Informant 6 is a retiree living in an apartment building on the Southside, where she’s known as “the mayor” for organizing meals, trips to the food pantries, and social events. In an interview with the EDLM team, she talks about growing up in the factory age; making ends meet during labor strikes and lay-offs; food stamps; women’s rights and economic freedom; and what she likes about living on the Southside.
EDLM: I think a good place to start would be opinions you might have on women’s rights and financial growth. We’ll start with a heavy one and then we’ll work our way back.
Informant: As I was telling the other two, you know women’s rights wasn’t about burning your bra. (You guys, you’re too young to remember that.) It’s about being able to get a loan. My sister was divorced and had two kids and she needed a car to get to work, and she couldn’t get a loan. My dad had to co-sign for her, you know. And as the kids grew up, the daughter when she was a teenager says “I just can’t understand this women’s lib.” And [my sister] explained to her, “I couldn’t even get a loan.” And that wasn’t even, that was only like less than fifteen years later.
. …The concept of the whole thing is being able to do things. It’s just like right now the women’s soccer team is fighting with the soccer group because they don’t get paid as much as the male group does. That’s women’s rights. They’re working as hard, they win more games than the males but they get less pay.
That’s women’s lib, it’s just being able to go out and do something.
I admire the girls who go to college now, and the different things they did. Back in my days, you had a couple jobs, you could become a secretary and work in an office, become a teacher, or a nurse, and that was it. I see what my granddaughters are doing now and I’m going wow! You know?
EDLM: Is having that financial mobility liberating?
Informant: Yeah it is. Your job possibilities and your money is entirely different. Your situations, being able to run for president nowadays, that type of thing is just unbelievable.
EDLM: How has making ends meet in Muncie changed over time?
Informant: There’s a big difference. …The majority of people working for factories, they had money. Now it may not have been a lot of money, but they had money and a steady job. Nowadays, I laugh, if I see one more insurance agency or tanning booth, you know (laughs). You don’t see any factories.
But my family, my brother in law, my brother, my dad, my two uncles all worked in factories and they did fairly well, you know. They had nice houses and such.
I laugh, they have an area called Shed-town which is out off of Hoyt and Twelfth street. In my lifetime driving through there, and seeing the change of the houses from very poor areas to very nice houses now, and that’s because of the factory workers.
….Even though we don’t have as many factory workers we still are prosperous, you know, we’re doing fairly well, just looking at the houses and that type of thing.
EDLM: What was that like, growing up in the factory age?
Informant: You know back in those days, now, I was lucky my father was a toolmaker so he worked all year long. My brother-in-law would be not working during the summer cause he worked in the furnaces, where they did the metals and stuff, so he was always off work for about three months. A lot of them would not be working during that time. You had odd jobs or something, it’s interesting the kinds of jobs people had during the summer, maybe building or something, so they could support the family during that time period.
And it wasn’t rich either, everybody’s got this idea that factory workers made a lot of money, but they didn’t, they were just an average income…But you didn’t think anything about it because everybody was connected somehow to the factories.
EDLM: When your husband was on strike how did that change your everyday?
Informant: Having him around all day (laughs). Not really cause he worked nights usually. It was interesting because we did have one that ran about three-four months, and not having any money. That was Westinghouse. It was interesting cause we had, let’s see, four kids. Then he got laid off later.
But you know it was, I laugh, because it was my second marriage and his too and he made so much money that when we got married we made between our salaries less than $300 a week (laughs). Neither one of us was paid a lot.
One interesting thing was that they were telling people to go up and apply for food stamps. We applied and didn’t get them. Nobody replied back to us or anything—nothing happened. It’s fun—trying to feed four kids. And one day someone called us from Senator Bayh’s office and wanted to know if we were having any trouble. I said well I don’t know we applied but never got an answer. We come to find out someone was taking the applications from these guys on strike and hiding them in the files. They had to go in, the government went in and went through the files and pulled them out. That’s how we got food stamps. And that’s how we survived was on food stamps.
But it was interesting (laughs). You just start cutting back on everything.
EDLM: How did that change living day to day? Did you have to have certain strategies to save money?
