Jackson County REMC - January 2024 Indiana Connection

Page 1

Celebrating milestone anniversaries

Jackson County REMC’s

Art family in the

Artist of the year celebrates kin in her art


PAGES 20-23


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from the editor

The people are the story I’m Britt Davis, and I am the new editor for Indiana Connection. I’m excited to step into this role and honor the legacy of the editors who came before me. I’ve spent most of my career as the editor of a group of regional construction magazines that cover the United States. Through that position, I learned that while reporting the various aspects of construction projects are important, the real story is the people who work tirelessly every day to make those projects a reality. As I start this new position, I want to keep

VOLUME 73 • NUMBER 7 ISSN 0745-4651 • USPS 262-340 Published monthly by Indiana Electric Cooperatives Indiana Connection is for and about members of Indiana’s locally-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives. It helps consumers use electricity safely and efficiently; understand energy issues; connect with their co-op; and celebrate life in Indiana. Over 311,000 residents and businesses receive the magazine as part of their electric co-op membership. The average printed and mailed cost per issue is 54 cents. CONTACT US: 8888 Keystone Crossing, Suite 1600 Indianapolis, IN 46240-4606 317-487-2220 info@indianaconnection.org IndianaConnection.org

that lesson in mind. Much like when I started editing construction magazines, there will be a lot to learn about the electric cooperative industry. But one


thing I already know is that the people who make up your co-ops and your

Dr. Richard Leeper Vice President

communities should be the real focus of

Jamey Marcum Secretary/Treasurer

our magazine. Being born and raised in

Britt Davis

John Cassady CEO

Indiana, I know the people of this state are genuine and always willing to lend a hand to their friends, family, and neighbors. “Hoosier Hospitality” is not just an expression. Brooks, and our 1-year-old daughter, Gwen. When we’re not chasing her around, we are cheering hard for IU and the Colts with our friends. Football Sundays are a very big deal in our house. If you have an idea to share, I would love to hear from you. My inbox is always open.

On the menu: April: Recipes featuring garlic, deadline

Feb. 1. If we publish your recipe on our food pages, we’ll send you a $10 gift card.

Kiley Lipps Graphic Designer Ashley Curry Production and Design Coordinator Amber Knight Creative Manager Mandy Barth Vice President of Communication ADVERTISING: American MainStreet Publications Cheryl Solomon, local ad representative; 512-441-5200; amp.coop Crosshair Media 502-216-8537; crosshairmedia.net Paid advertisements are not endorsements by any electric cooperative or this publication. UNSOLICITED MATERIAL: Indiana Connection does not use unsolicited freelance manuscripts or photographs and assumes no responsibility for the safekeeping or return of unsolicited material.

Britt Davis bdavis@indianaec.org

Richard George Biever Senior Editor Holly Huffman Communication Support Specialist Lauren Carman Communication Manager

I graduated from Indiana University and live in Indianapolis with my husband,


EDITORIAL STAFF: Britt Davis Editor


Giveaway: Enter to win a popcorn prize pack from Shirley’s Gourmet Popcorn

Company! Visit indianaconnection.org/talk-to-us/contests or send your contact information to the address below. The deadline to enter is Jan. 31.

Three ways to contact us: To send us recipes, photos, letters and entries for gift drawings, please use the forms on our website indianaconnection.org; email info@indianaconnection.org; or send to Indiana Connection, 8888 Keystone Crossing, Suite 1600, Indianapolis, IN 46240-4606.

SUBSCRIPTIONS: $12 for individuals not subscribing through participating REMCs/RECs. CHANGE OF ADDRESS: If you receive Indiana Connection through your electric co-op membership, report address changes to your local co-op. POSTAGE: Periodicals postage paid at Indianapolis, Indiana, and at additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send change of address to: Indiana Connection, 8888 Keystone Crossing, Suite 1600, Indianapolis, IN 46240-4606. Include key number.

No portion of Indiana Connection may be reproduced without permission of the editor.








03 FROM THE EDITOR 05 CO-OP NEWS Energy news and information from your electric cooperative 10 ENERGY Things to consider when choosing a backup power option


12 COUNTY Elkhart County 13 INSIGHTS 14 INDIANA EATS Indiana popcorn shops


18 FOOD Canned staples bring these recipes together quickly and easily

specialize in fun flavors

16 SAFETY Be prepared for winter storms and power outages

26 PROFILE Delmar Bontrager, LaGrange County REMC

Indiana Connection


cover story

20 COVER STORY Artist of the year celebrates kin in her art



28 HOOSIER ENERGY/ WABASH VALLEY NEWS 29 TRAVEL Embrace the ridiculous at the Uranus Fudge Factory in Anderson (NOT IN ALL EDITIONS) 30 BACKYARD Easy resolutions for your outdoor landscaping (NOT IN ALL EDITIONS)

On the cover Justine Ocken works on a small sculpture in her art class at Whitko High School. Ocken won her grade division as a junior last spring in the 2024 Cooperative Calendar of Student Art contest and was named “Artist of the Year.” She also won her grade division’s honorable mention. PHOTO BY RICHARD G. BIEVER

