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Reliving the life of an 1800s area settler benefits Collier’s Lodge

By Kathy Ceperich
Post-Tribune correspondent
March 25, 2004

WHEATFIELD — Dressed in jeans and his homemade tie-dyed T-shirt, the life of Adam Kerkes, a junior at Kankakee Valley High School, is a stark contrast to Ira Brainerd. The rich young man ventured from Pittsburgh in the late 1800s to take advantage of the popularity of the then-fashionable hunting clubs along the Kankakee River valley.

However, the two lives, separated by more than a century of differences, will juxtapose in “Yesterday’s Kankakee — Past Times and Pleasures through Story, Song and Dance.” The original stage play will debut in April.

Kerkes will don period clothing and set aside the familiar to portray Brainerd, a real person documented in the diary of George Wilcox, who lived in the Kankakee River area in the 1800s and on whose journal the script is based.

“This is intertwining my life with drama,” said Kerkes, who grew up in DeMotte.

The stage play is a fund-raiser for Collier’s Lodge, a local landmark that members of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society are working to save from the wrecking ball and from the ravages of time, according to society President John Hodson. They hope to convert the former hunting lodge into a community center with a historical room that can be used for weddings and parties, and eventually be self-supporting.

The original script, written by Jill Steiner, KVHS English teacher, offers a peek into times from how the geology of the area was formed and was eventually changed by men who rerouted the river. The story describes how American Indians were pushed west as early settlers staked their claim to the land.

The presentation is being directed by Mark Ladd and Piper Bakrevski, familiar to some people associated with summer theater productions.

Also portrayed, and key to the area’s growth, was the arrival of railroad line to Kouts.

“Once the railroads came to Kouts, the entire world could come to Kouts,” Hodson said.

The curtain call will be for veteran actors and also first-time performers, such as Ed Krieser of Valparaiso, who will portray George Wilcox and narrate the stage play.

“I’ve learned about Kankakee Valley and its river and history. I didn’t know anything about that before,” he said.

If you go,
What: “Yesterday’s Kankakee — Past Times and Pleasures through Story, Song and Dance”
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 3, at Kankakee Valley High School, located on Indiana 10 west of Wheatfield; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 4, at the Memorial Opera House, 104 E. Indiana Ave. in Valparaiso
Tickets: $10 adults; $5 children and seniors; ages 7 and younger, free
Worth noting: Tickets are also available at Kouts Town Hall, 210 S. Main.
Information: Call 766-2302 or 464-1947.