City in the Spotlight: Hobart
When entering the city of Hobart on U.S. 30, Old Ridge Road, 3rd Street or Indiana 130, passerbys are welcomed via signs that say “Welcome to Hobart: the Friendly City.” That moniker is a good indicator of the pride locals show. From the mayor to the everyday citizen, Hobart is indeed “a friendly city.”
Mayor Brian Snedecor says a special emphasis has been put on those “gateway signs,” with new ones being placed near Festival Park, the heart of downtown and another one planned for 61st Avenue.
“We want to continue to build on those entry points,” Snedecor said, noting the sign on 61st Avenue will be part of an expansion of the thoroughfare next year.
“A lot is happening in terms of several million dollars being invested in roads and infrastructure,” he said.
Denarie Kane, the city’s director of development, said the Redevelopment Commission has a vision to improve the entrances to downtown.
“The next two (near Duck Creek bridge and also near the Doughboy) will be built as part of the Phase II of downtown streetscape work to begin in 2017,” she said. “Contingent upon funding will be the construction of the final one at Third Street on the existing median on the far side of the bridge.”
The entrances to downtown will serve as warm welcomes to an area rich in small businesses and local pride.
The main thoroughfare downtown is Main Street, which is home to Sewing by Judy - one of many businesses locals love to support. This one, however, is the place many of them go to buy their gear to support another hometown favorite: Brickie football.
“It’s crazy in here on Fridays during football season,” said Brenda Gourlay, a 20+-year resident of Hobart who handles desk duties as the shop. The entire front section at Sewing by Judy is dedicated to supporting your alma mater. While Brickie gear takes up a clear 80 percent, the store has mixed in some River Forest and Lake Station wear as well since some Hobart kids attend those schools.
Football in Hobart has always been an institution. Although the Brickies have struggled in 2014 with only two wins on the year as of October 16, it’s tough to find a city in Northwest Indiana with a gridiron history richer than Hobart. But while the team currently plays at the “The Brickyard” at the high school, Brickie football will likely forever be associated with “The Brickie Bowl” - one of the iconic structures in the history of region football.
Since the city has taken ownership of the field adjacent to the police station, Snedecor has said renovations are in the works to transform the field into an outdoor hub for community and sports events.
“We are starting the process to get that done,” the Mayor said. “We are now removing the upper level of the bleachers, and including several entities to basically rebirth the Brickie Bowl into something usable for the community. We want to keep the historical ambiance and still make it resourceful.”
Sewing by Judy is a good example of a local business with four employees, including two seamstresses; Judy, who does formals and embroidery and Bernie, who does the majority of alterations and screenprinting.
Gourlay, who said the businesses has seen an uptick in traffic since their move to Main Street from the previous location that was affected by the flood in 2008, is from Fort Wayne but married a Northwest Indiana man and opted for more of a small-city life for her children growing up. Hobart was the perfect place for her.
“Everyone is real friendly here,” she said. “Storefronts are built up and we have all kinds of things for kids to get involved with. We have a lake, fruit markets - great activities without having to go outside of the town.”
Just off the downtown area in Randolph Square is another proud Hobart business, Kara’s Hair Studio.
“Hobart has always been very supportive when it comes to family-owned businesses like mine,” said Kara Watts, a lifelong Hobart resident who has owned the hair studio for 22 years. “We like to give back by reaching out to get involved with youth sports. We do an internship with high school students to get hands-on experience and school credit for coming in and learning about what we do here.
“It’s a great community to live in and do business.”
What makes the city so great are a number of factors, but the people are the driving force, according to Raeann Trakas, special events coordinator for the city of Hobart.
“We have a very dedicated group of people invested in our community,” Trakas said, rolling off a number of city attractions that are the result of the hard work of local residents.
“We have a diverse historic downtown and a large retail corridor on Route 30,” she said. “Old and new neighborhoods, a great educational system and top tier medical facility in St. Mary’s. Those are just some of the many strengths of this community.”