Informant: Oh yeah, you do, you do.
When he was laid off he kept saying, “They’re going to lay us off, they’re going to lay us off.” I said, “OK you have all your bills paid you figure out what you’re going to do in the meantime.” That’s what you do. You just start making sure everything’s paid off as far as you can. You still got house payments and the utilities but you go down to basics. One advantage when he was laid off was [my oldest daughter] was a senior in high school and she got scholarhsips to go to Ball State. And he was laid off for three-and-a-half years before he found him a job. So [my younger daughter] got a full-ride scholarship to Ball State, because we didn’t have any money coming in.
You just get an odd job here you pay this bill and you get an odd job there and you pay that bill there and that’s the way you survive.
Later they gave us a huge amount of food stamps. I remember the elementary that one of my kids was going to called me up and said “Someone gave us your name for a fruit basket at Christmas.” And I said, “Really, we get so many food stamps, give it to someone who really needs it worse than we do,” you know? (laughs). And then some church showed up at our door and gave us a basket.
EDLM: Did that create a sense of community, that the community was looking out for people?
Informant: Yeah, yeah it did. Because like I said it was this church. We never did quite figure out who, cause it was a church that we didn’t go to that showed up with our name. Cause we didn’t enter anything. Like I said we had more food stamps than we knew what to do with. That sounds terrible but…
That’s back in the days that when they used to give you the little booklets and you ripped them out you know? And you look up to see if anybody’s watching you while you’re standing in line. People used to complain about it…Every so often you’d hear someone [say] “Someone was standing in line paying with food stamps. They were buying steaks I can’t afford steaks.” And you think, “Lady you have no idea, you know, gentleman, you have no idea what it’s like.”
EDLM: What advice would you give to someone who’s managing food stamps and couponing and on a strict budget?
Well, you get the Sunday paper, you get those little flyers. And you clip out the coupons. And then you check out the ad to see if it matches the coupon. And you only buy stuff that’s on the add that’s got a coupon on it. And that’s how you play it, you know. Oh yeah, you match em up, you watch. And invariably if someone, if they have a coupon in the paper it’s either to introduce a new product, which they’ll sell cheap, or they’ll have it in one of the ads in the newspaper. Invariably, I mean you know you can just just pretty well count on it. So, you stock up sometimes (laughs). My ex husband used to say “that shelf’s eating better than I am.” (laughs).
EDLM: What would you say your role in your community is?
Informant: What’s my role? Well one of the maintenance guys one time in my apartment building where I live called me the mayor and I have no idea why. I was laughing cause they were trying—my ceiling was peeling off. One of the managers called and said “This is the mayor that’s got this you’ve got to get it fixed.” (laughs). But I like to organize things for them, dinners and things like that where—I just kind of watch out for people. I laugh because people just come and vent to me all the time, I just sit and listen, you know, that type of thing.
The one thing that I do do is I’m on the board for Open Door health clinic. And I enjoy that, it’s something—we’re looking for a new CEO right now and I am part of that selection committee and it’s very interesting….
EDLM: What led you to live in your apartment?
Informant: I needed an apartment (laughs). Well at the time a group called Bridges ran it…. It wasn’t real low income or based on your income but it was lower rent. And a friend of mine’s friend was living there and she says why don’t you go try that apartment out? So we went over and looked at it and liked it, you know. And my ex-husband was with us and he liked it so he got an apartment there too. And that’s why I ended up living there. And it’s on the south end of town, it’s an area I know. I’m not real crazy about moving to the north side for some reason (laughs). But I spent most of my life over there so.
The other thing I like about it too is, I don’t know if you’ve ever been there. There’s a railroad track next to the post office and that’s a big field there that used to be the football field. And they used to have a walking thing there. Next to that is the library—the Maring Hunt Library—so you can just walk to the library. And then on the other side of it is Southview Elementary. That walk is a really nice walk for exercise with the dog.
