to him now and say, ‘Oh, you were my bus driver!’” Judy said.
Jim drove his school bus during the year, and during the summers he built houses. Jim designed and built their house. He also built some of the houses directly around them some on 41st Avenue and others. His house, finished in the late ‘60s, was the last one he built. His mother, sisters and brother also lived in this small community just outside of Gary.
“He probably built at least 10 houses. Some of them he helped family build and some of them he sold,” Judy said.
Jim also designed and built his own house. He built the cabinets in the kitchen and built his detached garage with his son James.
“He was handy around the house. I mean, he could do just about anything,” Judy said. “If somebody needed something fixed or – all the wallpapering we did in our house, he did it.”
“I made plenty of it,” he said, laughing.
Jim also put the road in between Colfax Street and Calhoun Street, which is now known as West 40th Place. Judy said their former church choir director used to call their small community “Dragonville” when the choir would go caroling each year.
“He really and truly helped build this community,” Judy said.
Jim and Judy are active members of the Descent of the Holy Ghost Romanian Orthodox Church. They have been members of the parish council, the building committee, and catering committee, and Jim also used to hold the auditor office.
Judy was born and raised in the church in its original location in downtown Gary, and Jim grew up in a different Romanian church before joining Descent of the Holy Ghost in the late 1960s—which is where they met.
Jim helped build the new church building in Merrillville, including the framework for the altar.
“Half of the stuff that’s built around the church he instigated or helped build. He’s been a really active member,” Judy said.
Soon after being consecrated, the church hosted its first wedding in the new location.
“We were the first ones to get married in our new church [building]. Our church was consecrated in September of ’73 and we got married the tenth of November, ’73,” Judy said.
Both Jim and Judy had a large impact on their church community over the years.
“When our church had its 110th anniversary, our bishop presented Jim and one other member with a certificate for a lifetime achievement ,” Judy said.
As Jim turns 100 years old this month, Judy and Jim celebrate Jim’s life and “Dragonville,” the community he helped to build.