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Michiana Chronicles writers bring portraits of our life and times to the 88.1 WVPE airwaves every Friday at 7:45 am during Morning Edition and over the noon hour at 12:30 pm during Here and Now. Michiana Chronicles was first broadcast in October 2001. Contact the writers through their individual e-mails and thanks for listening!

Michiana Chronicles: Hoosiers, Real Hoosiers, and Underdogs

Marvin's Garden statuary
Brett McNeil
Marvin's Garden statuary

High atop the banks of the St. Joseph River sits a “fearless maiden” in bronze – Princess Mishawaka, namesake of the Princess City. In her left hand a long bow. With her right she reaches for an arrow …

“What’s the word for that arrow bag?” my son asks, climbing up for a closer look.

“A quiver,” I say.

With her right hand she reaches for an arrow from a quiver.

“Who modeled for this statue, Brooke Shields?” asks my wife.

Perhaps. The Princess has spent a lot of time outside. Sorting through my photos, I think she looks like Melissa Ethridge.

An oxidized plaque recalls the legend of the Princess and her love for a true white youth named Dead Shot. It tells of Dead Shot killing bad chief and romantic rival Gray Wolf, and of reconciliation and racial harmoniousness among “the settlers and the Indian tribes.”

Princess Mishawaka
Brett McNeil
Princess Mishawaka

“What is this?” asks my wife.

“This is some Lone Ranger shit,” I say.

“Dad, watch your mouth!” my son says.

“Is this a joke?” asks my wife. “I don’t get it.”


The sun is finally out and we are strolling the Mishawaka Riverwalk with other families, couples, dog walkers, longboarders and Canada geese. Steelhead fishermen crowd the south bank, the river high and running hard and brown-green toward South Bend.

This area of redevelopment and interconnected riverside parks – from Battell to Central Park, Beutter to Kamm Island, from Cedar Street to Logan – is a municipal jewel and a remarkable reinvention of heavy industrial blight. The new apartment buildings, condo developments, and restaurants suggest a new and more polished Mishawaka.

Upriver at the sprawling playground at Central Park, the people of Mishawaka are a genuine mix of cultures and races, blue collar and white, smoking and not smoking, the kids amalgamating and peeling off in pairs for the swings, the climbing tower, the sunken steel tunnel.

The laughing and meltdowns, the parents on cell phones, the wandering toddler chased down by his sister.

Up the hill, at the park entrance, stands a 1992 statue of Cristoforo Colombo aka Christopher Columbus, who is identified as “the great Italian navigator.” I was in college in 1992 and don’t recall Columbus, even then, as much remembered for his navigational skills. For more sanguinary pursuits, for sure.

Columbus Statue
Brett McNeil
Columbus Statue

But this statue, which stood behind chain-link for a long time after the death of George Floyd, was a gift from a local Italian American group and who says Colombo wasn’t a great navigator?


At the far southeastern end of the riverwalk hulks the newest public art in town, a giant, multi-piece sculpture unveiled last fall recreating a fictional scene from the movie Hoosiers. Late Mishawaka city council member and local educator Marvin Wood was the real-life coach of the team whose story is mythologized in Hoosiers – small town Indiana basketball Davids who slew basketball Goliath in 1954 – and the sculptures ostensibly honor Coach Wood.

But there’s more to it.

The statuary sits in an irregular little hardscape park and both the park and artwork were “built to provide inspiration to all underdogs,” per an explanatory plaque. This plaque also includes an engraved team photo of Coach Wood and his Milan Indians. Another includes the names of all the players and team staff. None except Marvin Wood have a stated connection to Mishawaka. All are white.

On their way to that 1954 state title, Milan beat the Crispus Attucks Tigers of Indianapolis, an all-black team that featured future NBA legend Oscar Robertson. Attucks High School was a segregated school in a segregated city, attended by poor and ghettoized children of the Great Migration.

In an interview for the recent and quite-good book The Real Hoosiers, Milan star Bobby Plump said he was surprised by the open bigotry he and his teammates heard in Indianapolis during the runup to their game against Attucks – a local team.

“There was a lot of racism and racial comments,” Plump said. “It took me totally by surprise.”

Fans urged Plump and his teammates to “beat those n—--s.”

Hoosiers is a nice story. Dennis Hopper was great.

But let’s not kid ourselves about 1954, or about underdogs.

Music: Roger Kellaway - Remembering You (closing theme) All in The Family

Brett McNeil is a writer and essayist in Mishawaka, Indiana. His radio essays have aired on WVPE and WBEZ and his writing has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Reader, Crain’s Chicago Business and elsewhere. He is a former newspaper reporter and columnist and is the recipient of writing awards from the Chicago Headline Club, Illinois Press Association and Inland Press Association. Brett is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and the University of Illinois Chicago. He works as an investigator in a law office. Reach him by email here