4 JANUARY 2024



274 E. Base Road P.O. Box K Brownstown, IN 47220-0311


Kaylee Bennett

CHris Crane

Kayla HOcking

Dylan HUFF






Devan Jerrell

Aaron Mays

Byron Ray

Mitchell Scarlett

7:30 a.m.– 4:30 p.m., Monday– Friday





Sarah sorg

Tanner Sutherland

Alex williams

Nicole ault





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Jeffrey Mcpike

Matthew Barnett

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Greg Wischmeier





PHONE NUMBERS Local calls: 812-358-4458 Toll-Free: 800-288-4458

EMAIL info@jacksonremc.com

WEBSITE www.jacksonremc.com

BILL PAYMENT Online: www.jacksonremc.com By phone: 1-888-999-8816

REPORT OUTAGES OR EMERGENCIES 812-358-4458 (local) 1-800-288-4458 (toll-free) day or night

BOARD OF DIRECTORS board President John Trinkle, District 3 Vice President Walter Hunter, District 2 Secretary-Treasurer Jerry Kelley, District 5 John Hackman, District 1 Paul Elliott, District 4 Mark Trisler, District 6 Curtis Wischmeier, District 7 Dave Hall, District 8 John Miller, District 9 President/CEO Mark McKinney

This institution is an equal opportunity provider and employer. JANUARY 2024


What a magical night we had in Brownstown on Dec. 7! Santa, his elf, and his reindeer paid us a special visit and helped spread some holiday cheer. The joy on everyone’s faces was priceless! Thank you to everyone who joined us — it truly warmed our hearts to see the community together.

6 JANUARY 2024



Power up your

SAVINGS! Make the most of 2024 electric rebates from Jackson County REMC Jump into a new year and take advantage of Jackson County REMC’s 2024 electric rebates. Enjoy savings on electric outdoor equipment, water heaters, an upgrade for your HVAC unit or just some TLC for your HVAC system.

2024 rebates include •

Electric outdoor equipment

Water heaters


HVAC tuneups

Visit https://www.jacksonremc.com/ energy-services/rebates/ today to learn how you can apply and save! Hurry, these rebates are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

812-358-4458 • jacksonremc.com

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Shining light ON backup power Many homeowners have considered adding battery storage or a backup generator to provide power when the electricity goes out. Such an addition can be a major investment, costing thousands of dollars. If you have thought about purchasing a backup power source, there are a few questions that you should consider.

Why do you want a backup power system? This is the first question your electric co-op’s energy advisor will ask. If you are concerned that your home is losing power frequently, co-op employees can research the issue and come up with potential fixes, which may save you from spending any money. Sometimes there may be issues that require an electrician to repair them — which will resolve your issue without the need for a more expensive purchase.

What do you want to power? Backup battery systems or generators that power an entire home are much more expensive than a smaller backup to power critical systems, such as

10 JANUARY 2024

heating and cooling, refrigerators and a few appliances. The type of heating in the home also can make a huge difference; electric resistance heat requires much more electricity compared to a natural gas or propane furnace. You need to understand prior to purchase what your backup power source will be able to do. Your co-op’s energy advisor can provide insight on the energy needed to power certain appliances and systems.

Is a contractor needed to install the system?

to answer questions even after service is completed. When you purchase a backup power system, be sure to follow your electric co-op’s interconnection rules when setting it up to ensure safe operation. This will prevent damage to your home and the energy grid and keep your co-op’s linemen safe. By knowing the right questions and considerations, you can be sure that the backup power system you purchase will meet your needs. Be sure to contact your local electric cooperative before you purchase a system to make sure that the dollars you spend make sense.

Some big-box stores sell gaspowered generators that many homeowners can use with minimal help. For larger whole-home backup generators and battery systems, a contractor may be needed to properly install them. For a project that requires a contractor, seek multiple bids. It’s also important to consider what each contractor is offering. Question each salesperson’s assumptions. Will a contractor provide a walkthrough on setup or support after installation? A good contractor should be willing

by Jake Taylor Energy Advisor LaGrange County REMC


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county feature

Elkhart County


Known as the RV capital of the world, Elkhart County is located in Northern Indiana as part of the Michiana region. More than 200,000 tourists visit the county for its annual 4-H Fair – the second-largest county fair in the United States.



1830 The Midwest Museum


of American Art in

the Eastern Elk, an extinct subspecies of elk

Elkhart features 25,000 square feet of 19th- and 20th-


century American


art in a renovated


neo-classical style


bank building. The museum’s collection


includes several signed stone lithographs from American


illustrator Norman Rockwell. One of the lithographs displayed in the museum is “Freedom from Want,” the third of four oil


paintings in Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” series, inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s State of the Union address.

A SPROUTING TRADITION Over a million flowers bloom each spring in Elkhart County’s 17 quilt gardens featured along its Heritage Trail. Das Dutchman Essenhaus, an Amish-style restaurant in Middlebury, has participated every year since the gardens were created in 2007. About 200 volunteers work 2,000 hours planting, watering, and weeding the gardens for the public to visit from May through September.

