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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: Down in the Flood

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In this week’s Michiana Chronicle Sid Shroyer tells us some of what he’s learned about the time when the Upper Wabash Valley Flood Control Project came to be.

When Republican John Beamer was Indiana’s 5th district congressman back in the 1950s, a major issue on his plate was the Upper Wabash Valley Flood Control Project in its planning stage. The Upper Wabash Valley Flood Control Project is the official title for the attempt to control downriver flooding along the Wabash River by building three big reservoirs behind three big dams to contain the water. The Wabash River nearly destroyed Peru when it flooded in 1913 and the memory of that and later flooding to towns and farmland in the area between Wabash and Logansport drove the idea.

While Marion businessman Ralph Roessler claims to have come with the idea as a Kiwanis Club project in 1939, it was really in the years from 1954 to 1958 that the Upper Wabash Valley Flood Control Project became a reality. Beamer was the congressman for that area then.

Somebody’s land would have to be flooded in order to make somebody else’s land not be flooded. One little town in particular, called Somerset, was standing in the way of the Army Corps of Engineers plan that would put it under water. Those folks and a lot of the farmers whose land would also be taken didn’t care for the idea very much. But, the Wabash, Miami, and Huntington County, community leaders mostly did.

So back to Beamer here. He was the congressman. He was a Republican. The powerful people who supported the plan were his natural allies. Their letters tell you that they expected him to be on board. While Beamer was most assuredly a supporter of the project, he wouldn’t campaign for it. That bothered some of his friends, his natural allies.

Beamer got a lot of mail on the topic, mostly in opposition and it is true, and it seems misleading that sometimes, what he tells a project opponent leaves out what he tells a supporter. .

One opponent of the Army Corps of Engineers plan was a former state legislator, a Republican farmer named Cliff Funderburg, from Huntington County, who wrote Beamer and area newspapers angry letters, sometimes quoting poems, like this, from 1770:

Where wealth accumulates, and men decay;

Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade;

A breath can make them, as a breath has made;

But a bold peasantry, their country's pride,

When once destroyed, can never be supplied.

That’s from “The Deserted Village,” by Oliver Goldsmith, as read by author David Novak.

Beamer’s natural allies write Beamer to tell him that Funderburg is a troublemaker. The editor of the Huntington newspaper, Howard Houghton, calls Funderburg, “unreasonable” and “not a good party member.” A member of the Indiana Water Resources and Flood Control Commission, Carolos Life, who was also the President of the Wabash Valley Trust Company of Peru, writes Beamer that “Thunderburg” as Life refers to him, is “trying to cause unrest.” Peru attorney Frank Dice tells Beamer he’s putting his reelection in doubt for not more forcefully supporting the plan that will create upheaval for hundreds of people in his district. Those people have “axes to grind,” Dice writes.

Mr. Funderburg isn’t happy either. After a steady back and forth that went on for several months, Cliff writes to Beamer to say, in his familiar thick fountain pen blue, “I don’t expect to be writing you more. We can look for no help from you. You have forgotten your duties to us.”

Clifford’s nephew, Ivan, though, grabs the Funderburg baton a few weeks later and carries on the “small dam,” alternative flood control proposal letter writing, though a bit more politely. Congressman Beamer helps Ivan contact United States Senator Homer Capehart for a personal meeting and then invites and makes arrangements for a man at odds with the power brokers of his own party to testify before the House Committee on Public Works.

Life advised Beamer that that was a mistake, a potential roadblock. Nevertheless, Ivan testified and even picked up some support from the Indiana Farm Bureau. His remarks are part of the 1957 Congressional Record.

The big dams are there now so you know it passed and as expected Beamer voted for it when Congress approved it in 1958. But, neither side was very happy with him. He either didn’t fight against it or fight hard enough for it, depending upon one’s point of view. He said he listened to both sides and then cast a vote for what he thought was best.

Beamer lost the ’58 election to a Democrat, J. Edward Roush. On the eve of that campaign, in a meeting with Ralph Roessler, that’s the Kiwanis guy who started the ball rolling back in 1939, Roush pledged his full support for the Upper Wabash Valley Flood Control Project. “I will adopt this as a major plank in my campaign platform,” Roessler remembers Roush telling him after he knocked on his door.

Roush’s first address from the floor of the House was an appeal for funding for the project. They named one of the three reservoirs for him, it’s now Roush Lake, one of the three, along with Salamonie and Mississinewa.

Roush was gerrymandered out of his 5th district seat and lost his place in Congress in 1968. Beamer had had a heart attack in 1957. In 1964 he died. Cliff Funderburg, the farmer, legislator, and lover of old poets, was killed by two shotgun blasts, when he confronted a home invader, inside his farmhouse in 1965.

Sid Shroyer has been a part-time announcer at WVPE since 2001. Sid is now most frequently engaged as