Once a month, NWIndianaLife.com plans on profiling a city or town in Lake, Porter or La Porte County as part of the "City in the Spotlight" series. Beginning with St. John, we would like to focus on all positive aspects of these communities, the leaders that help make the town run and the businesses and residents that are focused on ensuring their hometown remains a destination spot in Northwest Indiana.
Located just about a half-hour east of Chicago, St. John, Indiana is a bedroom community that, although smaller in size, plays a great role in the landscape of Northwest Indiana business and culture.
The home of a breathtaking religious shrine, top of the line High School and unique specialty shops, St. John is an ideal small town and fine place to live.
Perhaps what attracts visitors most to St. John is the Shrine of Christ’s Passion, a non-profit, non-denominational religious mecca with a thorough overview of the stations of the cross on a path that leads to a picturesque church that can be seen from far away.
In operation since 2007, visitors are invited to take walk on a half-mile long path that leads them to a statue of Christ. On the path, they will pass the different stages of the stations of the cross - each one narrated by the familiar, legendary voice of Bill Kurtis.
“We get busloads of people who come here and have lunch outside on our patio and see this amazing display,” said one Shrine volunteer. “We have boy scout troops who come here often as well and it’s amazing to see how well children behave when they are here.”
An inspiring walk along the path is set to the backdrop of soothing music.
“Everyone that comes here leaves changed,” the volunteer added. “It is truly rewarding to see people so inspired.”
Right near the Shrine’s gift shop stands the famous Our Lady of the New Millennium statue, a 32-foot stainless steel statue of Mary that has traveled throughout the Midwest over the past decade and a half, finally making a permanent stop in St. John. Commissioned by the late Carl Demma of Oak Lawn, Illinois, the statue has been an iconic symbol in the religious community.
“The Shrine sure is one of our most attractive destinations,” said Jason Dravet, IT director for the town of St. John.
Dravet also points out that St. John, along with Crown Point, have been shown to be the two largest growing municipalities in all of Lake County, alternating that distinction each year.
According to the U.S. Census, from 2000 to 2010, the population of St. John rose from 8,382 residents to 14,850.
“This is a very nice bedroom community,” he said. In 2009, CNN agreed, ranking St. John No. 48 on their list of “Top 100 Places to Live.”
Local residents and business owners, such as Danny Keane of Triple M Motors, enjoy staying in the area and tasting the fare at a few of the local eateries as well. Keane’s favorites include Pepinos and Aspen Cafe.
Aspen Cafe, which sits on Wicker Ave. adjacent to the St. John Mall, has been an area staple for 23 years now.
“We have great specials everyday and people know us,” said owner Bessie Karalis. “We are open for breakfast, lunch and banquets in the evening. We have a full bar and menu and are family owned.”
The St. John community is also home to an area High School that has students from nearby Schererville and Dyer attending.
Lake Central High School, according to Principal Robin Tobias, is “a huge part of the community.”
“A lot of our headwork is with the community of St. John, forming partnerships and through philanthropy,” he said.
More than 800 students at the school are involved in athletics, including about 350 during each season. According to Tobias, the teams do “a great job with philanthropy with local organizations and do charitable events to raise funds for awareness of causes.”
Just this year, the LC football team worked with the American Red Cross for heart awareness and the volleyball squad raised more than $5,000 to provide for cancer charities.
And as much of a difference the athletes are making off the field, Lake Central seems to always be among the teams competing for titles in a variety of sports. In football, the Indians recently won the sectional championship for the first time since 1999. Both their boys and girls basketball teams are ranked in the Top 20 of the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association (IBCA) poll.
A gigantic swimming pool, one that reaches a depth of 14 feet, 3 inches, is another highlight of the school’s athletic complex that is currently under expansion.
St. John native Brenna Boyle, while not a Lake Central athlete herself, was a softball standout at nearby Andrean High School and guided the 59ers to the state title in 2013 before announcing she would continue her academic and athletic careers at Valparaiso University through a scholarship.
The Lake Central High School band, under the direction of Chris Harmon, is another constant that makes the town proud.
“We have a fantastic marching band,” Tobias said. “We are regularly in the top ten in the state.”
During the 2013 Bands of America competition at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, LC actually reached the 14th overall ranking in the entire nation.
“We have a dedicated band director and dedicated families that are always helpful in making sure Lake Central is on the map,” the principal added.
According to Virginia Daffy, a former band grandparent for eight years, said Harmon is “the most awesome band leader ever.”
“Everyone is proud of our band. We follow them down to Indy every year,” added Daffy, who is thrilled to be part of a family business located just across Wicker Ave. from the High School so she can listen as they prep for game nights and parades.
While growing in population and stature, St. John remains a friendly community with a small downtown area on 93rd Ave. with an interesting “Wall of History” dedicated to POWs and a clean park located behind Town Hall and east of the city’s police station. Civic Memorial Park offers opportunities for tennis, basketball, baseball and softball.
“We also have great walking paths and parks that make everyone feel comfortable and at home,” said Tobias, who has lived in St. John for more than a year and went through schooling through the Lake Central system, which includes Kolling Elementary School and now Clark Middle School (called Grimmer when Tobias attended).
Entertainment also comes to St. John at Zig-E Funland, which is a popular destination for residents of Chicago and larger Lake County towns such as Crown Point and Merrillville.
According to the Zig-E Funland website, they “bridge the gap (between parents and children), and bring families together.”
“For over 5 years we’ve provided a place for adults to join in on the fun. Race your kids in go-karts, hit a few balls in the batting cages or spend some quality time at the arcade,” the site reads.
Home to a religious shrine, friendly community and quality high school, St. John is clearly a town on the upswing.
“St. John is a fantastic community,” Tobias said. “It is a place that has leadership that cares about its residents and puts together strategic plans for community improvement.”
Livio’s Restaurant, 8267 Wicker Ave., 219-558-8120 - Ranked No. 1 on tripadvisor.com. Reviewer from Schererville says: “Awesome Italian Restaurant - We have ordered the Stuffed Shrimp, Lasagna, and Canolli...All were so Delicious! Staff is friendly and they aim to please!”
Mama D’s Pizza, 9440 Joliet St., 219-365-8504
Pasquale’s Pizza and Pasta, 9543 Wicker Ave., 219-365-2300
Dick’s Restaurant and Bar, 10808 Wicker Ave., 219-365-5041
Aspen Cafe, 9141 Wicker Ave., 219-365-8733
Schoop’s Hamburgers, 9401 Wicker Ave., 219-365-0112
Olive Cafe, 11220 Ventura Dr.
Shrine of Christ’s Passion, 10630 Wicker Ave.
Zig-E’s Funland, 8176 Wicker Ave.
Palmira Golf Course, 12111 W. 109th Ave.
Lake Central High School, 8400 Wicker Ave.
Lake Central Freshmen Center, 8410 Wicker Ave.
Kolling Elementary School, 8801 Wicker Ave.
St. John Evangelist School, 8400 Wicker Ave.
Clark Middle School, 8915 W. 93rd Ave.
Suncrest Christian Church, 10009 Parrish St.
St. John the Evangelist Church, 10701 Olcott Ave.
Holy Shepherd Lutheran Church, 9770 Heilman St.
Community Baptist Church, 8651 W. 93rd Ave.