The end of an era

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Thursday, November 14, 2013





Herald-Argus The La Porte County

The end of an era

Angelo Bernacchi Greenhouses close By Matt Fritz

Staff writer 1-866-362-2167 Ext. 13887

La PORTE — Covered in snow, partly dismantled, the Angelo Bernacchi Greenhouses lie quiet and empty along Fox Street in La Porte. Part of a business that started more than 100 years ago when Angelo, a 15-year-old Italian immigrant from the village of Lucca, came to Chicago and decided the heavy smoke and towering buildings weren’t for him – they are now closed. But they have left years of fond

memories for Angelo’s son, Bart, and helped provide support for several generations of his family, and, at one point, jobs for some 150 workers in La Porte. A part owner of the business before passing it on to his daughter, Angie, Bart said the closing was due to a lack of interest in the succeeding generations. “It’s tough to run it by yourself,� he said, “because there’s a lot of work to do, and we had enough of it. But we made an excellent living.� The business was a living his father helped provide back 1906 when he began pushing a cart full of bananas through downtown La Porte. According to a 1947 article in the Herald-Argus, Angelo came from a family of seven children, all boys, whose father farmed the

“rich Italian earth� of Lucca and sent the vegetables to either Florence or the Ligurian Sea a few miles west. There the produce was shipped across the world. According to an Oct. 21, 1947, article in the Herald-Argus, Angelo’s original destination in America was Chicago, but upon seeing the Windy City, he turned his attention to the smaller communities of Indiana. “When I first set eyes on La Porte,� Angelo said in the article, “it reminded me at once of Italy and I decided this small town would be my home.� Bart said Angelo initially purchased the bananas on consignment from a seller in La Porte, Photo by Matt Fritz but then started to get them from Bart Bernacchi holds a portrait of his a wholesaler in Chicago to save family, which includes his father, Angelo, his mother, Enis, and his six brothers. See CLOSE, Page A4 He is also in the portrait.

Supporting Center Township

Tibbs wants interviews omitted By GABRIELLE GONZALEZ Staff writer (219) 326-3870

Photo by Gabrielle Gonzalez

The Center Township Volunteer Fire Department received a donation of $1,400 from Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church on Tuesday. The donation was raised by the church’s Port-A-Pit Chicken Sale. With this donation and the donation made by the family of former Center Township Volunteer Thomas Muller, the fire department will be able to update Sparky the talking Fire Dog. From left are Firefighter Anna Bittick, president of Center Township Mike Bittick, Center Township Chief Marc Christiano, Pastor Kevin Boushek, Bethany parishioners Kyle, Luke and Brad Minnich and Barry Younggreen, coordinator of the church’s port-a-pit.

NPHS receives national certification for Project Lead the Way NEW PRAIRIE — New Prairie High School recently received national certification for its Project Lead the Way (PLTW) program, which has been offered through the school since 2007. PLTW is a nonprofit organization that provides STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education programs and curriculum, allowing students to apply what they learn in math and science class to real-life biomedical science projects. The program also provides high-quality professional development for teachers, and an engaged network of business,

community and university partners to give students the fullest experience. The national PLTW recognition distinguishes schools for successfully demonstrating a commitment to PLTW’s national standards. This certification also allows students to apply for college credit or recognition at more than 40 PLTW affiliate universities when they complete select PLTW courses in high school. According to a National Business Roundtable report, America needs 400,000 STEM college graduates annually to remain competitive in the global economy. Currently,

only 265,000 STEM students graduate annually. PLTW is providing students with the skills, foundation and proven path to college and career success in STEM areas to increase the number of STEM graduates. “We’ve seen how the PLTW program draws more students into the biomedical sciences and gets them thinking about college and their careers,� said Carrie Cannon, director of curriculum for the New Prairie United School Corp. “We are extremely proud to be PLTW certified and ecstatic that our See NPHS, Page A4

La PORTE — A hearing in La Porte Circuit Court was held Wednesday to determine whether or not to omit Jason L. Tibbs’ interviews with the La Porte City Police in March and April of 1993 when Tibbs was still a juvenile. Tibbs, 38, of La Porte, was arrested on Aug. 23 by La Porte City Police and Indiana State Police for the murder of Rayna Rison, who was 16 when she disappeared in March of 1993. Her body was recovered on April 27, 1993 from a pond near Range Road in La Porte County. Her death was ruled a homicide after an autopsy was completed. Tibbs’ birthday is June 7, 1975 and he was just shy of 18 years old when the 1993 interviews in question were conducted. La Porte County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Alevizos lead the hearing. “I think it went well today,� said Tibbs’ attorney John Thompkins. Thompkins said they are looking to not have Tibbs’ interviews with the police, and any evidence as a result of those conducted interviews, be used in the court case because Tibbs was not given his Miranda rights. La Porte County Deputy Prosecutor Christopher Fronk defended the use of interviews and evidence. Fronk presented four witnesses that worked on the La Porte City Police Department and for the Indiana State Police during the time the interviews were conducted. In the questioning of the witnesses, each of the witnesses said they did not give the Miranda rights to Tibbs because he was not a viable suspect at the time.

