Maxinkuckee sun sets on Ball family's legacy here


Since 1944, seeing “July” on the calendar meant the members of one branch of the Ball family of Indianapolis (think Ball canning jars and Ball State University) are gathered near Aubbeenaubbee Creek at the historic house once home to the Halcyon Boat House. This July is no exception, but there’s a bittersweet tinge to the breeze blowing off Lake Maxinkuckee here at 1746, as this is likely the family’s last July here.

That’s certainly not the result of familial indifference. Samantha Starkey, age 20 and the granddaughter of William H. Ball Jr., has created an exquisite collection of artwork chronicling the family’s past, inspired in part by her great, great grandmother’s diary and including the beloved lake house. Her aunt, Judith and Ann Eckerson, wrote “East Shore Summers: A Lake Maxinkuckee Memoir,” recalling their generations cherished memories here, in 2001.

Samantha’s art, in fact, is being exhibited this summer at the Center for Culver History, the Antiquarian and Historical Society of Culver’s museum and research center located at the Culver Public Library, an exhibit which launched with a gala opening Weds. evening from 4 to 6 p.m. followed between 8 and 9 p.m. by a sunset toast at the Ball cottage.

But to begin at the beginning, 1746 East Shore Drive appears to have been one of the several boat houses operating on the lake, in this case the Halcyon boat house or Halcyon club house. Janet Starkey, Samantha’s mother, says it’s assumed the house today at 1680 East Shore (now Dr. John Bernero’s, but also well known as the W.O. Osborn and later, Tom Spiece cottages) was the actual home in earlier years, and the boat house was simply that: a boat house.

In later years, the boat house, refitted to be a home and dubbed “Aubbeenaubbee Lodge” in honor of the nearby creek (today’s Curtis Ditch), was owned by J.T. Bartlett, and by the 1930s by Roy Shaneberger (the upstairs bookcase, in fact, is populated by the Shanebergers’ original library, complete with family signatures in many volumes).

William (“Bill”) H. Ball Jr. notes that his parents purchased the cottage at 1746 in 1944, the year he graduated from Culver Military Academy.

Ball’s grandfather, William C. Ball, Sr., was one of the famous five Ball brothers who moved their canning jar manufacturing operation from Buffalo, New York, to Muncie, Indiana, in the 1880s. Prior to his retirement in 1947, William C. had been of the Ball Brothers Company (now Ball Corporation), also serving with the CIA in Washington and later (in 1953) as personal representative of President Dwight Eisenhower in commemoration ceremonies for the Cecil Rhodes Central Africa Centenary. He retired from Ball in 1955, and he and his wife Agnes would later relocate to Indianapolis, operating several car dealerships, chairing the board of the Haag Drug Company there. Along the way, of course, William C. and his four brothers also purchased a struggling, private college in Muncie and gifted it to the state of Indiana in 1918, continuing in the ensuing years to help steer it to success as Ball State University.

William H. Jr. says his family, which also included sister Lucina, had previously rented on the lake each summer during his tenure at CMA
“They loved the place,” he recalls, “and starting looking for a spot in 1942...they finally found this place.”

Of the five original Ball brothers, Bill’s branch is the only one to find his summer home on Lake Maxinkuckee. The others flew to Leland, Michigan each summer.

Bill’s sister Lucina, at age 92 today, recalls her parents strolling by 1680 East Shore (the Osborn cottage), then for sale, but concluding there would be too much hill climbing involved in using it regularly. Just down the road, they saw Mrs. Shaneberger of the Aubbeenaubbee Lodge and began to converse about that property.

When Bill and Lucina’s grandmother died, William H. Sr. (“Pompom”) bought his wife the cottage as a place to mourn the loss of her mother. The place served a similar purpose the following year, 1945.

Lucina, pregnant at the time, received the tragic news that her first husband, Ed Eckerson, a surgeon serving in World War II, was killed on the medical ship the USS Comfort when it was attacked by Japanese Kamikaze plane. Her close friend, Agnes Clark, lost her husband Charles in the same attack, and both women took comfort in each other’s company, and the peacefulness of Lake Maxinkuckee, that summer.
Summer fun on the lake

Childhood summers at the cottage for Lucina Ball Eckerson’s daughters Judy and Ann, were lovingly described (by Judy and illustrated by Ann) in “East Shore Summers,” where Judy -- today of Indianapolis -- describes nicknaming William H. Sr., “Pompom” and his wife Agnes, “Mimi.”

William H. Ball Sr. died in 1980 and Agnes in 1985.

In addition to joyous childhood days of boating and turtle-hunting, tree climbing and water skiing, in the book Judy recalls her “Uncle Bill” (William H. Jr.) owning a popular Indianapolis supper club in the 1960s and occasionally bringing celebrities to the lake cottage, such as jazz singer Buddy Grecco and his then-fiancé Dani, who later married David Jansen, star of the TV show “The Fugitive” (grandmother Mimi promptly assigned the unmarried couple separate rooms, on separate floors).

Judy also describes Bill Ball as something of a local celebrity on water-skis, staging impromptu shows on the lake and impressing with his skills at the ski jump; he, in fact, traversed the lake on skis with Ann or Judy on his shoulders. He would even ski at Cypress Gardens in Florida with the famed Dick Pope, utilizing his Maxinkuckee-gained skiing chops.

