A town and a school. Two styles of beer. A radio station, a street, a township, and a house for college students. Even a parade.
Any of those places or things named in honor of legendary labor and social activist Eugene V. Debs could theoretically exist in Terre Haute. Alas, none do. The house on North Eighth Street where Debs lived until his death in 1926, preserved as a museum, stands as the only item in his hometown bearing his name. Those aforementioned memorials occur elsewhere in America — a tiny community in Minnesota, breweries in Chicago and Michigan, and neighborhoods in New York City, the Bronx and Ann Arbor, Mich.
Here, Debs’ name graces just his home and final resting place at Highland Lawn Cemetery.
In conservative Indiana, remembrances of a five-time Socialist Party presidential candidate remain, unsurprisingly, rare. That public anonymity gets shaken this month. A feature-length movie, loosely based on Debs’ legacy, premieres Feb. 15 in downtown Terre Haute’s historic Indiana Theatre.
The plot pits Debs’ fictional, hard-drinking grandson (played by Terre Haute native William Tanoos) against a corrupt prosecutor (portrayed by veteran actor Tom Sizemore) in a race for governor of Indiana. “The Drunk,” which also stars Jesse Ventura and Tanoos’ fellow co-writer Paul Fleschner, references causes championed by the protagonist’s famed grandfather — civil rights for women and minorities, a minimum wage, child labor laws and Social Security.
Debs’ relentless pursuit of those causes in the early 20th century inspired people to name things after him, like WEVD radio in New York City (now a sports station, WEPN).
And the tiny town of Debs in northwestern Minnesota.
‘We all knew about Debs’
The 1912 presidential campaign triggered its creation. Nationally, Debs drew an astonishing 6 percent of the vote running against victorious Woodrow Wilson, former president Theodore Roosevelt and incumbent president William Howard Taft. Among Beltrami County, Minn., voters, Debs was the top choice. He carried that county. Afterward, a group of local men formed the Socialists Club, organized a town and named it Debs, according to documents located by Dan Karalus, executive director of the Beltrami County Historical Society. The town bustled during a logging industry boom. It featured a general store, creamery, post office, auto repair garage, clothes shop, baseball team and a school.
Yes, children were educated in a school named for Debs until a consolidation sent its 60-plus students to nearby Bemidji in 1969.
Ray Dalby, born and raised in Debs, attended Debs School through the eighth grade. The students learned the namesake’s background. “We all knew about Eugene V. Debs,” said Dalby, now 82, “but that kind of faded away.”
So did the town. Its population has dwindled to a handful of residents. “It ain’t much,” said resident Dave Fessel.
The 58-year-old Minnesotan bought Debs School in 1995 and operated it as a bed-and-breakfast for several years. Built by Scandinavian brothers in 1915, the school joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Today, Fessel uses the structure simply as his home. Like Eugene Debs, Fessel formerly worked a railroad job. “I thought it was neat that he was a fighter for the working class,” Fessel said by telephone last month. Other Minnesotans apparently shared his admiration. Moorhead had a Debs House hotel. Also, Eugene Township was named for Debs.
Fessel put tidbits about Debs in brochures for his bed-and-breakfast before it closed. “People asked questions,” he recalled.
Debs the man isn’t mentioned much in Debs the town these days.
“I don’t think 90 percent of the people that are left around here know who he was,” Dalby said last week by phone.
One tradition continues, though. The annual Debs Fourth of July parade began three decades ago and still draws more than a thousand people. The procession consists of floats and entries from horse clubs and churches, farmers and politicians, making two circles around the town, using a paved road and one that is gravel. Occasionally, a participant makes reference to Debs himself. A float, made by kids in 2008, included a jovial youngster dressed as the labor organizer, U.S. flags and a “Eugene V. Debs for President” sign.
Dalby grew up in Debs, moved in 1959 to St. Paul to live and work, then retired and returned in 1990. He calls Debs “a typical, northern Minnesota farm community.”
Red ale, of course
Rather than downplaying Eugene Debs’ rebel spirit, two separate Midwestern brewers boldly toast it. Revolution Brewing in Chicago and Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, Mich., both produce beers named after Debs.