12 JANUARY 2024

AMISH COUNTRY Nearly 20,000 Amish live in Northern Indiana. Elkhart County’s Heritage Trail allows visitors to learn about Amish life in one of the country’s largest Amish communities. From tasting fresh pies to admiring handcrafted woodwork, visitors can stop by multiple Amish-owned local stores along the three-day self-guided driving tour through Nappanee, Middlebury, and Shipshewana. Nicole Thomas is a freelance writer from Indianapolis.





y name is Ryan Heater, and I appreciate the opportunity to introduce myself as the new vice president of government relations for Indiana Electric Cooperatives (IEC). I was born and raised in rural Indiana, grew up on a farm, and lived on a co-op line. I’m thankful for the important role that REMCs have in their local communities. I consider it an honor to be working on behalf of — and as a strong advocate for — all our cooperative members from across Indiana. IEC is currently focused on the Indiana General Assembly’s 2024 session. This “short” session kicked off Jan. 8 and has a deadline of March 14, so it will move at a quick pace. We are focused on energy and broadband-related legislation that we expect to move during this session. We’ll be watching closely for any legislation that may have an impact on our members’ day-to-day operations. We’re also engaging our federal delegation on a myriad of issues including infrastructure and broadband funding, decreased bureaucracy, and appropriate policies that ensure reliability for our members. When it comes to our government relations efforts, I strongly believe in integrity and responsiveness.

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These two words summarize everything it takes to be successful when it comes to working on state and federal issues. We work hard to ensure we are seen as highcharacter individuals who respond quickly and communicate honestly and effectively. We will continue to work on state and federal issues with a keen eye on member engagement. We want our members to be aware of what’s going on at both levels and to have the tools needed to work with their elected officials. IEC is actively working with member cooperative leadership to engage with policymakers to ensure our interests are known and impacted in a positive way.

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Indiana eats

P POgoes the corn! We’re all ears for flavored popcorn varieties from all over the state Celebrate National Popcorn Day on Jan. 19 by poppin’ on over to one of Indiana’s many popcorn shops that specialize in fun flavors of everyone’s favorite movie-time — or actually anytime — munchable. Here are just a few spots to check out:


Goshen, Indiana Shirleyspopcorn.com This gourmet popcorn got its start in the movies! The Shannon Theatre in Bluffton, Ohio, was famous for its hot buttered popcorn, so much so that people wondered if they could just buy the popcorn without the movie ticket! They got their wish and now there are two Shirley’s Gourmet Popcorn storefront locations and one pop-up location in Ohio, one store in Virginia and one shop in Goshen, Indiana, all selling the craveable traditional theatre-style popcorn that can truly be called “classic.” Shirley’s (named after a Shannon Theatre employee) also sells fun flavored popcorn like Buckeye, Chocolate Almond, Dark Salted Caramel, Caramel to Die For, and Jelly Bean.


Merrillville, Indiana Chicagolandpopcorn.com Open since 2013, Chicagoland Popcorn produces 250 handcrafted flavors including Banana Pudding, Chocolate Covered Banana, Blueberry Muffin, Crab Legs and Cherry Cola as well as the addictive Chicagoland Mix (caramel and butter popcorn mixed together as a sweet and salty snack). The company has been a title sponsor of the Valpo Popcorn Fest since 2014 and has been highlighted in Food Network Magazine. It was selected Knot Magazine’s “Best of the Knot” in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

14 JANUARY 2024


Vincennes, Indiana Poparoundtheclock.net Though this small shop produces over 50 different flavors of popcorn as well as popcorn treats, owners Chris and Amy Bruggeman will also make custom batches for its clients. Sweet flavors include Birthday Cake, a 10-Flavor Confetti Mix, and the Superman Mix (featuring red and blue candied popcorn, and caramel corn). Among the savory choices are Bacon Cheddar, Pizza, and Cajun. Pop Around the Clock uses premium gourmet popcorn grown just down the road from them.


Jeffersonville, Indiana Poppinflavors.com At Poppin’ Flavors, popcorn is more than a snack, it’s a “gourmet delicacy.” Besides unique flavors like Pineapple Upside Down Cake, Hot Dill Pickle, Chocolate Covered Strawberries and Honey BBQ Chicken, Poppin’ Flavors offers alcohol-infused flavors. Those include Caramel Bourbon Peanut, Caramel Apple (Crown Royal Apple liquor-infused on candy corn mixed with caramel corn), and Maple Bacon Bourbon.


Indianapolis, Indiana Justpopinpopcorn.com Twin sisters Carly Swift and Mandy Selke opened Just Pop In! in 2003. It’s now so successful that they have two locations — one in Indianapolis’ Broad Ripple neighborhood (which also boasts a bar and café) and another at Terminal B at Indianapolis International Airport. Just Pop In!’s client list includes IndyCar, PGA, NCAA and designer Christian Dior. Fancy popcorn flavors include Sun King Cheese and Ale Pretzel, Smoking Goose Bacon and Cheddar, 4 Birds Oats and Maple Cookie and Tomato Basil Pizza.

POPCORN TRIVIA • Popcorn is the official state snack of Indiana. • Van Buren, Indiana, is the popcorn capital of the world. • Weaver Popcorn Bulk, headquartered in Van Buren, is the largest bulk popcorn producer in the world, selling under the Pop Weaver brand as well as co-packing for both domestic and international customers. • Indiana is the top popcorn producing state in the country, producing over 20% of the United States’ popcorn supply. • According to a poll by National Today, the top five popcorn flavors are butter, white cheddar, caramel corn, kettle corn and cheddar cheese.


