Beech Grove residents share hopes for election


WTHR is on the road this election season, and this week we visited Beech Grove.

Beech Grove is a city like many in Indiana that is fighting to hold on to its own while at the same time trying to build for tomorrow.

"We love to have you."

Those words have greeted Napoli Villa customers for 50 years. They'll also hear conversations like this: "How are you? I'm okay, honey. It's good to see you. Good to see you, too. How was lunch?"

You may get a hug as well. Antoinette Pizzi has seen a lot of changes over the years in downtown Beech Grove.

"People are more outgoing than they used to be and they are more aware about what they eat," she said.

Beech Grove is an enigma - a city of just over 14,000 tucked in within a city. It has lost 900 residents since the last census but most attribute that to the simple fact that one-third of its homes are rentals.

"Our biggest employer is the Amtrak facility," said Dennis Buckley, mayor.

Mayor Buckley took office in January, just in time to watch Beech Grove's largest employer, Franciscan Alliance, complete its move out of town, leaving just a fraction of those jobs in the old St. Francis Hospital.

"There is a lot of credence to when things are really bad and things are really bad here - that is when you can get things done," he said.

Buckley is working on improvements in infrastructure, public safety and economic development. Some 553 people still work at Amtrak. Danny Groves has worked there for the last 16 years.

"They are very important to Beech Grove. They are good-paying jobs. We all know good-paying jobs are going away," said Groves.

Groves fears the current presidential election could have a direct effect on that. In fact, the third generation railroader says every election could.

"It's like fighting right to work every October," he said.

Brian Connors has only worked at Amtrak for three years. The laid-off United Hub worker found his footing at Amtrak thanks to the stimulus package, so it is not difficult to see where his allegiance falls this year.

"I am voting my job. I am voting my job. That is the bottom line. We vote our job," said Connors.

Four years ago, Mike and Cheryl Fisher hosted then-Sen. Barack Obama and his wife Michelle in their Beech Grove home. They talked at their kitchen table and then they traveled to Denver, Colorado to make the case for why he should be elected president.

"There are just too many Hoosiers' futures like ours and many jobs leaving the country. Barack Obama listened and understood. It was like talking with family," said Mike Fisher.

"It was just like talking to a family member or someone I've known forever. Jobs, jobs, jobs was the name of the game four years ago. He gave us a two-year stimulus package which everybody at Amtrak with twenty and thirty years' seniority said it was the only two years where they felt secure," he added.

Fisher feels Beech Grove has good days ahead.

"I think so. I hope so. The City of Beech Grove came to be on account of those shops over there so they have been there for one hundred years. Hopefully they are there for another one hundred," he said.

Mike Fisher had the good sense to marry into Beech Grove. His wife Cheryl grew up here and never left. They hope to retire here, but that depends on Amtrak.

Everyone is invited to Thursday night's community conversation in Beech Grove. We want you to tell us what issues are the most important to you in this election. It's at the Beech Grove Senior Center tonight (Sept. 13th) at 7:00 pm.