There are those people in the movies, the archivists & the historians, they appear to be these troughs of knowledge. Sitting in a room full of books, hunched over documents discovering more of the mysteries, histories and secrets that would otherwise be lost or never known to us. These types of people seem only to exist in literature or film, or from a bygone era. But we have that very same person right in La Porte, and we have it in Fern Eddy Schultz.
Mention history anywhere in this county, and it is assured that Fern’s name will come up--the two are synonymous. So when I meet Schultz, I am both eager and excited, and she does not disappoint. On the day I step back into Schultz’s area in the La Porte County Historical Society Museum she is wearing a small gold pin of Indiana that reads “La Porte County Historian”, and she is made for this job. Her undeniable love for La Porte County, her enduring passion for research, and her mission to preserve and spread this information is so infectious that it is almost impossible not to dive into one of the Museum’s beautifully bound books and start researching one of the thousands of enthralling stories of our county.
“I have always loved La Porte County. I was taught to do so. It is just a part of me. I love doing what I do here.”
Fern was born and raised in La Porte County and grew up with a family that had a strong love La Porte and it’s history, and actually has a long lineage in the county. Naturally, Fern picked up on this, and it is a hobby that has never left, so much that it is a part of her.
“I grew up in a household where La Porte history was a part of our lives. It was just the thing to do.”
Schultz attended Center Township School and then graduated from La Porte High School. She had a scholarship to go to Ball State University, but he mother was ill with cancer and so Schultz adapted her plans. Schultz began a career in secretarial work, but when she started volunteering at the La Porte Historical Society Museum Schultz really found her place. For 26 years now she has served as the La Porte County Historian.
Schultz is constantly discovering, indexing and researching our county’s history. It is actually her favorite part about the job, and she is constantly pursuing a new lead to get as close to the facts as possible over folklore. It is impossible for her to choose a favorite research topic or story, because the history of La Porte is truly so intriguing.
“Even now it is a learning experience everyday. There is always something out there, we will never know it all. We first started as an agricultural community, then we developed industrially, and now we are going towards the tourism industry. But at the end of the day we are still an agricultural area. That is interesting, seeing how this community has developed.” she explained.
Schultz has had tremendous impacts on the preservation of our county’s history. It is a gift that she has given La Porte that will live on. She established the research library in the La Porte Historical Museum for researching students, curious people looking for ancestors, or sometimes well-known people working on a project. The room is lined with books dating back to the 1800s. Schultz has gathered coroner’s reports, marriage licenses, and more that were otherwise scrambled and turned them into exquisitely bound preserved books. She archives with the type of consistency, accuracy and attention to detail that today is such a lost art. The books are beautiful, color coded and indexed so finding your ancestors can be as simple as flipping three pages.
On a broader scale, Schultz is most interested in war history, perhaps spurned by the brother she lost on the beaches of Normandy serving in World War II. But again, she is always looking for the La Porte connection.
“We even have people buried in La Porte County who served in the Revolutionary War, at the end of the day, it always seems to have something to do with us,” she said.
Schultz also takes a strong interest in genealogy and even founded the La Porte County Genealogical Society, because as Schultz sees it, without the people we would not have the history.
Now comes the obvious question probably asked to any historian, ‘why do you think history is important?’. Schultz not only provided me with a whip smart answer, but also has a completely relevant theory.
“You have to know your past if you are going to know your future. I think your interest in history has a lot to do with the way it is presented to you. When it is just memorizing dates, that is boring, you have to get into the event and know than just about when it happened,” Schultz explained.
In the future, Schultz hopes to continue her research and pass that information onto the public. She takes her findings, she shies away from overexposed topics, and presents them on a variety of platforms. She writes a column for the Herald Argus, produces the OldLetter for the Historical Museum, and hosts presentations for local organizations. Outside of her county historian duties, Schultz is a volunteer at Pioneer Land, enjoys music, work with the Indiana Historical Society, and is the President of the Pine Lake Cemetery Association.
When I leave Schultz, she is preparing to spend her afternoon helping a group research African American history, she brought her materials, a fat binder full of her own research that is ready to share.
“Everything that I do ties in someway with history. It is just a main part of my existence.”