Why have a stairlift when you can have a Homelift? Stay in the home and neighborhood you love with a Stiltz Homelift. WHY LIMIT YOURSELF? Stairlifts were introduced in the 1920s, and not much has changed since. A stairlift has one use: to move you (and only you) between �loors, slowly. And it �its in only one place: your staircase. Finally, a stairlift won’t keep up with you as your mobility needs change over time. For example, a stairlift can’t carry a walker or wheelchair. THE MODERN SOLUTION

A Stiltz Homelift, on the other hand, is an affordable, modern Homelift that is so compact, it �its just about anywhere in your house. It requires no special machine room, no supporting walls, and runs off a standard home electrical outlet. One look at our unique free standing rail system, and

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A Stiltz Homelift is 100% safe. The elevator will not operate when the door is open, and sensors stop the lift cab if something is in the way. A battery backup lowers the lift cab in a power outage.

A Stiltz Homelift is versatile. Our elevators carry two people, or even a wheelchair. And the small footprint means they �it just about anywhere. Install your homelift through the �loor, in a stairwell, up to a landing — even inside a closet! A Stiltz Homelift is clean and quiet. Our self-contained electric drive system is very quiet. No messy hydraulics, no noisy vacuum systems, no machine rooms required. A Stiltz Homelift is an extra pair of hands. Move laundry, suitcases, groceries and vacuum cleaners — up and down between �loors. IT’S NEVER TOO SOON

Some Stiltz customers need a Homelift immediately. But others want to “future-proof” their homes for when the stairs become a challenge.

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Preparing for

WINTER STORMS If an approaching winter storm is the lead story on your nightly news, it’s probably chaos at the local grocery and too late to properly stock up on necessary food items, de-icing pellets and other related items. That’s why you should prepare before a winter storm is on the horizon. It’s important to develop a plan for power outages during these harsh months. Heavy snows, freezing rain and ice storms can all create electrical hazards. “Being safe around electricity is something you should focus on year-round,” said Jon Elkins, vice president of safety, training and compliance at Indiana Electric Cooperatives. “Indiana winters can bring a whole slew of dangerous hazards, especially where power lines are concerned. “Snow and ice often accumulate on power lines. The added weight may cause lines to snap off the poles or cause the poles to break,” Elkins explained. “That can bring power lines into contact with the ground, trees, homes, vehicles and other

16 JANUARY 2024

Photo courtesy of Kankakee Valley REMC

objects. If people or pets come in contact with a live power line, they can suffer serious injury or even death.”

Keep warm air in and cool air out by not opening doors to unused rooms. Do not open doors to the outdoors unless necessary.

Due to these dangerous conditions, many residents may be confined to their homes for days at a time. That’s why it is important to have a plan in place, especially during winter storm outages. To better prepare you and your family for a power outage, your electric co-op recommends consumers keep a storm preparedness kit fully stocked.

Food safety is also important when there is an outage. Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible, and eat perishable food first. If you know a winter storm is coming, stock up on ice so you can keep things in coolers to keep them from going bad if an outage lasts longer than a day. Once the refrigerator reaches temperatures higher than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, foods can become unsafe to eat.


To protect homes’ electrical equipment during an outage, turn off and unplug all unnecessary electronics or appliances. This will keep equipment from being damaged by surges or spikes when the power returns.

• Bottled water • Non-perishable food • Emergency blankets • First aid kit/medicine • Flashlight • Battery-operated or hand-crank radio

• Extra batteries • Toiletries Now that your family is prepared for an outage, what should you do if the lights do go out?

Once an outage is over, there are still safety precautions to take. Power lines could still be down. If you see downed power lines, do not touch them. Call your local co-op or 911 for assistance.

Sources: Electrical Safety Authority, Popular Mechanics

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Can-venience food


CHICKEN CASSEROLE Patricia Zobrist, Knox, Indiana 4 cups diced cooked chicken

1 (24 oz.) can chow mein noodles

1 (10½ oz.) can cream of mushroom soup

1 cup buttered bread crumbs

1 (10½ oz.) can cream of chicken soup

Lightly grease a 13-by-9-inch pan. Mix first six ingredients together, then add chow mein noodles. Spoon into pan. Put buttered bread crumbs on top. Bake at 350 F for 35-40 minutes.

1 (10½ oz.) can chicken with rice soup 1 (6 oz.) can evaporated milk 1 (8½ oz.) can peas


18 JANUARY 2024

food HOT SAUSAGE DIP 1 T. oil 1 large onion, chopped 4 cloves garlic, chopped 1 lb. roll sausage 1 lb. lean ground beef 1 lb. processed cheese, diced 1 (10½ oz.) can cream of mushroom soup 1 (10 oz.) can diced tomatoes and green chilies (original) 1 (7 oz.) can chopped and peeled green chilies In a skillet, saute onion and garlic in 1 T. oil. Add sausage and ground beef. Brown while stirring. Drain excess fat. Melt cheese in a 2-quart glass dish in microwave about 2½ to 3 minutes or until all melted. Stir in soup, diced tomatoes and green chilies, meat mixture and green chilies. Serve hot with corn chips or dippers of choice. Refrigerate leftovers.

PEACHES AND CREAM Betty Byrd, Corydon, Indiana

¼ cup flour

Sift flour, pudding mix and baking

1 small (3 oz.) pkg. cook and serve vanilla pudding

powder together. Set aside.

1 t. baking powder 1 egg, beaten

Combine egg, milk and butter. Add dry ingredients. Mix well. Spread in a greased 8-by-8-by-2 inch pan. Drain peaches but save syrup.

½ cup milk

Place peaches over the mixture in

3 T. melted butter

the pan. Mix ½ cup sugar, peach

1 (16 oz.) can sliced peaches

juice, and cream cheese together and pour over the peaches.