Trakas said Lake George, situated a mere block away from the city’s center, makes Hobart “unique in the region.”
Gilbert Gonzalez, a resident of Merrillville, often takes in an afternoon of fishing on the lake when he is in town to visit his grandchildren.
“This is a nice, quiet and peaceful place to fish,” he said.
Abutting the picturesque Lake George are Festival and Lakefront parks, which border each other separated by a dam that can provide the perfect white noise for someone taking in a summer or fall day of relaxation.
Dawn Alvarez, a 15-year Hobart resident who has worked for the Hobart Parks Department for a decade said more improvements have been made throughout the city’s 22 parks over the last two years than her first eight years combined with the department.
“We are bringing in more flowers, more plants and equipment for kids in the playgrounds,” Alvarez said. “We’ve seen a lot go on here over the last couple of years, we have grown so much.”
Alvarez, who dedicates much of her off-time to planning benefits for people in need, called her job with the Parks “awesome.”
“I get to watch baby ducks being born and love talking to all the people who come out and walk their dogs,” she said, joking that sometimes she learns the dogs’ names before the person’s.
“I love learning more and more everyday by doing different things,” she added.
The centrally located city in Northwest Indiana is what suits Alvarez and plenty of other residents of the city founded by George Earle.
Hobart resident Donna Seeley says she loves living in Hobart because “wherever you go, you run into someone you know.”
“You never feel like a stranger,” she said. “We have the lake and Festival Park and the walking trails. There is always something going on around the town.”
The yearly boat race in late August is one of the many popular events occurring in the city, which has seen a population uptick from the 18,000 range two decades ago to some 29,000 residents as of the 2010 U.S. Census.
Growing up in nearby Gary, Snedecor said he did not frequent Hobart much as a child.
“Everything was drawn toward Glen Park and the Broadway corridor,” he said. “I always thought of Hobart as being a small bedroom community, but my has that changed.”
From a bedroom community, Hobart has now become more of a destination, thanks to attractions like County Line Orchard, Shilo Ranch and the Old Oak Savannah bike trail.
“When Mr. (David) McAfee (County Line Orchard founder, with his wife Bonnie) had a vision for the building, no one had anticipated the magnitude it would become when Luke Oil bought it,” Snedecor said of the popular fall attraction. “They have now added a barn and use it for weddings and all kinds of events like company parties and the Mayor’s Ball. It was an unbelievable vision executed by Luke Oil.”
Trakas added that the site on County Line Road has “become a tourist destination.”
“I see a mix of many different license plates every time I am there,” she said, noting that about 30,000 school children from the Chicago area make it to the Orchard during apple season every year.
The Oak Savannah Trail, Trakas said, is a more off the beaten path destination, but every bit as absorbent of the natural beauty you can find in Hobart as well.
“A lot of people utilize our bike paths that go into Portage,” she said. “I’m really excited about the final phase of the oak savannah trail that takes them through downtown.”
Also not far off the beaten path in Hobart is Shilo Ranch, 6900 Ainsworth Rd., which provides a western-like experience for Midwesterners who’d like to spare the expenses of traveling out to Wyoming, Utah or Nevada.
A bit of Nevada has come to the ranch in “Wrangler Rich,” a cowboy who spent 13 years at the now closed Ponderosa Ranch (of Bonanza fame) and operated R&D Ranch in Carson City for several years.
He now brings that experience of horseback riding, ATV rentals and sunset/moonlit rides to Shilo, which is a 40-year-old ranch in rural Hobart owned by Rich’s girlfriend, Jackie Peck.
Rich recommends spending a few hours at the ranch through their “Cowboy 101 package,” which he assures any horseback riding novice a unique experience that will result in a newfound skill in a very short time.
