Dorothy Richardson Buell:
Our Neighbor and Crusader for the Indiana Dunes
Writer and Narrator: Joan Costanza Meister
Readers: Judith Stiles, John Stiles, John Wilhelm, Mary Jo Wilhelm
This Dramatic Reading on the Life of Dorothy Buell was written and narrated by Joan Costanza Meister and presented on Sunday, Memorial Day Week-end in 2016. It was sponsored by the Historical Society and held in the Ogden Dunes Community Church’s Fellowship Hall. A slide show accompanied the Reading.
In 1940 Ogden Dunes was a close-knit lakeside community of 144 full-time residents with another 60 families owning summer cottages. Europe was at war; the Great Depression had ended; Franklin D. Roosevelt was running for a third term; and the Ogden Dunes Woman’s Club, established in 1938, was thriving. In the Village of Flossmoor, Illinois Dorothy and Hal Buell made plans to build a home in Ogden Dunes.
Hal and I have lived all over the country – Chicago, Washington D.C., Tulsa, and Flossmoor — but it was always my dream to build a home—our retirement home— in Ogden Dunes.
I was born on December 1, 1886 in Menasha, Wisconsin, a small town north of Neenah, right at the top of Lake Winnebago. A BEAUTIFUL lake and the LARGEST inland lake in Wisconsin. I’ve always loved the view of a lake and the soothing effect of the water.
Now Hal grew up in Denver and always liked the mountains, being from “the wild west” and all. But I’ve always loved a lake — (she stops suddenly and cocks her head) — LISTEN! You can hear the waves on Lake Michigan today—the wind is from the northeast.
Sometimes that wind sounds like a continuous freight train, rolling continuously from the north. The lake— and the dunes— and the fresh wind off the lake—Always so invigorating, energizing, renewing—for the body and the mind!
So this is our 7 room home, plus screened-in porch, on a ridge of a sand dune with a view of Lake Michigan. There isn’t even a road completed to our house yet. We have a built- in garage facing what will be on Cedar Court. But right now our stand-alone garage is on a barely paved Ogden Road; as a result, we have many, many steps to walk up.
But I feel I’m on top of the world! And its good exercise—even carrying groceries— and the road will be completed soon. Just last year Andrew and Florence Armstrong moved into their new home around the corner on Cedar Trail. It was designed by another Wisconsin native, Frank Lloyd Wright, a very controversial man, and a strange looking house, if you ask me.
In 1906 U.S. Steel built the largest steel mill in the United States. Thus, U.S. Steel, along with Standard Oil and the East Chicago mills controlled virtually all of the lake shore in Lake County, except the sandy beach of Miller. It was annexed to Gary in 1919.
Gary, “City of the Century”, rose like a phoenix from the swamps and dunes along the shore of Lake Michigan. The new city had a new school system that incorporated: WORK, STUDY, PLAY, into its curriculum. This new plan, designed by William A. Wirt, attracted teachers from all over the country.
My brother Newton graduated from Ripon College and began teaching in the Gary Public Schools in 1917. My older sisters, Olive and Elizabeth, soon joined him. My sisters were among the first to build a cottage on the south side of Shore Drive in 1924 and were two of the 24 home owners signing the petition to incorporate Ogden Dunes as a town in 1925.
Following World War I, Gary and Chicago investors recognized the Indiana shore line as a prime investment opportunity. They envisioned highly restricted upper-middle-class communities, mimicking the north shore of Chicago.
In 1923 Samuel Reck, a Gary insurance broker, and other investors formed Ogden Dunes, Inc. to develop this town. It struggled to live up to its original hype of being a community with a golf course, riding stables, and a marina. Reck brought in the Ogden Dunes Ski Club to boost the development plan. The ski jump closed in 1932 after five seasons of struggling with the lack of snow and the Great Depression.
The Richardsons are a very close family. My father’s family came to Menasha, Wisconsin after the Civil War. My dad, Ambrose, was a bookkeeper for a wood manufacturing company. My mother, Eliza Porter, grew up on a large farm north of Madison. I think she taught school prior to her marriage in 1878. She was determined that all four of their children would attend college. My sisters and I spent two years at Downer College in Milwaukee prior to attending Ripon or Lawrence College for our B.A. degrees.
In the mid-1920s my parents retired from Wisconsin and moved to Gary and lived with my sisters. Olive supervised the auditorium curriculum at Emerson School , while Elizabeth taught French and Spanish in Gary. Later she taught at Berea College in Kentucky.
When Hal and I lived in Flossmoor, we were regular visitors to Ogden Dunes. Our son Bob loved coming to the dunes and staying at the Richardson cottage.
He knew a number of the young people including many members of the Rafters, the summer group of teenagers. In 1930 my parents and sisters’ neighbor on Taft Street in Gary was the Cash family. Les Cash was a builder and built many homes in Ogden Dunes, including the “Cash Boxes”. Not ours! Ours was designed by a prominent Gary architect, Raymond S. Kastendieck.(cas-ten-deck)
In our new Ogden Dunes home Hal and I had two calico cats and I baked an angel food cake for him every Saturday. Dess Cash was the first president of The Ogden Dunes Woman’s Club. It was very active and I jumped right in. Friends urged me to organize a book club. I did and acted as discussion leader and continued giving book reviews and dramatic play readings.in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.
I’m known professionally as “Dorothy Richardson Buell”. After all I did have my own career before Hal and I were married. After receiving both a B.O. —(pause for effect), a Bachelor of Oratory, and a B.A. from Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin, I attended the Henderson School of Oratory in New York My B.O. degree proved an excellent major for my early career and for later in life.