1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese

Combine 1 T. sugar and cinnamon

½ cup plus 1 T. sugar

and sprinkle on top. Bake 45

½ t. cinnamon

minutes at 350 F.



In Justine Ocken’s “Best of Show” colored pencil illustration for the 2024 Cooperative Calendar of Student Art, her older brother, Jarrett, is astride his old horse, Cowboy. The family dog, Itty Bitty, walks alongside them.

Art family in the

Artist of the year celebrates kin in her art BY RICHARD G. BIEVER


he 2024 cooperative calendar’s “Artist of the Year,” Justine Ocken, proves that the acorn doesn’t fall far from the Ocken tree. Pardon the pun, but the oaken reference is something her family embraces, and family is something the Whitko High School senior embraces in every work of art she creates. “I love to make art for my family. That’s my thing,” she said, sitting in her high school’s art room where she completed her entries for the calendar art contest last spring. One, she called “Splashing Away,” is a rider astride a horse crossing a shallow stream with a dog at their side. All three are moving away from

20 JANUARY 2024

the viewer toward a shaded wood. The colored pencil illustration not only won the 11th grade division, but judges selected it as “Best of Show,” as well. The rider, Ocken noted, is her older brother, Jarrett. The dog is the family’s beloved Australian cattle dog, Itty Bitty, now deceased. The work is a composite based on three photos several years old. “When I made this, it was for the calendar. But it was also like I’m giving that to my brother,” she said. In addition, a second work she entered won an honorable mention for her grade division. It’s called, “Recipe for Tradition.” This illustration features

her dog sniffing out Thanksgiving fixings atop the stove and kitchen counter at her grandmother’s home. Those two works stood out to contest judges among all the junior entries. For all three honors, Ocken received $375 in prize money. “Those pieces are important to my family and me. So, it was really cool to be able to tell them that the pieces actually made it in something that mattered,” she said.

SWEEPING HER DIVISION This was the second time Ocken swept her grade division. As a freshman, her illustration of an old wagon wheel against a red barn took

first place to illustrate September, and another illustration of three of her family’s horses in a field won the honorable mention. In the contest’s 26 years, only three times has one student won both first and honorable mention in the same year. Ocken’s done it twice. The art contest for the 2024 Cooperative Calendar of Student Art was judged last spring. The 13 first place winners for grades kindergarten through high school senior were selected to illustrate the months of the calendar and the cover; an honorable mention for each of the 13 grades was also selected. The first-place work captures a kind of “November in her soul” because it depicts a huge and sad change in her life. Jarrett had gone off to college at Purdue, his horse, Cowboy, was “re-homed,” and their dog had to be euthanized. “My brother, one of my best friends, and the horse and the dog all went away at the same time.” The honorable mention work depicts a happier family gathering for Ocken. “That’s my dog, Molly. She’s really important to me. I draw her all the time.” Three photos on the counter and backsplash are from her mom’s side of the family. One is of her

great grandpa’s hand holding grain. Another is her great grandpa. Another is the wedding day of her great grandparents. “I tried to incorporate a bit of everything from that side of the family in there. The wreath, it’s not exactly the wreath that we had, but there was one like that at my grandma’s house. That’s where we go for Thanksgiving.” Dan Malicki, the art teacher at Whitko, said Ocken’s pursuit of excellence is almost second to none. “She was always good in art, but I think probably about her sophomore year she kicked it in.”

Ocken first won her grade division in 2022’s calendar with this illustration.

Joining her in the empty, post-lunch classroom to talk about her art, Malicki added, “So it’s actually kind of nice to see her face because usually, in class, you see only the top of her head. She’s always working.”

A big part of Ocken’s art and her family’s life are horses. They do open shows during the summer. She said she and her brothers, Jarrett and Jhett, grew up riding. “There was never a time that I wasn’t,” she said.


A decade or so ago, her parents also put their artistic skills into their love of horses by creating and selling custom bridles, spurs, and other gear for horse shows. Her mom would sketch out and engrave the metal pieces her dad created. “They liked to incorporate the oak leaves,” she said. “I love to look at her sketches because they’re so ‘flowy’ and they usually have that signature leaf in it. Seeing them has been pretty much my inspiration.”

As a sophomore, Ocken entered the contest. While her work didn’t win that year, she’s still fond of that illustration. “So, I did a picture of Molly, which is not a surprise to anyone who knows me. And she was in the leaves and stuff. The leaves were all oak leaves. It was really fun for me.” Oak leaves are another little inside family tie she likes to subtly use in her works. It follows a theme in the equestrian gear her parents once custom made. Her mom, Lyn, is a former art teacher and now a school administrator in Huntington, and her dad, Jay, a welding instructor with the Whitko school system.

She noted, “Everything was very practical, but still was very personable. They would do names or they would do symbols. Stuff like that.” Through FFA, Ocken has dabbled with the blow torch, too. “I got to do some welding, but it wasn’t really artistic. I’ve played around with it, but I’ve never made something special. But I do like sculptures. I think I’m the best at colored pencils, but I like pastel and paint … everything.” continued on page 22

Ocken’s honorable mention-winning work for the 2024 calendar includes her dog, Molly.