Larry Bell and a group of friends, which included a labor attorney, used to conduct their own annual Eugene V. Debs Memorial Kazoo Night in the centerfield bleachers of Detroit’s old Tiger Stadium. “Between innings, we would hum old working man’s songs — ‘I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad’ and what not,” Bell recalled. Each year, they’d carry a Debs-related trinket, poster or T-shirt. One shirt bore a tongue-in-cheek twist of a famous Debs quote: “While there is a Tigers game, I am in the bleachers.” One poster showed Debs as a home plate umpire, fending off an arguing Tigers Manager Sparky Anderson and saying, “Sparky, when I call a strike, I mean it.”
After Bell founded Bell’s Brewery 29 years ago, his friends pushed him to craft a beer to go along with their tradition. “And I said, ‘Well, with Debs, it’ll have to be a red ale,’” Bell said. “Red” was slang for socialists in the Cold War era. Thus, Debs’ Red Ale was born. Mostly available in draft form, “It’s a very firm ale,” he said, with a mild caramel flavor.
Bell and his buddies ended the Debs Memorial Kazoo Night after the Tigers moved to new Comerica Park in 2000. “The Debs people said Debs wouldn’t do skyboxes,” Bell said.
Detroit played a role in the creation of Eugene Porter, a Debs-inspired, dark, chocolate-malt-flavored beer made by Revolution Brewing. In his college days, future Revolution Brewing owner Josh Deth lived in the Eugene V. Debs Cooperative House at Ann Arbor, Mich. Co-op houses allow students to save money on housing by putting them in charge of its daily functions, sharing in food purchases, cooking, cleaning, discipline, bill paying and entertainment. Deth studied Debs’ history, prodded by a friend who attended Debs Society functions in Detroit and brought back memorabilia like an “erase capitalist greed” pencil.
Years later, Deth launched Revolution Brewing in 2010. While mulling potential new styles of beer, Deth and his staff thought of Debs. Thus, the Eugene Porter became one of Revolution’s original brews. “It was just too good of a connection and too good of a story to pass up,” Deth said.
Despite the Revolution name and attitude — as Deth puts it, “We’re taking back the beer from the corporate conglomerates” — the craft brewery maintains a light-hearted approach. Eugene Porter cans depict a smiling Debs jubilantly hoisting a keg above his head. “We’re not heavy-handed at all with our politics or our philosophy,” Deth said.
A Debs lifestyle
Two-dozen college students call the Debs Cooperative House at Ann Arbor home, year-round. Most residents attend the University of Michigan, but a few are students at nearby Eastern Michigan and Concordia universities, and Washtenaw Community College. Commonly called the Debs House, it opened in 1967 and stands as one of 18 residential houses in Ann Arbor’s Inter Cooperative Council.
The concept emerged in college towns in the 1930s. A different type of cooperative housing development, aimed at offering working-class families high-rise apartments at low rates, includes the famous Co-op City in New York’s Bronx borough, the world’s largest cooperative. Subsidized by labor unions, it emerged in 1973 as “a city within a city,” and features a street called Debs Place, and another named for Terre Haute author Theodore Dreiser.
Similar names of progressives are attached to the college co-op houses in Ann Arbor. “Most of our houses are named for folks who tried to make the world a better place,” said Susan Caya, ICC director of education.
Though students own and manage the houses, a paid ICC staff handles things such as broken windows, burst pipes and centralized financing, Caya explained. In addition to saving money on costly college expenses, students experience an atmosphere that welcomes social change and progress in Debs House, and others. A few students find a co-op isn’t a good fit, Caya said, but for most, “overall, I would say it’s a positive experience.”
Debs House remains unique among the co-ops. One of the smallest houses, “A unique group of people have always inhabited the house,” Caya said. Living under its bright red roof, the student residents include artists, musicians and “environmentally and socially conscious people,” according to the house’s webpage. Campus activist organizations often meet in Debs House.
Not all student residents move in with a knowledge of Debs, Caya said, but a display of pictures and historical information hangs on its walls.