Bill brought four of his own children to the lake each summer -- twin girls, Janet and Julie, and two boys, John and William H. III, or “Chip” (both of whom live today on the west coast). The cottage has seen three weddings during the Ball family’s tenure here, Bill points out, the last being seven years ago.

“The weddings were big,” says Bill, “and a few years ago we had a big jazz party with 150 people. My friend, a jazz singer from Chicago Frank D’rone came was a great party.”
Bill was also, says daughter Janet, “master of fireworks” each year.

Wm. H. Ball Sr. (“Pompom”) built an additional guest cottage in 1955, between the main house and East Shore Drive. Bill recalls a “big flood” in 1995 which did major damage to that cottage, which sat in a low spot on the property. It was demolished and a new structure -- complete with the central air conditioning Aubbeenaubbee Lodge lacks -- was built in 2000. Since the Maxinkuckee golf course built a holding pond, Bill notes, Aubbeenaubbee Creek-based flooding has become a thing of the past.

Bill added a screened-in porch to the main cottage in the late 1980s, and the upstairs bathroom was re-done and new windows replaced the originals.

Despite the lack of air conditioning in the main cottage, Bill notes, “This place is built like a castle! With the stone foundation, it stays really cool in there.”

He adds that watching the sun set over the west shore of the lake was an especially beloved event at the cottage, and “one of the features of the day.”

It’s not certain this will be the Ball family’s last summer at the cottage, but it seems likely. As has been the case for a number of families on the lake whose presence here goes back five decades and more, the radical jump in property taxes is bringing an end to a great many Maxinkuckee traditions.

Beginning in the early 2000s, says Bill, the property taxes at 1746 doubled; the next year they tripled. Between 2000 and this year, they’ve gone from $1,300 per year to over $20,000, an all-too common story on the lake, especially the east shore.

“It’s expensive to keep up,” he acknowledges. “We’ve lost a lot of people (on the lake) because of that.”

It was Bill’s wish to pass the property down to his children, which took place in 2009, but the writing has increasingly been on the wall. There’s been talk of meeting elsewhere or seeking out a house on a less expensive lake somewhere. Meantime, a “for sale” sign has sprouted up outside Aubbeenaubbee Lodge.

A series of fortunate events has led to an opportunity to celebrate the Ball family’s Maxinkuckee legacy with the community at large.
Janet Starkey says she received a call a few years ago from Marizetta Kenney, then of the Center for Culver History, looking for information on the history of the family here. The request came at an opportune time.

Starkey’s daughter Samantha had been seeking a concentration for an AP high school art class requiring 12 pieces around a particular theme. Three weeks before the project was due, recalls Samantha with a smile, she was in the family attic and unearthed a folder full of aged Ball Corporation documents as well as her great, great grandmother’s diary, sketches included.

Samantha’s project, then, begins with the generation of the five Ball brothers and moves forward to today. Employing pen and ink over rice paper, acrylic paint and tissue paper collage overlays (then tea-stained), the artwork is based on old family photographs. The last piece in the series depicts the family’s life at the lake.

“So that’s what I associate with our inheritance on that side of the Ball family, is this piece of property,” Samantha notes. “I feel it all led down to this house.”

The artworks and their accompanying story, says Janet, seemed a perfect centerpiece for an exhibit on the Ball family at Lake Maxinkuckee, so she called the museum and arranged the exhibit with current director Rachel Meade.

“My sister Julie and I grew up here,” says Janet. “We would always take off the month of July and stay up here with our mom and dad. Through the years, myself and my three siblings...and their children have come up here every summer.

“But the coolest thing for myself and us four siblings,” she adds, “is that we had all our children up here, from babies on up. All the cousins are more like siblings and they’re all very close because of the space and the time. It has created a close-knit family.”
Bill concurs that the time family members have spent here each year has been “so important.”

“The hardest thing, when it’s gone, will be to not have that space,” Janet notes. “It’s a place where nothing changes.”

“I call it a Zen time warp,” adds her husband Richard. “There’s no time here!”

Tyler Starkey, the oldest of Bill’s grandchildren and a recent college graduate, calls it “my favorite place ever. I look forward to coming here every summer.”

Rather than working this summer, in fact, he says he chose to spend his last summer on the lake. That summer, he explains, is definitely bittersweet.

“There are so many memories of having all the cousins, around same age, here. We’ve been really close.”

William H. “Chip” Ball III wrote of the place in 1989, “No other place exudes the magic tranquility, nostalgic charm and romantic beauty that allows the mind to dream, the spirit to soar and the heart to love.”
Judith Eckerson’s “East Shore Summers” book concludes with her poignant description of standing in the open doorway of the cottage facing the lake, today, picturing grandfather “Pompom” waving from the end of the pier, years ago.

“The haunting echo of his jovial voice drifts shoreward on the wind, enticing me to join him on board the (boat) The Duchess for a sunset cruise.

“I glance towards the desk,” she continues, “Where (grandmother) Mimi I watch, she turns her head towards the open window and calls out, ‘careful, my precious ones,’ to two young girls (Judith and Ann), dipping their nets for minnows at the shallow entrance to Aubbeenaubbee Creek. They look up for a moment and smile.”

It’s appropriate that the Ball family invited the community, after Samantha Starkey’s art exhibit opening Weds. evening, to the cottage for a “sunset toast.”

Janet Starkey emphasizes how special sunsets have been to those generations, from “Pompom’s” to Samantha’s today, even as the sun sets on one family’s legacy on Lake Maxinkuckee.