Ocken is among a long list of Whitko High School students, taught by Dan Malicki, left, and his dad before him. Except for 2016’s calendar, Whitko students have appeared in the calendar ever year since 2001.


continued from page 21

SHARING HERSELF One thing Ocken likes about winning in the calendar art contest is passing out calendars to family. Each winner gets 10 complimentary copies. “For Christmas, my grandma or I usually pass out the calendars. Over the next year, it’s really cool to get to see those in my relatives’ house. It just makes me feel I’m more part of their lives. And, then my brother [now living and working in Nebraska], he hangs them up on his wall. So, I get to be a part of his life even though he’s out there.” “Justine summed it up,” added Malicki. “In almost every single one of her pieces, her family is evident. It may be mainly her horses and dogs, but the unique thing with her is that she does use that symbolism. It’s not just a horse, it’s her horse, and she has a whole background to it.” He said the Thanksgiving illustration is quintessential Ocken. “Everything on here has a reason for being there. She does that with all of her pieces. So for her to have those calendars up in family’s houses, that’s sharing a little bit of her with her family, that’s a family tradition there. I’m almost jealous I’m not in her family because I want some pieces of that in my house.”

22 JANUARY 2024

Malicki’s family tree, though, comes with its own legacy and tradition. In the summer of 2012, he came home to Whitko and took over the art department developed by his father, Walter, who was retired at the end of the 2011-12 school year. Under his dad’s direction, Whitko High School built an amazing art program for a fairly small, rural school, west of Fort Wayne. In fact, the Cooperative Calendar of Student Art began receiving entries from Whitko in 2001, two years after the calendar began in 1999. One student won an honorable mention that year. Every year but one since, the work of at least one Whitko student has appeared in the calendar. Ocken and Whitko freshman Cate Deckena now make it 43 works from Whitko students. Malicki said his dad still takes an interest in the calendar art contest and is always waiting with anticipation for a call in the spring. He also noted that the ladies in the school’s office are always happy when he passes out calendars. “They hang them up in their offices. So, these are displayed pretty much throughout all the main offices in our school. It’s a school tradition. I hold my breath every year. And I’m glad it’s happened to continue over and over, but you just never know. It makes me proud knowing, of course, my dad started that tradition and I’ve been able to continue his tradition.”

Malicki’s mother was also an art teacher. And now, his son, Mason, who’s only in second grade, says he wants to carry on and be an art teacher, too. “He’s only 8 and has a while to figure out what else he wants to do,” said Malicki. “But in those early elementary years, they asked him what they wanted to be, and they dressed up. He dressed up as an art teacher, with blue jeans, a collared shirt, and a little kid apron. He wore an ID badge. He’s pretty cool.” Through elementary school, Ocken had dreams of following her parents as teachers, too. Like Malicki, she wanted to be an art teacher. Now, with college just around the bend, she said she’s thinking of a double major, or a major-minor, in business and art. “When I get out, I want to own my own studio and sell my own art,” she said. She hasn’t decided on a school, but she said her two top choices are Indiana University-Bloomington or Ball State University. She said that after college, she would like to return to the South Whitley area to set up her shop. Two weeks before Thanksgiving, Ocken said she hadn’t started work on her valedictory work yet for the 2025 Cooperative Calendar of Student Art. It’s due March 29. She said she wasn’t exactly sure what the contest entry would be, other than the assigned month of December. But she did say one thing for certain: “I definitely will end up incorporating my family into it somehow … at least an animal or two.” Richard G. Biever is senior editor of Indiana Connection.

2024 winning artwork

SERENITY WHITE kindergarten

HADLEY WAGNER first grade

RAYNA PRYOR second grade


FLYNN CISSELL fourth grade

KAYLIN FULLER fifth grade

CHLOE HOLTKE sixth grade

NANDINI KONDHARE seventh grade

JENNA MERLI eighth grade

CATE DECKENA ninth grade


LINDSEY TODD 12th grade

THE 2024 COOPERATIVE CALENDAR OF STUDENT ART If your new year is still lacking a 2024 calendar, head over to one of 27 participating Indiana electric cooperatives that may still have copies of the latest Cooperative Calendar of Student Art available. Copies are limited, so you may want to call your co-op’s office first. Copies are also available through the mail from Indiana Connection. The 26th edition of the calendar is illustrated with the winning works from the student art contest that Indiana Electric Cooperatives held in the spring of 2023. Over 2,500 entries from all grades, K-12, from all over Indiana were entered. As with the previous contests, students were asked to create artwork illustrating the month assigned to their grade division. First graders in the 2022-23 school year were assigned January; second graders had February; third graders had March; and so on, ending with 12th graders illustrating December. Kindergartners were given the coveted cover position, which allowed them to illustrate whatever they wanted. In addition to the 13 grade division winners, an honorable mention was also selected for each grade. These works appear in a special section in the calendar. Information about the art contest for the 2025 calendar, is now available at IndianaConnection.org. The entry deadline is March 29, 2024. A gallery of all past winning works is also on the website. JANUARY 2024




This year’s Youth Power and Hope Award winners are working to better their communities by giving of themselves. Indiana Connection and Indiana’s electric cooperatives established the Youth Power and Hope Awards in 2009 to recognize fifth through eighth graders who are stewards of their community.