He is a fitting choice as its namesake, though, Caya said.
“I think [Debs] would be impressed, because the co-op is a social change instrument,” she said. “The members that choose Debs are a little less mainstream, and they would never change the name.”
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: Debut of the feature film, “The Drunk.”
Where: The Indiana Theatre, 683 Ohio St., Terre Haute.
Who: Stars are Tom Sizemore and Jesse Ventura, with Terre Hauteans William Tanoos and Paul Fleschner appearing.
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 15.
Tickets: $10 general admission, $40 VIP. Available in person at Larry Paul Tanning Spa locations — north shop at 1501 Fort Harrison Road, phone 812-466-2555; east shop at 2615 Poplar St., phone 812-232-6888; Sullivan shop at 822 Wolf St., phone 812-268-1826. Available online at facebook.com/thedrunkmovie or eventbrite.com.
Debs on tap
To find information about a pair of Debs-inspired beers, go online to:
• Debs’ Red Ale (by Bells’ Brewery): bellsbeer.com/brands
• Eugene Porter (by Revolution Brewing): revbrew.com/beer/detail/eugene-porter
Wearing a Legacy: Inspired by Debs, a variety of places and things beyond Terre Haute — from a town to beers — bear his name
A town and a school. Two styles of beer. A radio station, a street, a township, and a house for college students. Even a parade.
- Valley Life
It takes a village: Terre Hautean encounters legends of national pastime yearly in tiny Cooperstown
Diehard baseball fans dream of such chances.
On his annual pilgrimage to Cooperstown, N.Y., Keith Pittman found himself seated at a table along with Harmon Killebrew, Ralph Kiner and Rollie Fingers, as they all listened to a speech by Juan Marichal — each a Hall of Famer. Pittman handled the moment wisely. “You just sit there and be quiet,” he recalled, “and if they are talking baseball, you just listen.”
GRAPE SENSE: Find unexpected rewards in the path less traveled
NAPA/SONOMA, Calif. — Repeating the familiar is an easy way to go through life, as is taking the safe road. We all do that but find unexpected rewards when taking the path less traveled.
TRIED ’N’ TRUE: Stuffed ‘mangoes’: A recipe to eat or can
Mrs. Mable Gard from West Union, Ill., put this into the Extension cookbook.
Anniversary listings: July 20, 2014
Mr. and Mrs. Keith Bean
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Shaw
Mr. and Mrs. Larry Yaw
What will you bring to the table?
Eating healthy doesn’t have to be hard; recipes, classes, even the Farmers Market, can help you and your family get started
YOUR GREEN VALLEY: The importance of preserving green space — in and out of the city
Before Sullivan County resident Joan Osburn bought her home in the mid-1970s, the current owner wanted to make sure she and her husband were going to treat the land that came with it with respect. “The first time we came to look at the property, it was kind of funny because she walked our legs off,” Osburn said. The 40-acre property resembles McCormick’s Creek State Park, fit with walking trails, ravines and waterfalls.
CHRIS DAVIES: Don’t have fun exercising? Learn to play
One may wonder why most adults don’t exercise. Many reasons come to mind. Most excuses that I hear translate to laziness and not making time. The real reason I believe, stay with me on this, is we have forgotten how to play.
TRIED ’N’ TRUE: An easy recipe to use those red peppers from the garden
This recipe is from Rosalie Huffington.
With gardens coming on strong, this is an easy recipe to use up those red peppers.
Engagement listings: July 13, 2014
Anniversary listing: July 13, 2014
Mr. and Mrs. Monty Jones
TRIED ‘N’ TRUE: A recipe for oyster lovers
I have been looking through some old recipe books. I was looking at Gene’s mom’s cookbook. It is a Clark County Extension book. It’s fun seeing some of the women who we knew when I was really young.
GRAPE SENSE: Exploring everything a new wine region has to offer
SIENA, ITALY — From the lush green countryside of Oregon’s Willamette Valley to the majesty and golden valleys of Tuscany, a common refrain connects wine lovers. There’s nothing better than good food and good wine.