Witness Larry Mitchell said he worked at the La Porte City Police Department and interviewed Tibbs on March 29, 1993 when Rison was still missing. He said Tibbs voluntarily came to the police station and was with his mother. Mitchell said Tibbs freely spoke to him and wasn’t in custody. They talked for 30 minutes at most and Mitchell said he did not give the Miranda rights because Tibbs came and left willingly and was not a suspect. Mitchell said there was no evidence yet because they were looking for a missing juvenile and that Tibbs was a witness. Mitchell said he asked Tibbs if he could perform a polygraph test. After taking the test and receiving the results, Harold Hahn, a former detective sergeant with the La Porte City Police Department, spoke with Tibbs. Hahn was the next witness and said he spoke with Tibbs on March 31, 1993. He said the interview was about an hour and he and Tibbs were going over the results of the polygraph. Hahn said Tibbs was not the only one given a polygraph test. Hahn also reviewed the results of Matt Elser with Elser the same day as Tibbs. Elser was Rison’s boyfriend at the time she went missing. Hahn said the intent of the questioning was to find facts to help the investigation of the missing person. Hahn terminated the conversation when he got word that the captain of the La Porte City Police wanted to speak with Tibbs. Former La Porte City Police Captain and Chief of detectives John Miller was the next witness. Miller said the status of the case on March See TIBBS, Page A4

Officials discuss Pahs Road project By GABRIELLE GONZALEZ Staff writer (219)326-3870

La PORTE — Five prospective businesses are looking to develop in the open area between U.S. 20 and Pahs Road. Land owner Wally Pritz said he and county officials will be working with about 70 acres of land – from where Little Caesars meets with U.S. 20 to Pine Tree Street across to where the Canterbury Apartments are placed on Pahs Road and back. The area is considered La Porte County land and is not annexed by Michigan City. Pritz said a couple of the accounts he has are national accounts. One account for certain will be Evergreen Furniture, which will relocate to the area from it’s store across the street on U.S. 20. Pritz said La Porte County Commissioner President Willie Milsap asked him to install a road there about a year ago. He agreed so if an emergency occurred at the Michigan City High School, Pahs Road would not be over congested with traffic. The road would be from Evergreen Plaza to the subdivision next to the high school. He wants a curved road so drivers would have to maintain low speeds. Pritz said there will be a couple of drainage ditches and retention ponds added in the area to avoid flooding. Charles Hendricks and Associates P.C. is an engineering and land surveying firm that has been mapping out the tentative area for the project. “I think it’s a good plan. Anywhere you can get more development is a good thing, especially in La Porte County; we’ve seen a lot of jobs leave the county,� said Hendricks. “Any kind of jobs are good, it keeps the money here and the people here in La Porte County.� John Hendricks of Charles Hendricks and Associates said the road would take a lot of traffic off of Johnson Road, as well as traffic from the high school area. See PAHS, Page A4


Š La Porte Publishing, L.L.C., 2013 All rights reserved

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OUR LAPORTE OFFICE HAS MOVED TO: 900 I Street, LaPorte, IN 46350



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Thursday, November 14, 2013




on cost. Later he started clearing out several acres of rented land on Indiana Avenue to grow his own vegetables, but he couldn’t afford to buy the property. One day he was spotted toiling in the soil by Julia Fox, one of the wives of the Fox brothers who donated Fox Memorial Park and other attractions to the city, and she reportedly asked him why he didn’t just buy the land. “He didn’t have the money,� Bart said, “so she signed the note for him at the bank to back up his loan.� Angelo was about 25 years old at the time. And the business blossomed. Eventually his pushcart was replaced by a horse and wagon, and finally the horse was retired for a truck. Angelo was joined by his brother Geno in 1910 and his brother Victor in 1922. For a time Victor and Angelo had a partnership in the business. Bart explained that Victor bought 40 acres off of Monroe Street and started growing produce there, joining his brother in a business then called Angelo Brothers. “They were the biggest vegetable growers in Northern Indiana,� Bart said. But Victor ended up having six children, and Angelo seven, so it was decided to split up the business in the

students are eligible for college-level recognition, which may include college credit for select PLTW courses, scholarships and admissions preference.� As part of the recognitions process, Cannon and a team of teachers, staff, students and community members submitted a self-assessment of the school’s implementation of PLTW’s biomedical sciences program. A site visit was also conducted by a PLTW trained team who met with teachers, school administrators, counselors, students and members of the school’s Partnership Team. This Partnership Team consisted of teachers, counselors, administrators, post-secondary representatives, business and industry professionals and other community members who actively support the PLTW program. “New Prairie High School should be congratulated for demonstrating once again its commitment to PLTW’s quality standards,� said PLTW President and CEO Vince Bertram. “The real winners here, however, are the 196 students taking the classes. Students benefit from PLTW’s innovative, project-based curriculum that encourages creativity, problem-solving and critical thinking. We look forward to many more years of working together to prepare New Prairie students to become the most innovative and productive in the world.� – From Staff Reports

