“How could you not be madly in love with where we live?” asks Jared Riddle, Ivy Tech English Chair, NWI Excellence in Theater Foundation board member, and NWI Society of Innovators board member.
It’s a rhetorical question, but Jared is happy to answer it at length and from many angles.
Jared is rooted in the industry of the Region by his grandfather who owned Riddle Cutstone. All the limestone in Northwest Indiana went through Grandpa Riddle’s business. It’s this perspective that eases Jared into his seat at the table surrounded by great minds of local industry.
“We’re exploring how we enable the world we want to see in the world in which we live, and how to sustain that,” Jared said. “I get a unique perspective in that room because it’s so diverse, and I’m so glad to represent the associate degree holder with my perspective of arts and industry.”
One way to sustain these values is through education, so it’s no coincidence that Jared chairs the English department at Ivy Tech, the bastion of the technical associate degree.
“Associate degree holders are a huge part of our workforce and community,” Jared said. “Most associate degree holders stay in the communities in which they earn their degrees.”
Indeed, upwards of 70% of healthcare workers in Northwest Indiana have Ivy Tech credentials on their transcripts.
“English majors don’t write in trade publications. They don’t write about nursing our autotech from within those disciplines. It’s the associate degree holders who tell these stories. I’m very interested in helping our students understand that their words matter and help craft all of our lives and all of our stories.”
The stories we write and tell preserve the beautiful culture of Northwest Indiana, and Jared likes to set his stories on stage.
From Merrillville High School to the IUN theater program, Jared cut his teeth here at home. He tries to give back to the vibrant theater community through his work with the Foundation.
“This community took me from a little raspy-voiced 17-year-old kid all the way to sharing the stage with Mark Summers as I played Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar at the Star Plaza Theater,” Jared said. “How often do you get to do something like that without leaving your community?”
The Foundation gives him the opportunity to give back in a very real sense by connecting the people that he knows. “I want to make sure those opportunities continue in our community. That’s why I serve on the board.”
“So many places in the USA don’t have vibrant community theater. We’ve got dozens, from Gary to Valpo to Hammond to Chesterton. They all work together in a coordinated fashion. How do you get all the artists to cooperate? We do it. It’s the respect and the politeness. ‘I value you, even if we disagree. Even if we have very different world views, you matter.’”
Jared knows that the culture of Northwest Indiana is not limited to its extensive theatrical web. Jared notes that our eco-tourism is booming with destinations like County Line Orchard and Fair Oaks Farm. He’s excited by the inflatable waterpark in Hammond and the new mascot museum in Whiting.
“I wish we had a greater understanding with the assets that we have, but that’s true of every community,” Jared said of the times when people feel like there’s nothing to do. “Have you gone to the welcome center and seen the Gene Shepard Christmas Story? Have you sat next to Orville Redenbacher in downtown Valpo? Don’t forget to look up. There’s so much culture to be found.”
Jared points to the rich artisan community at farmers markets and events like Hunt & Gather at the Lake County Fairgrounds.
“There’s music and food and so much to look at and buy, but nothing is mass produced. You can talk to the person who made the product. That connection is there. ‘I grew these tomatoes’ or ‘I painted this art’ or ‘I weaved this scarf.’ That’s the dream that we want, and we’ve got it.”
For Jared, the very core of our community is the culture that’s tied together by art and industry.
“We’ve been able to maintain that wholesome connectivity, the neighborly ‘Hoosier hospitality,’ but we have a sophisticated version of it. Because of our proximity to Chicago, we keep our wholesomeness while we deliver world-class products. Like Tide Pods and Albany’s gummy bears.”
“That’s something that we as a nation are struggling to find: what is that fair and appropriate balance. It’s us. We do it every single day. We’re polite and diverse. We’re traditionally based but forward thinking.”
“We’ve managed to keep the people we interact with – strangers or CEOs – in our outreach vision. We validate them as valued. They’re a part of this story, they matter, they’re appreciated, and they make a difference.”
“We have immortalized Disney’s dream of Mainstreet, USA. Our great downtowns are like walking down that mythical hope of tomorrow. Other parts of the country are shells of what they used to be, but our community is alive.”
“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel or suffer the same mistakes that other communities have that have grown too quickly or relied too much on one idea or another. We keep all boats rising.”