Three things to do in Mentone –


A quiet park provides the perfect place for a bit of reflection.

By Shari Benyousky
Pictures of Tony Garza
guest column

It’s easy to take a rural Indiana town for granted. It’s so easy to drive fast down Main Street and get upset when the only red light turns red or the only gas station closes after dark. You know what I’m talking about. So when on a Saturday in September, Tony offered to drive me to Mentone for Rotors Over Mentone, I wasn’t expecting much.

Mentone is nothing more than a tic-tac-toe lined with streets surrounded by chicken coops and fields. By September, the soybeans had begun to turn their distinctive lemon-yellow color and the corn stalks were already waving brown seams. Looking down the side streets, I could see fields on both sides of town. But downtown Mentone looked festive with flags on streetlights honoring 9/11. Many downtown businesses offered roadside tables filled with merchandise – antiques, used books, Cub Scout popcorn, pulled pork sandwiches. We should come back to investigate.

Bell Aircraft Museum

When we arrived at the museum on the west side of town, a blue helicopter flew overhead and then a red one in the opposite direction. Dozens of people walked in and out of the museum, looking at airplane displays and munching on freshly grilled burgers and someone’s aunt’s homemade potato salad.

I savored a bite of mustard and wondered why I didn’t know anything about Mr. Bell. “Because you’re always in a hurry,” Tony informed me. “We observant folks know all about one of America’s greatest aviation pioneers.”

Unfortunately, his sarcasm was lost under the deep thrum thrum thrum of an oncoming Huey, though he didn’t miss my eye. Tony had stumbled across the museum before, meeting three gentlemen sitting around a table in the museum. Those men in jeans had turned out to be the board. They had offered him a private tour and invited him to Rotors Over Mentone. The growing crowd followed the olive green Huey as he settled onto the lawn, and the American band Huey 369 set up their Vietnam veteran information and helicopter flight deals.

In the museum itself, I was surprised to learn that hometown boy Lawrence Bell started the huge Bell Corporation in Buffalo, NY, which produced 400 fighter planes a month during the year important of 1941. Bell’s company also built the Bell X-1 (yeah, the one piloted by Chuck Yeager and now in the Smithsonian Museum), the first aircraft to break the speed of sound.

“See,” Tony lectured. “Geniuses come from everywhere, even from little Mentone, Indiana.”

Point: Admission to the Lawrence D. Bell Museum is always free, but donations are gratefully accepted. The timetables can be viewed here. If you visit this year in September for the Rotors over Mentone event, flying in the Huey will set you back $100, but the smaller helicopters are only $50.

pocket garden

After being educated on the loud engines and cool flight displays, we wandered around downtown to see what other amazing things are happening in Mentone. Although it didn’t break any records, the little pocket park was a great place to lick an ice cream cone. In the background, another genius carver from the Midwest had erected a picnic shelter out of a corn crib. “I love the sense of humor in this town,” I said, sipping an iced coffee by Java Jacks reading a new used book on Lawrence Bell at one of the best used bookstores I’ve been to – Lots of pages. The store and knowledgeable staff were definitely worth the short drive to stock up on all the books you didn’t know you needed. I’ll be back.

speaking of books

To end the day, Tony wanted to visit his little free library. His? Yes, in addition to being an expert in motors and law, Tony creates small libraries for children in his rare free time. We stopped on Jackson Street near the corner of Broadway to fill it up. It is always true that no matter how many books we donate, one of us always has a chest or a counter of already read books that someone else needs.

So before you blast that red light in the middle of Mentone and miss the whole lovely place – like I did – stop and read the sign – Need a book? Take one. You have a book ? Leave one.

Point: If you still miss Warsaw Ace Hardware like we do, stop by Mentone Ace Hardware for personal service or to pick up loose seeds in a large wooden bin.

Why we want to go back: Someone told us about an amazing woodcarver who lives in Mentone. We need to figure out who and where. Additionally, longtime restaurant Teel’s, famous for its one-pound bacon breakfast, is up for auction. Surely someone will buy it and we will have to stop for a snack? Maybe that someone is YOU.

Do you know of an interesting place, statue or restaurant that you would like to see featured in this column one day? Email Shari Benyousky at [email protected]

A look inside the Bell Aircraft Museum.

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