The 2023 Youth Power and Hope Awards winners are: LEAH COX, PLAINFIELD


Cox is an eighth grader at Plainfield

Miller is a seventh grader at South

Community Middle School. She is a

Ripley Junior High School. A highlight

National Junior Honor Society member

of his community involvement is

and assists with a kindergarten class.

supporting special education students,

She participates in the SWAT (Special

including participating in the Polar

Winning Attitude Team) through her

Plunge for Special Olympics. He is also

karate dojo where she will eventually

active in his church where he is part of

teach younger students the skills she is learning. Cox also

the youth group and a volunteer. Miller volunteered this

volunteers at her church and fosters cats with her family.

summer to mow the Versailles town square and update the town’s Christmas lights. In addition, he and his sister

CHLOE KRAMER, GREENSBURG Kramer is a seventh grader at North

applied for a grant to recreate the wetlands at their school. He also supports Wreaths Across America making wreaths that will be placed on veterans’ graves.

Decatur Junior-Senior High School. She has worked at Versailles State Park renovating its nature center and


participated in its Clean Up a State

Schwartz is a sixth grader at DeKalb

Park Day. Kramer also spends time at

Middle School. Last Thanksgiving,

local nursing homes where one of her

her family participated in a community

favorite activities is bringing in a baby goat to interact with

Friendsgiving event feeding individuals

residents. She is active in 4-H and her church, and has

and families in need. At Christmas, she

organized food drives. She recently taught 100 adults to

volunteered at an event helping younger

make bracelets at a ladies’ night out sponsored by a local

kids make Christmas gifts. Schwartz

radio station.

has also volunteered at the Fort Wayne BMX track and has accumulated 50 volunteer days there. This past summer,

The award recipients were honored at a banquet during the annual meeting of Indiana Electric Cooperatives, a statewide association for Indiana’s 38 electric cooperatives and publisher of Indiana Connection.

24 JANUARY 2024

Schwartz participated in a fundraiser at the Eckhart Public Library and handed out school supplies at two schools. Recently, Schwartz was chosen to represent her school on the Junior Achievement student leadership board.

profile Professional progression: CO-OPS: TAKING CARE OF CO-WORKERS AND COMMUNITY On the cusp of the 21st century, Delmar Bontrager took a job going from location to location manually reading electric meters for a small rural electric cooperative. To many, it may have seemed like a job without longevity. Automated digital meters that read themselves were already becoming the industry standard. But, in his mind, Bontrager’s future with LaGrange County REMC was never in doubt. “I never really felt anxiety about the job not being there. I knew this was the kind of a company that takes care of its workers,” he said. While that original job did change, 24 years later Bontrager is still with LaGrange County REMC. He is now the operations foreman overseeing line crews, staking engineers and new building projects. He is also working closely with the co-op’s new broadband installations. Bontrager’s working career began in the RV manufacturing industry, a staple of northeastern Indiana’s economy. But the industry could fluctuate with the economy. He wanted something more stable. He was coaching a youth basketball league when the father of one of his players who worked at the REMC asked if he’d be interested in a job there.

He knew little of how co-ops across the nation develop their employees and help them progress — to move “up the ladder” and take better positions when they opened. “Once I did some diving into it a little bit, I knew that it was a great place to work,” Bontrager said. “The benefits were good; the environment was good. It was very well respected in the community.” And from his co-op co-workers, he said, he learned more than just the electric industry. “This was a great place to raise a family. I have had a lot of good mentors over the years here, not only teaching you about line work, but being a good family man, father, husband, too,” he said. “It’s good values. That’s part of our culture.” The mentorship started while he was still reading meters and helping the line crews from the ground. When an apprentice lineman position opened, he was invited to take it. After four years of apprenticeship training, he graduated as a journeyman lineman. Bontrager said he loved being a lineman, working outside all day doing different things and seeing different areas of the

Delmar Bontrager

county. He Operations Foreman eventually LaGrange County REMC became a crew leader, and then in 2020, he was promoted to his present position after a long-time line superintendent retired and the co-op did some restructuring. “There’s a family atmosphere in working here,” Bontrager said. “It’s a brotherhood: we’re all there every day, relying on your friends and brothers to watch your back to make sure we all go home safely at night.” He said he still gets the adrenaline rush when a storm rolls through, and he joins the crews at all hours to repair the damage. “When the power’s out, you can turn the lights back on,” Bontrager said. “It’s a feeling that is hard to understand until you’ve done it — that is something we take a lot of pride in.”

INTERESTED IN AN ELECTRIC CO-OP CAREER? Visit WePowerIndiana.org to learn about available careers or tell us about yourself.

2000 Hired

2005 BEGAN

2009 Graduated

2018 Promoted

2020 Promoted

Meter Technician LaGrange County REMC

Apprentice Lineman LaGrange County REMC

Journeyman Lineman LaGrange County REMC

Crew Leader LaGrange County REMC

Operations Foreman LaGrange County REMC

26 JANUARY 2024


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Hoosier Energy news


COMMUNITY Throughout the year, especially during the holidays, Hoosier Energy seeks to act on the cooperative principle — Concern for Community. In late October, Hoosier Energy was a platinum sponsor for the 2023 Women IN Energy Conference in Carmel, Indiana. The annual event began in 2017 to encourage women to pursue their dreams and make connections in the energy industry. The event is planned by a committee of members from ACES, Duke Energy, AES, EDP Renewables, MISO, and Parr Richey. Participants engaged in thoughtful, relevant discussions with unique and engaging industry speakers and had networking opportunities. In November, Hoosier Energy launched its support of the United Way’s Annual Community Fundraising Campaign by offering employees the option to donate through payroll deduction. More than 45,000 households in south-central

Indiana electric cooperative employees were able to network at the 2023 Women IN Energy Conference this past October. (Photo courtesy of Katie Maynard Photography)

Indiana are considered to be in, or nearly in, poverty — including 30% of households with children and 43% of senior (65-plus) households. The United Way responds to the region’s biggest needs. Hoosier Energy held its annual auction and bake sale for the Share the Holiday campaign in December. The annual fundraiser helps support area charities, such as Middleway House, Desert Rose Foundation and Hannah House. All of these charities are domestic abuse shelters that are in need throughout the holiday season.

