Summer Lovin’

The Birth of B&E

Ron Bensz had $300 in his pocket, a beat-up old Chevy truck and a passion for racing 12- to 14-foot Mercury boats in the Michigan City harbor. The year was 1953, and when a local marina that sold Mercury outboards decided to sell another brand instead, Bensz bought the outboards from him and, along with his friend, Roland Evett, a hydroplane enthusiast, leased a parcel of land on Trail Creek and founded B&E Marine.

At the time, Michigan City was more industrial, but Bensz, who also was working for the Northern Indiana Public Service Company constructing towers from Michigan City to Valparaiso, saw a potential market — and besides, he loved boating and had an extremely supportive wife.

Always an entrepreneur, Bensz made a deal with the landowner: He’ll supply the materials if his landlord would erect a small building.

“I told him that if I went out of business, you’ll still have a building,” recalls Bensz. “Then I learned that someone else was trying to buy the land. I didn’t have any money, but I called the owner and told him I’d give him the interest on the money the first year; the next year I’d give a few thousand dollars; and the third year I’d pay it off.”

By the third year, Evett’s wife had enough of long hours and poor profits. “She told him he wasn’t spending any time with his kids, and he wasn’t going to church on Sunday,” says Bensz. “So I bought him out.”

In those early years, most boats were in the 14- to 16-foot range.

“There weren’t cruisers like there are now, and so my dad told me to go learn a trade,” he says.

But Bensz had faith in B&E, and even though he apprenticed as a mill carpenter to appease his father, he kept the marina going, hiring a couple of retired guys to run it during the weekdays.

“Then I’d come in after work and would stay there until midnight, I’d come in on the weekends,” he says.

This is where the supportive wife comes in. “I had to have a very wonderful wife to put up with that, and I did,” Bensz says.
Today, Ron’s sons, Barry and Rod, run business (daughter Jennifer worked there in high school but is now an artist in Tennessee). B&E now has 35 full-time employees as well as seasonal workers, and the business encompasses 10 buildings covering 100,000 square feet with 70 permanent slips. They also offer two hoists, ramps and fuel docks.

When asked if he was surprised at how big the business had grown, Bensz laughs and says, “I get asked that a lot and I always say, ‘I really thought I’d be bigger by now.’” — J.A.

LaPorte, Indiana

French for passageway, LaPorte County and the city of LaPorte earned their monikers in the early 1600s, when French fur traders saw a natural opening through the heavily wooded forests. At the time, this area of woods and waterways were part of the vast lands belonging to the Potawatomi Nation before being settled in 1832.

It’s easy to see what attracted the Potawatomi and Voyageurs both. LaPorte, a lovely city centered on an old-fashioned, red sandstone courthouse complete with gargoyles and tower, has a thriving downtown and myriad public parks, many of which are dotted with lakes for fishing, swimming and boating.

The 170-acre Fox Memorial Park, which encompasses 100-acre Clear Lake, is the place to be on summer nights to hear the sounds of the City Band. Founded in 1879 and one of the oldest municipal bands in the state, they perform at the Dennis F. Smith Amphitheater.

Stone Lake, nestled in the 566-acre Soldier’s Memorial Park, is home to the Maple City Grand Prix, an annual event featuring the world’s fastest tunnel boats barreling through the waters at more than 100 miles per hour.

History weaves together downtown. Since 1918, Temple News Agency, a downtown LaPorte landmark, has been the place to meet. Now featuring live music, lattes, sandwiches, Sherman’s Ice Cream (a 90-plus-year-old business in nearby South Haven, Michigan), and old-fashioned sodas made at its vintage soda fountain — the only one around. Spire Farm-to-Fork Cuisine, with the food philosophy of “no freezer, no tin cans and no messing around,” represents the other end of the food spectrum, striving for culinary authenticity.

LaPorte is known for its grand Queen Anne and Victorian style homes. “A Stroll Along the Avenues” is a self-guided tour along Michigan and Indiana Avenues to see these elaborate, 19th century mansions. — J.A.

Resources

  • B&E Marine 31 Lake Shore Dr. Michigan City 219-879-8301 bemarine.com
  • Fay’s Marina 908 Pine Lake Ave. La Porte 219-649-1136 boats.com/sites/faysmarina
  • Huber’s Marine 1207 Pine Lake Ave. La Porte 800-374-8985 hubersmarine.com
  • Michigan City Port Authority mcmarina.org
  • Washington Park 200 Heisman Harbor Michigan City 219-872-1712
  • Trail Creek 700 E. Michigan Blvd. Michigan City 219-879-4300

Summer Lovin’

by Jane Ammeson
31-May-2015
Michigan City, Indiana offers visiting boaters a mix of fun, food and fishing in this charming port city located along the southern Lake Michigan shore.
Settled in 1830 where Trail Creek flows into the southern-most tip of Lake Michigan, historic Michigan City, Indiana is a charming port city offering boaters easy walkability to an abundance of fun and cultural activities.

“There’s so much to do,” says Rod Bensz, who, along with his brother, Barry, now owns B&E Marine — founded by their father six decades ago. “There are transient slips with the Port Authority at Washington Park and with us. From there, people can venture out to Shoreline Brewery and the Lubeznik Center for the Arts. Franklin Street, which is the main street downtown and is close to the harbor, has really great restaurants like Matey’s and Galveston Steakhouse.”

