Keeping It Fresh
by Bill Weaver
Eight Years of
Our Brown County
photo by George Bredewater
After eight years of publishing Our Brown County we’ve covered just about every subject except one, yet it’s the one that is most often askedJust what is an Our Brown County, anyway? For that answer we went to Cindy Steele, who writes, edits, sells advertising, designs ads, composites, paints covers, and publishes this magazine each month, all while raising son, Evan, in their snug Helmsburg home.
Steele, an Indiana University alumna, first moved to Brown County in November of 1985, from Tallahassee, where she had been writing computer programs for the state of Florida’s Division of Administrative Hearings. “I lived on Greenbriar Lake with my dog, Booker. That’s when I fell in love with Brown County.”
That winter was cold and snowy. “I had to park at the bottom of the hill and carry my groceries up to the cabin,” she remembers. But she liked the eerie silence of the place. “It was so quiet you could hear animals going across the frozen lake.
“I worked at Ski World when I could get my sports car out on that road. What a tough winter that was!”
Soon after, Cindy joined Westinghouse, moving to Bloomington rather than make the long drive. “It was a computer support job and a lot of responsibility,” she says. “But I wanted to come back to Brown County.”
Steele got her wish several years later when she was hired by Home News Enterprises in Columbus. “Part of the agreement was for them to pay me a sum to help move me to Brown County.”
While settling in she read Dillon Bustin’s If You Don’t Outdie Me, The Artists of Brown County by Lyn Letsinger-Miller, and Frank M. Hohenberger’s Indiana Photographs. “I thought it might be fun to do some kind of a publication. It was in the back of my mind for several years.
“Most people,” she says with a rueful laugh, “thought I was totally insane but I felt compelled to do it. There were all these wonderful stories about Brown County that weren’t being told. It seems like every other person has some artistic outletthey write, or they play music, they paint. People gravitate to this place. I got fascinated with that.
“I started with very little money when my Mom gave me some of her inheritance. I printed 5000 copies thinking I was going to have to wallpaper my house with them. I had about two or three advertisers.
“At first I wanted it to be a literary piece, but a year into it I realized that the magazine had to work for my advertisers, too. It needed to be a good read but also needed to bring business to the county. So I learned about tourism and got to know my customers. I realized that we had to work together. I had to provide a service to them. Once I had that revelation, then it started to work.”
Steele also works hard for her readers. “I’ve tried to keep it balanced between content and ads so that I’m not compromising the magazine. I want people to read the stories.”
These stories are provided by a crew of regular contributors. “It is amazing that Rachel (Perry), Joanne (Nesbit), you (Bill Weaver), Tony (Coppi), George (Bredewater), Joe (Lee), Hank (Swain), Barb (Johnson), and Carl (Schiffler) have been with it since the very first year.” Other contributers include Becky McCreary, Jeff Tryon, Tamela Meredith Partridge, Craig Kinney, Torence Johnson, Helen Ochs, Diane Tucker, and Linda Thomas.
“I talked to you first because I’d known you for over 20 years. I said, ‘Do you know anybody who would be interested in doing this?’ And you said, ‘Yeah, me!’
“We’ve got a strong local following for Hank Swain’s articles. People like his perspective of things and his stories about the way things used to be. It’s an opportunity to express his philosophy of life.”
Tony Coppi recently passed away. “The second or third month that we’d been publishing Tony came to me with his résumé and said, ‘I’d love to do stories for you.’ He liked that personal story. Then we lost him last year. I miss his stories.
“When George Bredewater takes a photograph it’s like a work of art. He likes to photograph people where they work and live. It’s almost a theatrical thing.
“Joanne did a lot of writing about artists, art history, and the history of the area for the Democrat before she moved to Michigan. She maintains close contacts with a lot of folks that live in Brown County.
“And Rachel is a great asset because she is very knowledgeable about Brown County art and artists, past and present. She was assistant curator of T.C. Steele, and recently published a book about Ada Walter Shulz.
“Joe’s illustrations in the Believe It! series are brilliant. His ability to recreate past characters from just a few descriptions is sometimes uncanny. Although the drawings are from a historical perspective he always manages to add some element of humor.
“This is Tamela’s third year. She found me through the Internet. She’d been writing articles about country music stars for different publications. Many of those stars perform at the Opry and are a big draw to the county.”
Barb Johnson’s crossword puzzles have been a personal favorite. “She manages to make the crosswords specific to Brown County, which is no easy task. Locals love it.”
Covers for Our Brown County have featured the work of Darryl Jones, Jim Tracy, and Dick Ferrer. Recently Cindy has painted the covers herself. “I’m not a professional artist but my covers add that personal stamp.”
Most of all she enjoys visiting the friends she’s made. “Getting to know people is the best thing, along with giving me a chance to be with my son, Evan. I’m able to spend time with him and still do my work. With what other job can you have that kind of freedom?
“I wear a lot of hats, which is good for a person with a short attention span like me,” she laughs. “Most jobs you’re in a routine where you go to work, do your job, come home. That’s the end of the cycle. For me it never ends. As soon as an issue goes out I do the website, and my billing. Then I can think, ‘Hey, this is a pretty good issue.’ It’s satisfying.
“And then,” she adds, “I start on the next one.”