“Our rides are never boring,” Rich said. “It’s not a nose-to-tail ride. I don’t like nose-to-tail. You get to learn from a real Cowboy by riding through an obstacle course and cross some rivers. You can learn to walk, trot and canter in less than two hours.”
Upgrades are planned at Shilo to make the experience even more interactive. Rich said he plans to add a volleyball court, horseshoe pits and more cabins to the site so “people can spend the night here.”
“The trail rides, specifically the sunset rides, are beautiful,” he said.
Rich, a recently retired member of the Reno Rodeo, also offers lessons at an indoor rodeo-like pit and soon hopes to add bonfires and chili cookoffs to the list of opportunities to experience the west in Northwest Indiana.
While Shilo Ranch offers so much that visitors could spend an entire day there, Snedecor says his goal is to make Hobart a destination through offering many outlets for entertainment while improving quality of life for local residents.
“One of the goals I have is to begin the process of trying to develop higher end housing here,” the Mayor said. “It is a demand for that as we compete with other communities with like visions, improved housing needs to become a reality. We also need to continue what we are doing with infrastructure, which was not a big thing on the radar when I became Mayor.”
Infrastructure is a vital part of services offered to any community, and a good indicator of that in Hobart is St. Mary Medical Center, which has served the community for more than four decades and the region for a century.
“We consider ourselves to be part of the original fabric of Hobart,” said Mary Fetsch, marketing director at St. Mary Medical Center. “We have always worked well with the residents and community.”
The Medical Center is a 195 bed acute care community hospital that is part of the Northwest Indiana-based Community Healthcare System, a non-profit that includes both St. Catherine Hospital and Community Hospital.
“We are offering the highest quality care in Northwest Indiana and provide the finest medical resources right here in Hobart, comparable to hospitals in Chicago and nationally,” Fetsch said, noting that national rankings have indicated St. Mary succeeding many of the quality rankings of the academic centers in Chicago.
“A lot of people think they have to go outside of the area to get the finest health care, but when it comes to the very best medical care, physicians and technology available, we have it all right here at St. Mary Medical Center.”
In addition to quality, St. Mary Medical Center participates and sponsors a number of city activities such as the yearly fireworks display, the Hobart Education Foundation and Hobart YMCA.
“I think the city of Hobart is a great mix of hometown spirit - where you feel comfortable, but offers all the amenities and business expertise that you would find in larger communities in the area,”said Fetsch, who commutes from Griffith to work in the city. “We have a great group of people running the city and our partners in business are wonderful to work with. It has helped benefit our hospital and community as a whole.”
An expansion at St. Mary is underway that will eventually include a 113,000 square foot, 4-story wing that will be used to house a brand new, expanded Surgery Department, Operating Room Suites and Intensive Care Unit.
One of the organizations St. Mary works so well with is the Hobart Family YMCA, which offers the traditional Y activities like swim instructions and developmental pre-school.
Dale Polomchak, executive director of the Y, said he loves the appeal of Hobart’s “small town charm.”
“My favorite thing to do here is see a nice concert downtown and then walk around and take in the lakefront,” Polomchak said.
Visitors touring Hobart love taking in what Polomchak described, and then take in a good meal at one of Hobart’s many great dining establishments. Von’s Victorian, 54 Main Bistro and Marilyn’s Bakery are all good options.
But the best place to grab breakfast or lunch, according to tripadvisor.com, is Cafe 339.
Owner Demetri Karataglidis calls his popular downtown spot “stylish” - something some would expect to see in downtown Chicago.
“It’s colorful in here. We have a new style of chairs, hardwood floors and and neat design for our booths and tables,” he said. “Our customers are our bosses, so we will do anything for them. We do whatever we can to make sure they come back.”
“The people here have become our family,” added Myra Karataglidis, Demetri’s wife. “We get new customers all the time from all over.”
The Hobart community sure loves Cafe 339, which is bustling every day during breakfast and lunch hours. The four-year-old joint is family run, with Demetri and Myra employing his son, Steven and daughter, Anastasia.
