The son of an immigrant beekeeper, born in our nation’s capital and raised on a farm in Northwest Indiana, John Davies grew up in a home without running water or electricity. In the absence of television, John’s vision of life in the Region was enriched with legendary heroes that jumped from the pages of his favorite books.
Later in life, Davies found himself asking: “Where are the legends here?” He refused to believe the answer he was given: there are none.
From there he contacted the Smithsonian. Lo and behold, Davies was right! Suddenly, he had something very important to share: the legend of Octave Chanute, the Crazy Old Man of the Sand Dunes, who preceded the Wright brother’s accomplishments in flight by a full five years.
Inspired by Chanute’s story of innovation, Davies had a vision. Launched by BP and now overseen by the South Shore, Davies’ vision of the Wall of Legends came forth and has inducted more than 60 regional heroes, from the Tuskegee Airmen to business mogul Dean White.
“I’ve been breaking myths since I’ve been here,” Davies said. “I haven’t done it alone, but I’ve been helping to create a regional identity. This is an important place with talented people, and I want to remind people with all my passion that, yes, we have work to do, but we’ve done great things.”
Davies has worked hard to shape this regional identity. He worked with the South Shore to revive the iconic posters that ran initially as a five-year campaign. He took those posters and put them in a coffee table book and has overseen the expansion of that project to include more than 100 new designs capturing the beauty and spirit of the Region.
“Every time I see one I feel pride that I had a little bit to do with that.”
Davies also was instrumental in the establishment of the Northwest Indiana Society of Innovators.
“I kept running into people who were innovative, who were using innovation as a tool to solve problems in new ways,” Davies said. “And I’m really proud that we are a model and a number of members in the Society have been recognized for it, how you can have economy and ecology side-by-side.”
Indeed, it was the ecological side of the equation that brought Davies and his family back to the Region more than 30 years ago. His family would rebuild the Valparaiso Moraine.
“My father had decided to do something bold and audacious and very risky: replant a forest. I wanted to be a part of that. I thought it was such a great, heroic initiative. To give the land new life.”
Davies and his brother returned to help in this venture, spending the next decade hand pruning more than 120 walnut trees so they would grow strong and tall.
“It is a great source of pride and joy, to give the land new life,” Davies said, “To plant a seedling of 7 inches and see it grow to 90 feet is amazing. It’s like an inventor, bringing an idea to life.”
They planted these trees knowing that they would not live to see them harvested. Instead, they will pass this legacy down to future generations.
“It’s symbolic of the continuity of life, like a river, that we must again give and prepare for the next generation so they can assume their role and do an even greater job.”
Through his great work re-establishing the landscape and image of Northwest Indiana, Davies has become a legend like those he’s so admired since childhood, but he isn’t finished cementing his legacy yet. With every new venture, Davies moves to create pride that we can all carry with us.
“I firmly believe that a leader has a responsibility to plant something for the next generation.”
Photo Credit:Jerry Davich