And then you have trees, it’s like it doesn’t even look like living in the city when you’re back in there. And then on the other side it used to be a junkyard but now it’s a factory. And so there’s water back in there and trees. One of the neighbors told me one day he saw a buck standing by the fence watching the kids go into the building. And people have seen deer out there, because they come up the railroad track, so It’s kind of nice. It’s in the city but it’s really not, you know what I mean?
EDLM: Besides food stamps, what advice would you give to somebody in the community who’s still trying to make ends meet?
Informant: The food pantries. That’s one thing about Muncie, they have nice food pantries. I started taking people from my apartment building to them because they didn’t have cars. And it amazes me—And it’s funny, it’s not the big churches. Little churches that you think–how do you make this go?—have food pantries. Some of them you get to pick stuff, some of them you don’t. And they’re always very nice to you, just real friendly and nice. We have about six or eight of them that we go to regularly. Take advantage of it if you can.
Of course if you don’t have a car that kind of messes things up. Sometimes you get a neighbor to take you. A lot of times we see the MITS bus dropping people off.
The people in line are really interesting too (laughs). People we see regularly, you know. Even the pet food pantry. You get so you know their kids even. There was this little redhead, we didn’t see her for a while and then one day we saw her at the food pantry and she said “Oh you missed it down at the pet food pantry.” She says, “Two women got arguing about who was first. One of them ended up calling the police.” And she said “We were just standing there laughing like fools.” She says they got into a big fight over the whole thing.
It’s one of the things that Muncie does have that’s really good. Then there’s a poverty group, that I never got involved in but a lot of people I know through Open Door is involved in it, that you can go and they’ll link you in with people and tell you things.
Open Door is a low-income not for profit to help poor people with health. So, there’s things out there. Sometimes you got to go ask and get around.
One thing I like about Open Door is when you walk in there you don’t feel poor. They have a very nice building and they treat you with respect. And when you’re down and out—I’ve been to a couple places where you’re down and out, you walk in there and you think, “Is this what I deserve?” And people don’t treat you nice. But the ones we have around here are very, very nice. The food pantries and Open Door and some of the other organizations that’s working with you.
That’s really what I would recommend.
EDLM: Throughout the years, how do you think the community has changed? What has the change been for people who are lower income? Do you think people are more involved? Do you think it’s gotten easier or harder, better of worse?
Informant: Yes I think they’re more involved. Because when you go through about four years of no money—The government used to come in and just give out cheese. I made a lot of cheese balls for Christmas that year (laughs). But now I think there’s more resources. There’s more things.
Open door has only been an FQHC for oh about 10-15 years, 10 years I think it is, we were talking about it the other night.
Not having any insurance, I used to laugh. I moved my niece one time who was at IU for my brother. And we had to go up the steps of course you know how dorms are, and I have bad knees (laughs). I told my daughter and my niece, I said If I fall on the stairs drag me out and throw me in the parking lot and let a car run over me, I can get insurance that way. Those are the things you worry about. You hope the kids don’t break their arm or anything when you don’t have any insurance. And like I said I didn’t know that Open Door or anything like that was around when he was laid off.
And so I think we have good resources. We have good resources now for people with disabilities. We have good resources for low-income kids who need Head Start. All these things are—I didn’t know if that stuff existed when he was laid off.
All these things are really critical—much more than what people realize some times. I get upset when I hear these guys say well we don’t need these organizations any more.
As long as we have people who are low income—that’s people who work, waitresses don’t make a lot of money, especially in small places they put in forty hours or more but they don’t make a lot of money—There’s a lot of people who are on that low income, that need help…. I’m preaching to the choir here (laughs). It really amazes me the number of people who are out there that fit in that category. [At Open Door] we have a sliding scale, it’s based on your income. We have a zero level, a level of zero—because we know they don’t have any money. Or they got two-three kids and only make minimum wage. So to me it’s very important.
EDML: What’s do you think the long-term picture in Muncie is for people who are having a hard time making ends meet?
