by Amanda Holmes,
Executive Director, Fishtown Preservation
Janice Ball Fisher passed away in October 2010, leaving a legacy gift of $100,000 to the Fishtown Preservation Society. Joanie Fisher Woods and Jeff Fisher, two of Janice Ball Fisher’s seven children, remember their mother’s ties to Leland and Fishtown, and now wish that they had asked their mother more questions.
Everywhere they lived, John W. and Janice B. Fisher had a photo or a painting of Fishtown on the wall. In their Leland cottage, in their home in Muncie, and even in Naples, Florida, where they wintered, there was a picture. “They never completely left Fishtown and Leland,” said Jeff. “They had to have a reminder.”
The reminder was for a lifetime of experiences and memories, many of which remained essentially the same from generation to generation of the Ball and Fisher families. Across the decades family members savored the way that Leland and Fishtown let them escape the more formal elements of their daily lives to allow family and community to come together. Janice Kelsey (Ball) Fisher was born in 1916 as the youngest of four siblings. Her mother’s family had started coming to Leland in 1903, seeking a place to escape the hot Indiana summers. No sooner would they arrive at their cottages when aunts, uncles, cousins and everyone else in Indiana Woods shed their winter rules. Jeff remembered how even in his youth, “children floated freely from house to house”. They soon migrated down the beach and into Fishtown, which in summer was the larger world. Here they witnessed dangers, made lifelong friendships, accepted the many imperfections of the world, and devoted themselves to a place that helped define their lives.
With their cottages facing Lake Michigan, the sound of the fish boats coming and going marked their days. “They all had this great chug, chug, chug coming across the water,” said Jeff, “and we just stood and stared at them.” Unsettled weather added tension to the movements of the fishing boats. “When storms would come,” Joanie remembered, “there was always excitement about getting the boats back in. There were the two piers out there, going straight out, and the waves would be crashing over the piers. It was really scary. These guys were amazing at getting those boats in.”
There was a charm about Fishtown, her children said, that Janice and the family loved and still love. “There was something about the personalities of the people,” Joanie said. “She loved all the fishermen down there, especially Pete Carlson. As a kid she played down there and those guys were always nice to kids.” Janice particularly liked the imperfection of Fishtown. “Nothing was perfect,” said Jeff. “It was all sort of cobbled together and it was a neat thing in her mind that things didn’t have to be perfect.” She shared this kind of affection for Fishtown with her sister, Adelia Ball Morris, who bought one of the shanties just so the fishermen could keep working there.
“Fishtown draws people in,” said Jeff, “whether it’s the wonderful smells of the smokehouse or talking with the fishermen. Those are the things I remember, and I’m sure mom did, too, when she was growing up here in summers.”
Caring about Fishtown passed from each generation to the next. “As we grew up, loving Fishtown just imprinted more and more,” said Jeff. “It’s part of the soul of Leland. I think that’s what a lot of people are here for. It just feels good.”
“She would want people to know how important Fishtown is to the community,” Joanie said. She asks that others do as her mother did, and as she will do in her turn: add their legacy to Fishtown’s. “Leland would be just another resort community on the lake without having that little special connection. Fishtown that counts for so much.”
Ask more questions about your family’s past. And add your own legacy to Fishtown.