28 JANUARY 2024

The 2023 Women IN Energy Conference included panels from industry experts. (Photo courtesy of Katie Maynard Photography)


Get an out of this world experience in Anderson It's not every day that a business’s marketing tactics live up to the hype of their product, but at the Uranus Fudge Factory in Anderson, Indiana, the in-store experience is as silly, wacky, and all-out fun as advertised. Visitors can satisfy their sweet tooth with delicious confections such as fudge, chocolate, popcorn, nuts, and candy. One can’t step within Uranus’s bounds without a chuckle, and it’s just as fun for adults as it is for the younger set.

If the kids have holiday cash to burn, stop at Uranus and get bonus points for the wild, wacky, and over-the-top atmosphere and the spending power of a candy store. “Kids love our store,” said Keith. “We offer a series of plushies, toys, and candies that will keep your children entertained while they're in Uranus or at home after they spend their money.” His recommendation? A Uranus alien plushie that’s

affordable, adorable, and the perfect memento to keep the Uranus jokes coming. Plan your visit now and look forward to Uranus’s upcoming expansion efforts, which include a mini-golf course and expanded kitchen offerings. A stop at Uranus will only continue to get sweeter. Natalie Derrickson is a freelance writer from Indianapolis.

“I think the greatest part about Uranus Fudge Factory is that people will come, walk around, and giggle to themselves, friends, or family for 30 to 60 minutes. From our T-shirts to our toys and tin signs to Clever Cletus' Hillbilly novelties, and of course our signature fudge, chocolates, and popcorns, it's quite the stop,” said Uranus’s Brian Keith. Part general store, gag gift emporium, and roadside attraction, Uranus offers a much-needed dose of fun that everyone can enjoy. Step up to the full-size Zoltar and get your fortune told. Dip into one of its oldfashioned candy bins for a taste of nostalgia.

Uranus Fudge Factory is located at 1423 W. 53rd St., Anderson, Indiana, 46013, and is open daily from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Learn more at uranusindiana.com.

Uranus Fudge Factory brings delicious treats and novelty items to Anderson. (Photo courtesy of Uranus Fudge Factory)




Easy landscaping resolutions that make a big impact January is the month of resolutions, although most are short-lived — like no more ice cream after 7 p.m. Making resolutions for your outdoor landscape can be much easier. Here are a few resolutions that can make a significant impact in the coming year.

Remove an invasive plant from your landscape I know you love that burning bush for its flame-red leaves in fall. But this plant — Euonymus Alata — is on Indiana’s invasive species list. It, and the ornamental pear, will likely be banned the next time the state reviews invasive species.

Replace an invasive plant with a native one Some native shrubs with gorgeous fall color include Fothergilla and just about any Viburnum, such as arrowwood (V. dentatum) or possompaw (V. nudum). There are several suitable varieties or cultivars on the market. Select a plant based on size and site location.

Add a bird feeder or bird bath (or two) Snip a few flowers from your landscape to enjoy indoors.

30 JANUARY 2024

The best way to attract birds is to have a bird bath or other water source. Butterflies, bees, squirrels, and other wildlife like it too. You can add a bath heater for winter enjoyment. Install bird feeders where you can see them from your

home office or while you do the dishes. Or where your indoor cat can salivate.

Reduce the use of pesticides Pesticide is an umbrella term for insecticide, fungicide, herbicide, and miticide. Eliminating or reducing these products makes your landscape more pollinator friendly. An ecosystem needs insects just like it needs birds, pollinators, and flowers.

If you don’t already, grow something edible There’s great pride and joy in serving something at dinner that you had a hand in producing, even if it’s a flower pot planted with lettuce. If you have children in your life, it gives them a hands-on experience of growing their food and they will learn where food comes from. If that’s not possible, take them to the farmers market and talk to the farmers about their food and how they grow it.

Grow some flowers you can cut There’s nothing like a fresh cut bouquet from your garden to help you appreciate Mother Nature and all her beauty. Happy New Year! A popular speaker, Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp gardens in Indianapolis and blogs at Hoosiergardener.com.

It’s the Can’t Miss Event in Damage Prevention in the Midwest!


TRAINING CONFERENCE Save the Date! | November 12 - 14, 2024 | French Lick, Indiana

Calling all Damage Prevention Industry stakeholders! It may be a new year, but one thing that isn’t new is the inspiring speakers, innovative educational content, and unique networking opportunities the 2024 Midwest Damage Prevention Training Conference will bring. All this set in the historic gem of French Lick, Indiana. We broke records last year, and we can’t wait to do it again this year. Save the date and visit www.midwest811conference.com for more information.

Follow us for damage prevention news and tips. @IN811

Indiana 811

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