“As children, we want to honor our parents who provided a “special” place in Southern Indiana for years.”
— The Welch kids’ invitation
The very first time I forayed into a life of crime occurred sometime in the late 1960s. I was successful, well, kind of, in my one and only major heist. I found out at a very early age that I was not cut out for a life on the run.
In August 1967 I was 12 years old. My world was a simple place. I lived in Oak Park Subdivision. Funny how you remember things from that many years ago. There was not a lot of development between the city of Jeffersonville and my subdivision. For a 12-year-old in 1967, it was like we lived a long way from town.
One of my earliest memories as a kid was when a new store called K-mart opened in Clarksville. I do not remember when the Kroger on Allison and Highway 62 first opened. However, I do remember going to the old A & P grocery, which I remember being where the Olde Towne grocery eventually located.
However, for most of my childhood the store I most fondly remember — the Oak Park Key Market — was opened by Jim and Betty Welch on Allison Lane in August 1967. It was literally a life-changing event for a 12-year old kid who lived in Oak Park.
The Key Market was the second grocery I found accessible as a kid. I could ride my bike there at a young age. If you are of a certain age, you remember when riding your bike was safe. The other accessible store was the much smaller Lawler’s general store located on Allison Lane near Utica Pike. We could access it through Oak Park and then traverse McBride Heights. The only strict rule that I remember from my youngest bike riding days was we were not allowed to ride on Alison Lane
When Key Market opened it was like a godsend for residents in and around Oak Park. By today’s standards it wasn’t a large grocery. Back then, to a kid, it seemed enormous. We didn’t grow up with Walmart and Kroger Superstores. At the Key Market you could pretty much buy anything that was available anywhere else, but I could get there by bike with my friends.
As a kid I thought the Welch family were the luckiest people I knew. Their kids, Mike, Missy and Barbara, were personal friends of mine. I used to think that they could have anything they wanted at any time since they owned the store. And in a way, I guess they could. I used to fantasize how cool it would be to just want a candy bar or cupcake and simply take one off the shelf. I guess at such an age, I didn’t realize just how much hard work with long hours went into running a supermarket.
Jim and Betty Welch were always very nice to my family and me. Jim knew us, as I suppose he knew many customers, on a first name basis. He eventually became a family friend. I have memories from Little League that Oak Park Key Market was very much like many local family owned businesses, always sponsoring a team and having one of those billboards advertising their store facing us attached to the outfield fence.
Any Little League alumni remembers that most years there was a sign that read hit this sign and get a free soft drink or hit a home run over this sign and get a gift certificate. I don’t ever remember getting either of these rewards in my Little League career. I suppose Little League legends like Steve Lentz, Jack Lindley and Walt Terrel had a shelfful.
When I was 12, I could take a quarter to Key Market or Lawler’s and get a chocolate milk and a bag of penny (or amazingly enough sometimes two-for-a-penny) candy or gum. My hobby as a kid was to collect baseball cards. I have no idea how much money I spent at Key Market on those packs, but I bet I bought either Mike or Missy’s school clothes one year. Clothes were a lot cheaper then as well.
I bet anyone who lived anywhere within a couple miles of Oak Park Key Market feel today like they owe a debt of gratitude to the entire Welch family. It made grocery shopping a lot more easily accessible and for kids like me provided a wonderland. We didn’t always ride our bikes there. Often, several of us would simply walk to the store and just talk and hang out on the way there and back.
It was indeed a blue day when Oak Park Key Market closed in October 1994. I had long since quit riding my bike and penny candy was a thing of my wonderful childhood memories. However, I am sure every Oak Park resident has a Key Market story or memory.
That is just what the Welch kids hope former customers will share on Sunday, Sept. 8, with the family at Vissing Park from noon to 5 p,m. Per the Facebook invitation that I received; “Bring a blanket, bring a chair, bring a picnic, but most important bring yourself and an Oak Park Key Market story.”
As for the story of my one-time venture into a life of crime, I will share a tale I have never told anyone before. One afternoon I gave into peer pressure. For whatever reasons I took up a dare to shoplift something from Oak Park Key Market. I somehow got out of the store with a piece of gum, which might have even been part of a two-for-a-penny product. The friend left and I was still near the store holding the evidence of a crime.
I began feeling bad. Everything in me was telling me how wrong it was. I liked Jim Welch and knew I had to right a wrong. It probably took me less than a minute to steal a piece of gum. I have no idea, but it seemed like an eternity to hatch a plan to return a piece of stolen gum to its rightful place without getting caught. Un-stealing a piece of gum is exponentially harder then taking it in the first place.
The return was ultimately successful; nobody except me and a friend, who will forever remain publicly anonymous, knew about the caper. I am the only person until this column to ever know about atoning for my sin. I never attempted to steal anything again for the rest of my life.
To Jim, Betty, Mike, Barbara and Missy, thanks to your family for being such an integral part of my wonderful childhood in Oak Park. Even though I returned the gum; somehow, I still feel like I owe you all half a penny!
— Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at email@example.com.