Engagement listing: July 6, 2014
Wedding listing: July 6, 2014
Anniversary listings: July 6, 2014
Mr. and Mrs. Robert F. Prox Jr.
Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Tarrh Jr.
Engagement listings: June 29, 2014
‘Slick’ production: Documentary to show a lesser-seen side of Bobby Leonard, just days before his Hall of Fame induction
In a new documentary, Indiana basketball legend Bobby Leonard serves as the leading man. His hometown of Terre Haute provides much of the supporting cast.
YOUR GREEN VALLEY: Microbeads found in personal care products damaging to waters
For the past six years Julie Manson has been working to get plastics and chemicals out of her home. She also tries to cook as many from-scratch meals as possible with local food from the Terre Haute Farmers Market and a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) she participates in. During a visit to the Farmers Market last year, her daughter, Madeleine, told her mother she wanted to be like the vendors she saw there and sell something. Julie then went to work trying to find a niche for the two of them to enjoy together.
Birds, bees, bats and more at Naturalist Workshops
Purdue Extension Service’s Vermillion County Office is sponsoring an Indiana Master Naturalist Workshop, beginning Aug. 18. The workshop will continue for a total of nine classes, from 6 to 9 p.m. on most Mondays through Oct. 27. Most classes will be in Vermillion County, with three more in Parke County and two in Terre Haute.
TRIED ‘N’ TRUE: Take your pick: Apple, blueberry, cherry for this cake
We have this every once in a while in church. You can have this for brunch or as a desert. Everyone sure enjoys this cherry cake.
Anniversary listing: June 29, 2014
Mr. and Mrs. Steve Austin
Rock ’n’ Camp: New camp teaches details of forming, running garage band
A handful of friends. Second-hand guitars and amps. A drum kit. A garage. Big dreams.
Those are all the ingredients needed to create a rock band, right?
TRIED ‘N’ TRUE: Bake, kabob chicken nuggets for a healthy change
I think we all love chicken nuggets. But to fry them is messy and isn’t real good for you.
I like this recipe because you can bake them or make kabobs. Add your veggies. They can be fried if you want.
Plans to further develop Deming holly arboratum
The Friends of The Arboretum board of directors is looking to take the next step in developing the Clark/Landsbaum Holly Arboretum at Deming Park in Terre Haute.
WICAA Energy Assistance Program taking applications
The Energy Assistance Program of Western Indiana Community Action Agency Inc. has limited funding available to assist low-income families whose energy service has been disconnected or those that have received notice of pending disconnect.
GRAPE SENSE: The color of summer shines in Provence Rosé
If you could be a super hero, mythical character or fictional leader, who would you choose?
Superman? A Mutant Ninja Turtle? Or maybe Jean ValJean?
I’d be the Pied Piper of Provence, France, and lead you to dry, French Rosé wine.
Vigo County Fair looking for Open Class entrants
The Vigo County Fair Open Class Department is looking for exhibitors.
If you love to bake, enter your favorite cakes, cookies, breads, pies, decorated wedding cakes, and more in the Culinary Department. Exhibitors who make their own barbeque sauce, cole slaw, salad dressings or fudge may want to consider entering items in the Miscellaneous Foods Department. Food preservation items and pickled foods can be entered into the Canning Department.
Anniversaries: June 22, 2014
Mr. and Mrs. Gerry Hoffa
Mr. and Mrs. Bill Kassis
Mr. and Mrs. Randy Kneeland
Mr. and Mrs. Jeff Schrink
Anniversary: Mr. and Mrs. Ron Walker
Mr. and Mrs. Ron Walker of Sullivan will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 21, 2014.
Helping Hands: Fill your free time this summer by becoming a volunteer
Summer is upon Terre Haute and with the warm weather and open swimming pools comes an exuberant amount of free time for busy children. Outside sports are one way to fill the time and energy, but what else can families do together to benefit their youth and communities? Volunteer.
- More Valley Life Headlines
- It takes a village: Terre Hautean encounters legends of national pastime yearly in tiny Cooperstown