When I was a teenager, I spent my summer months in Dana, Indiana, a small farming community in Western Indiana, at the Illinois border. I lived with my grandparents during my visits, and had adventures with my cousins, who were both close to my age.
At the end of each summer, the town of Dana held its “Dana Festival,” the largest event for the community of just over 600 people (2000 Census). Held Thursday through Saturday night, the festivities included: the Dana Festival Queen contest, celebrity auction, flea markets, festival food, games, talent show, pet parade, cake walks, Jonah Fish Fry, jitterbug contest (we entered every year!), merchandise drawings, tours of the Ernie Pyle home, and a large parade on Saturday afternoon. The talent show and Jitterbug contest have long since been dissolved, but the other traditions continue. The 49’er Club, with members made up of my grandparents contemporaries, auction off a handmade quilt each year, and it is the time of the year for the entire town to come together.
This August, I returned for the Dana Festival for the first time since 1996. I had been home other times of the year, but was never able to catch the festival. My grandparents have long since died, and the town has changed into a smaller version of its bustling self. The Ernie Pyle Home is still open, and I celebrate each time I see it. What a treasure for this small town whose only grocery store burned down just over a year ago!
My uncle and father tell me Dana used to be a bustling town, with a movie theatre and five grocery stores (my grandfather owned one of them). Those were the days when folks stayed in town and didn’t drive to get their goods elsewhere. The “good ol‘ days,” I’ve heard people say.
At festival time, the good ol‘ days seem to return. The town comes alive again, and people return home to see friends and neighbors. And when I travel from the Indianapolis airport on Highway 36 west toward the quiet town of Dana, I long for the sign standing in the cornfields that says, “Welcome to Dana, Home of Ernie Pyle” that’s when I know I am home.