Informant: I don’t think we will ever, ever get to the point where there will not be a poverty group. For one thing you have retirees. I’m a retiree OK? Unless you work, you don’t get social security. I got lucky cause the last 10 years before I retired I had a fairly decent income. It wasn’t a big income, but I got social security because of it. There’s always people who get through the loophole somehow that’s there. I don’t think we’ll ever entirely wipe it out. But we’re making progress. There’ll always be a certain group of people we’ve got to have to take care of. I don’t care what the politicians say there’s always going to be a group we have to take care of. You think about people on disability or retired people or older people. I think a country is rated by how well they take care of their people.
I was in Seattle one time and I heard that they have just the same number of rich people as they do homeless. The same number. Now think about it, that’s quite a few. The first time I ever saw an elderly homeless woman was in Seattle. I mean, it shocked me completely. I mean, I’m used to seeing women out but actually a homeless person. And I think you’re always going to have that in some ways. I think Muncie does a pretty good job helping them out. We do have good shelters here and this type of thing.
EDML: How is everyday life different for somebody who has to struggle to make ends meet vs. vs someone who doesn’t have to worry so much about their income?
Informant: It’s the difference between finding good housing or fair housing and having a nice house. You see what I’m saying? Housing in Muncie is terrible. I mean it really is. Renting an apartment, renting a house…of course back in my days, when I was younger, you could rent a house for $100 a month, and your utilities, you could survive, you know?
My apartment building has been sold three times. Well we’re on our third owner. Bridges got rid of it. …the next couple came and said “We’re not charging enough rent” and so they tried to raise the rent $25 every year. Now this new guy said he’s not going to raise the rent. But we live in an older building. But they kept saying. “We got to bring it up to the standard.” Well I’m sorry the standard at Ball State is different, around Ball State is different form what the standard is in the south side of town.
We do have some housing that is rated according to your income but I don’t think we have enough of it. It’s difficult, it really is.
I wouldn’t be able to survive in my apartment if it weren’t for my daughter living with me. It makes a big difference. And I live with people in my building who struggle, and most of them are retirees, or people on disability. And it is a struggle at times. There are people in my building who struggle.
…What gets you, is every so often you get a snowball thrown at you, and whether you duck fast enough is whether it’s going to hit you or not. You know, your car, if you have a car, it breaks down. Or the bus doesn’t come by and pick you up in time so you can get to your appointment. Every once in a while you have some dumb thing that happens to you and you have to sit down and say, “OK how am I going to handle this?” If you don’t have a car you may ride the bus for a week.
EDLM: Generally, the story of Muncie is that there was a huge industrial boom, and factory life was Muncie life. And then there was the lull where factories left. Do you think Muncie is on a new upswing, or is it at a plateau?
Informant: I think it’s sitting there right now. It could go either way. We are bringing some things into Muncie. I always laugh I say I would like to see all the businesses listed and who they deal with. Honeywell there on Walnut Street sells burner units, furnace burner units, all over the world. We don’t know that. There’s a little place across the street that does labels—sells them to Russia. I think we have bigger business it’s just smaller than what we used to have. And I think we’re growing in some ways. We’re putting more insurance companies in…or tanning salons. (laughs)
There’s one place downtown, it used to be Midwest Towel, where they’re going to put in that arts thing. And the one out there on 32 where the old wire mill was. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they work out well.
…We all would like to have big business here but you can’t always cut straight on that sometimes. You’ve got to be diversified.
EDLM: When it comes to your family and your granddaughters, after they graduate, would you like them to stay and work in Muncie?
Informant: I’d like for them to but it’s wherever their future takes them. You know?
…But you know I used to tell my kids I don’t care what you do, you can dig ditches. I don’t care as long as you’re happy and I don’t have to support you. (laughs).
I laugh I say my kids make more money than I do, including my daughter with a disability. I don’t think, and even being married and with the factory job we ever made as much money as my kids do. That’s pretty good. It amazes me sometimes. I laugh, one time my daughter’s family got them a nice SUV one time. Her dad my ex-husband says “I hope you have money to put the gas in it.: My thing is I’m just thrilled you have a nice car. I’m proud of them. I think they’ve done a great job, you know. Of course a college education helps…
I laugh, when my oldest granddaughter was looking for scholarships and stuff I said what about that Indiana one? And my daughter says, “We make too much money mother.” That to me is the greatest thing in the world.