Bensz notes that the city’s Washington Park edges the Lake Michigan shoreline and is perfect for beach lovers with water that’s both placid and wavy, depending on its mood. Besides swimming and sunning, there’s always the hunt for beach glass, those pieces of old bottles polished by the water into smooth, softly hued tones. Grizzlies, tigers, bald eagles and monkeys are just some of almost 100 animal species set in natural-like habitats at the Washington Park Zoo. The zoo also runs a safari train, and the Oasis Splash Park is a quick way to cool down on a hot summer day.

“We have beautiful beaches, including the Indiana State beach,” says Bensz, who grew up in Michigan City and marvels at its transformation, including the restoration of the city’s Victorian-era downtown, making it a major visitor’s destination. “We have high-performance boat and offshore boat races and a great Fourth of July parade. The fishing is awesome, both on the big lake and inland lakes.”

Fishing is such a big deal here that the state’s largest free fishing tournament, the Coho Capital Derby — with its cash prizes for the heaviest salmon and heaviest trout — runs for more than a month.

Things to see and do

It’s just a slight jog from Franklin Street to the sprawling Lighthouse Place Premium Outlet, a Mecca for shoppers with its 120-plus stores.

Across from Lighthouse Place, you will find At the Beach. This boutique offers a unique selection of swimsuits, dresses and resort wear. This hidden gem is owned by a fashion designer who designs many of the outfits, resulting in one-of-a-kind pieces at affordable prices.

Located in the Uptown Arts District on Franklin Street is the studio and gift shop of Beach Bum Jewels. This three-generation, family-owned and -operated business offers unique, handmade jewelry using genuine beach glass collected from the shores of Lake Michigan — increasingly rare finds these days due to recycling and plastics. You’re sure to find a special piece to treasure for years to come.

The jewel of the Haskell and Barker Historic District is the 38-room Barker Mansion, built in 1857. Open for tours, visitors can enjoy opulent, late 19th century wealth as it existed in this imposing English manor-style home with such sumptuous touches as hand-carved marble fireplaces; silver-plated bronze torches; molded, baroque-style plaster ceilings; ornate walnut and mahogany woodwork; and furnishings and artifacts belonging to the Barker family.

A major attraction is the 65,000-square-foot Blue Chip Casino, Hotel and Spa, open 24/7. It features non-stop action, with 42 table games, eight live poker room tables and more than 1,800 slots; a luxurious, 10,000-square-foot spa; live entertainment from major name stars; a rocking, Vegas-style sports bar; several restaurants; and hotel suites with views of Lake Michigan.

For the foodies

From a culinary standpoint, Michigan City celebrates urban cool with Pickle & Turnip, a trendy Franklin Street restaurant serving modern Mediterranean cuisine like watermelon caprese — layers of watermelon and halloumi cheese sprinkled with mint, salt and pepper, and sumac-seared sea scallops. The recently opened Burn ‘Em Brewing kicks it up a notch with artisan suds like Dark Side of the Moo, a chocolate milk stout, and Kreamed Corn, a cream ale brewed with real creamed corn.

But for those harkening back to the late 1940s, there’s Carlson’s, a Michigan City mainstay for 68 years and one of the last drive-ins in the state. The specialty here is the freshly brewed, foam-topped root beer and juicy burgers. As for their popular chili, don’t ask for the recipe; it’s still a secret after all these years. Dinner at the Hesston Supper Club also is a step back in time. Once a roadside tavern in the small town of Hesston (much of which is now just history), dating back before the 1940s, the restaurant is known for its prime rib (cuts range in size up to 40 ounces) and that old Chicago-area classic — shrimp deJonghe. There’s lighter fare, too, including fresh perch and walleye.

Spanning the past and present, Anderson’s Winery and Shady Creek Winery both take advantage of the ancient topography rich with nutrients left after three ice ages to make their award-winning wines.

For old-fashioned travel, the Hesston Steam Museum offers three different railroad trips, as well as special event rides on Memorial Weekend, Father’s Day and its June Civil War Days. The trains make their way through the wooded glens along the Indiana and Michigan state line. Enjoy breakfast with the railroad crew at Doc’s Soda Fountain with food crafted by Spire, a locavore favorite; lunch on burgers, pulled barbecued pork, hand-cut fries and salads; and enjoy old-fashioned sodas, sundaes and egg creams all day long. For true railroad aficionados, a variety of old steam engines and equipment are on display. And in keeping with what Hesston would have been like a century or so ago, there’s a 1900 saw mill and a blacksmith’s shop, as well as a vintage amusement steam train like those found in old time fun parks back in the early 20th century.

Gardens of the world

Spacious stretches of emerald green punctuated with copse of woods and brilliantly blooming gardens, as well as a lake and creek, garden art, pathways and peaceful settings for sitting, picnicking and contemplation, the International Friendship Gardens (IFG), north of downtown Michigan City, intersect with history in so many ways.

Father Pierre Marquette, who, in the mid- to late-1600s, explored the Lake Michigan shoreline, blessed one of several springs that feed into Trail Creek, a broad expanse of water that courses through the gardens. And when IFG opened in 1936, one of the gardens was brought over plant by plant from the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair, “A Century of Progress International Exposition.”

At one time, the 105-acre IFG was home to the Pottawatomi Indians, and their heritage and traditions are reflected in the Native American garden, one of six that showcase gardening customs of the world. Other gardens include the Scottish Garden accented with the Flag of St. Andrew and several lion statues; the Norway Garden adorned with a wooden Viking and dragon-headed clock tower; and the lovely Chinese Bridge Garden.

Past or present, outdoors or in, there’s a cornucopia of fun things to do and see in Michigan City and LaPorte County that will keep everyone entertained, no matter the season.

Paul Gauguin Cruises
Manitowoc MAR1_2017