From Page A1


From Page A1 31, 1993 was attempt to look for a missing person. He said he was aware that Tibbs was interviewed by other policemen. Miller said he wanted to hear Tibbs’ answers to questions for himself and conducted the interview. Tibbs’ attorney Thompkins said that


From Page A1 Hendricks said the first part of the project would be to construct the road, for the sewer, storm water improvements and water lines. He said there are currently some storm water issues by Johnson Road and U.S. 20 to where U.S. 20 meets Evergreen Plaza. “Another good part of the project is that it will help alleviate some of those storm water issues and getting this water to follow into the retention pond that is currently in place, through a covert to Trail Creek River that way. That will help the Trail Creek residents. It’s going to be an engineered project where all the water that comes up from the hard spaces will be accounted for in retention ponds,� said Hendricks.

From Page A1

Submitted photo

Photo by Matt Fritz

LEFT: Bart Bernacchi, right, stands with five of his brothers while taking a break from farm work. RIGHT: A closed sign in front of Angelo Bernacchi Greenhouses. early ‘40s to give their children more opportunities to run the farms. As a five-year-old child, Bart said his father started him out on weed pulling and pushing a cultivator. Then, during the night, he was sent to the packing house to pack vegetables. In 1948 his family installed three greenhouses and started a flower growing business to help differentiate Angelo’s farm from Victor’s operation, then known as Bernacchi’s Farm Market. It closed down in 1991. Bart said he loved working with his father. “Outdoors in the summer, in the greenhouses in the winter,� Bart said. “Beautiful flowers, beautiful smells, nothing could be better.� As the flower business grew, the farm business went down. The family went

much of the transcript given to the defense has omissions during the interview between Miller and Tibbs. Miller said he knew Tibbs was a juvenile but was not a suspect at the time. Thompkins asked Miller why he stated in the transcript to Tibbs, “You are the key to this.� Miller replied that Tibbs was a key to the missing person. Miller said Tibbs was a good friend of Rison and

straight to flowers in 1954. At one point there were 22 greenhouses on the Indiana Avenue property for the retail business, and 44 greenhouses on a property in Kingsbury for wholesale. The business comprised a total of 15 acres and produced up to a million poinsettias a year, which Bart said were of the highest quality. Bart said the wholesale side of the business was sold several years ago. Angelo passed away on the morning of Sept. 3, 1969. His seven sons were Adolph, Victor, Joseph, Harold, Robert, Bart and Benjamin. Both Joseph and Victor have since passed away. In 1977, Bart grew nostalgic about his father’s original push cart, and wanted to see what it looked like. He said he happened to mention this interest to a friend, Wil-

may know where Rison was and that Rison confided in him. Fronk also stated that since Tibbs had a juvenile record previously, Tibbs was

lard Simcox, and to his surprise, found out that Willard knew who built the original. It was Willard’s dad, Jesse. Bart said the 90-year-old Jesse was still as sharp as a whip and agreed to help Bart build a new cart. It was completed with the help of carpenter and pattern maker named Clair Morse. Bart said he was thrilled when it was finally finished, even though he had to search all over to find the steel-rimmed buggy wheels needed to complete it. “It was great, very touching,� he said. “At least I know 99 percent of what it looked like.� Bart said it was believed that his father got the original cart for free from blacksmith shop owner W.C. Wagner, a Prussian immigrant, because neither of them could speak English well, and the busi-

aware of his rights and knew he had a right not to speak to the police. A pending motion for an omnibus hearing has been set for Dec. 6. The defen-

nessman empathized with Angelo. With the business finally leaving, Bart said he doesn’t regret anything about his time spent in the fields and greenhouses. “It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun,� he said. “We made a good living, all of us rather comfortably. If I had to do it over again, I’d do it the same way because I loved it.� La Porte County Historian Fern Eddy Schultz, who helped compile some of the information for the article, said it is sad to see the business leaving. “They have been such a large part of our history it seems a shame to see them go,� Schultz said. “They are part of the La Porte family.� Follow Matt Fritz on Twitter @matt_fritzHA.

dants will have until Dec. 13 to submit their briefs to the court for the hearing on Wednesday. The trial has been set to April 7, 2014, at 8:30 a.m.

Officials noted that the trial could be changed to a different county if an unbiased jury could not be found. The trial management conference is scheduled for Feb. 7.

He added that the road would be four-and-a-half acres, and it is just under $1 million for the engineering and infrastructure, which includes the road and water, storm and sewer lines. The plan will go to the County Council to seek approval by the first quarter of next year. Hendricks said the Major Moves Fund would be the supplier of the money through a tiff district loan. Then the project would go out for bid for an engineer to perform a route survey and a water line route. He said the engineer would have to create a permanent route because there may be some wetland areas that the county wouldn’t want to go into. “We would try to avoid the wetlands but if we do have to go through them we would have to create wetlands somewhere else,� said Hendricks.

Happy Retirement! Thank You Peggy Michaels for giving us

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We will miss you!

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