“We couldn’t do this without them,” Demetri said.
Popular breakfast dishes at Cafe 339 include the country benedict and the “best biscuits and gravy in town.” For lunch, go with the Cuban Panini (Myra’s special), the “Brickie” corned beef or the chicken philly with a “very delicious” zucchini soup.
But any meal needs to be complemented with a nice cup of coffee, another trait that distinguishes Cafe 339 from its competition.
“Everyone in town has great coffee, but we have the best coffee in town,” Demetri said before restaurant server Anna Lopez chimed in that Cafe 339 has “the best coffee anywhere.”
“I was a regular here before I worked here, and I still eat here all the time,” Lopez said.
Demetri and Myra, both Hobart lifers, pride themselves on involvement with the community and local school system, as Demetri coaches soccer at Hobart High School.
But for a town of its size, Hobart offers a unique scope of education at a higher institution, the College of Court Reporting.
Founded in 1984 by Kay Moody, the CCR provides court reporting education to students worldwide.
“In a typical class, a student from California may be joining you online,” said Sarah Hamilton, a CCR student who also works in the admissions department at the college. “The technology that CCR has created has been both extremely innovative and successful in order to assist students in becoming the finest court reporters.”
The college offers an undergraduate associate’s degree, certificate and diploma programs in two specialized areas of study.
“I have never felt so welcomed in my entire life,” Hamilton says of the CCR experience. “Court reporting doesn’t seem so intimidating when you have an immense support system like you do at CCR. My passion for the field has only grown stronger, and I know it will continue to grow as I move through the different speeds in order to graduate.”
By working in admissions, Hamilton is able to “support my passion for my school and future career as well as assist new students in starting something that they probably never thought they were capable of doing.”
The city of Hobart has come along way over the last few decades, but Snedecor and other city officials are focused on moving the city even further, coming up with a comprehensive plan currently called Plan Hobart 2025, which Snedecor said is a result of the hard work of City Planner Sergio Mendoza.
“Sergio was the mover and shaker on this,” Snedecor said. “The public and stakeholders in the community were invited to attend a series of 6-7 meetings on everything from transportation to land planning and the use of parks.”
Trakas said this was the first time the city has sought public opinion in a long-term plan by “collecting surveys” and receiving input from “a good cross section of the population.”
Regardless of the improvements Hobart is destined to make over the next decade, it is already a great place to live, or visit, now.
“People are drawn to the community for what we offer," said Snedecor, who spent 27 years on the Hobart Police Department, including holding the Police Chief position before being elected mayor in 2007. “The community pride and spirit really stands out as we have third and fourth generation families that stay here. The quality of life really stands out when you are here.”
County Line Orchard, 200 S. County Line Rd.
Deep River County Park, 9410 Old Lincoln Highway
Hobart Art Theatre, 230 Main St.
Festival Park and Lakefront Park
Cafe 339, 339 Main St. - Ranked No. 1 on tripadvisor.com. Reviewer from Hobart says “I frequent this family owned spot regularly. Love going there for lunch. They have daily specials all reasonably priced and treat their customers like friends.”
54 Main Bistro, 54 Main St.
Paragon Family Restaurant, 1701 E. 37th Ave.
Rosati’s Pizza, 1411 Lake Park Ave.
Von’s Victorian, 310 N. Main St.
College of Court Reporting, 111 10th St.
Hobart High School, 2211 E. 10th St.
River Forest High School, 3300 Indiana St.
Hobart Middle School, 36 E. 8th St.
Liberty Elementary School, 130 N. Liberty St.
Trinity Elementary School, 891 Linda St.
St. Bridget School, 107 Main St.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Hobart High School football team won its sectional every year from 1979 to 1997, the longest streak of titles in state history. Information per Region Sports Network.
Hobart is home to Southlake Mall, one of Indiana’s largest indoor shopping malls.
Click here for more photos of Hobart!