After New York, I returned to Wisconsin and taught for two years. Then, because I had been so active in college and after in Alpha Delta Pi, an organization of business and professional women, I became a paid staff member, traveling the country visiting local chapters on college campuses and communities.
Herb Read, who was raised in the Indiana Dunes, as a young man became active in Save the Dunes:
Herb Read (John Wilhelm):
Dorothy had a dominant voice. She was a good speaker, loud enough and with authority to command an audience.
When Hal and I were married in Chicago in June 1918, I wasn’t a “sweet young thing” waiting for a knight on a white horse. I was 31 and considered “an old maid” by the standards of the time— an old maid school teacher! Hal was 37(AN ASIDE WHISPER LOUD ENOUGH TO HEARD) He was DIVORCED and with a son by his first marriage.
Captain James Harold Buell was tall and handsome in his army uniform! Maybe not so tall, but at 5’11” like a giant next to me at 5’2”. The strong silent type! Just what I needed in a man!
After our marriage, I moved to Washington, D.C., where Hal was stationed. With the end of the war, Hal spent nearly two years working with the army. This required a great deal of travelling, so I moved briefly to Gary to live with my sisters and to teach in the Gary schools.
After Hal completed his obligations to the War Department in 1920, we moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Hal took an executive position with the local electric power company. He was always very busy and traveled a great deal.
I too travelled. My sister, Elizabeth, and I spent the summer of 1921 in Europe. The next year I went back home to Neenah, WI for the birth of our son, Bob. Later in Tulsa, I started an amateur theater group, organized book review groups, and continued my dramatic readings.
In 1930 we moved to Chicago as Hal climbed up the corporate ladder of another utility company. We rented in Chicago and then moved to Flossmoor a new southern suburb of Chicago. There I became very involved in starting and directing the Little Theater Company that was very successful.
Herb Read (John Wilhelm):
I had an aunt living in Flossmoor who knew the Buells when they lived there. She told me that once Dorothy gets hold of a project that she never let it go!
Flossmoor was an easy drive straight east to Gary and Ogden Dunes. About the time that the Buells were building their new home, the U.S. was preparing to enter World War II. And the Ogden Dunes community had joined in supporting the war effort. The OGDEN DUNES SANDPIPER, the community’s local newsletter, reported on the Woman’s Club:
Sandpiper (Mary Jo):
“The most ambitious project in 1940 was the Christmas Bazaar held in the Willard Dorman home early in December. On tables and booths in the recreation room were displayed a great variety of articles made by women and children of the community … The proceeds of this and many other events were given directly to the U.S.O. headquarters in Valparaiso to help buy equipment for the canteen that was being made ready for the use of the soldiers attending a special radio school in that city. These boys have also been recipients of cookies baked by Ogden Dunes Women and delivered by Mrs. Nickerson once each week”.
I remember in 1943 I did a “delightful presentation and interpretation of Thorton Wilder’s play, THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH. I talked about the author’s theme, that man will live in spite of wars, floods, fire and famine. I had the audience act out parts of the play and I did the reading of . . . the final curtain speech. It was quite outstanding. The article in the Sandpiper actually said “it was an inspiration and a challenge to persist in our high hopes for the future of our homes and our nation.”
Remember, this was wartime. I think it struck a nerve with all the mothers at the meeting. Almost all the Dune Rafters were already in the service. Our son Bob was at Parris Island, South Carolina for training. And when he finished, he went to Quantico, he served in the Merchant Marines.
For months I did volunteer work at the Gary Headquarters of the American Red Cross. I became chair of the Publicity Committee responsible for keeping the Public informed about what the Red Cross is doing locally and nationally. I made many contacts throughout Indiana doing this. At the time, I didn’t realize how important this would be for me.
In November 1944 we travelled to New Orleans, where Bob was stationed, for his and Jean Caldwell’s wedding. She was his school sweetheart and a fellow student at University of Michigan. In 1945 I became president of the Ogden Dunes Woman’s Club.
After the war the population of Ogden Dunes jumped from 170 to over 400 residents. The beach, the dunes and an active community attracted new residents.
For the Buells, life also changed. Bob and Jean Buell moved to Boston, where he attended Harvard Law School. There their first child, Richard Caldwell Buell, was born. In 1949 the young Buell family moved to California, where two daughters, Nancy and Ann were born.
By then Hal Buell had retired and he and Dorothy were free to travel the country. In northern Porter County, industrialists and state officials made plans for a harbor and new steel mills.
In 1949 Hal and I took a long leisurely trip to the southwest. On the way back we decided to visit White Sands National Park in New Mexico, just to see how it compared to our sand dunes back home.
Looking back, as we drove through the park, I realized it was not nearly as beautiful as our Indiana Dunes and asked myself: Why shouldn’t our dunes be a national park and be saved from destruction? And if I felt this way, what should I do about it? It was a long, quiet, thoughtful drive home.
We stopped at the Gary Hotel for dinner before heading to Ogden Dunes. In the lobby of the hotel was a sign reading: MEETING TO SAVE THE DUNES TONIGHT. I turned and said to Hal, “This is what I have to do. Let’s go to it.” And we did!
In 1949 National Steel announced plans to build a large steel mill on its property that straddled the mouth of Burns Waterway. Indiana politicians proposed a deep water port at or near Burns Ditch. In reaction to these moves, the Indiana Dunes Preservation Council organized, headed by prominent Gary men including Ed Kratz of Ogden Dunes. Its intent was to prevent the port and to preserve the remaining unspoiled portion of the Central Dunes, running five miles between Ogden Dunes and Dune Acres.
Dorothy Buell joined the Council and attended all its meetings, but not much happened.
In 1952 at a meeting of the Chicago Conservation Council, which Dorothy attended, President Reuben Strong voiced his frustration with the ineffectiveness of the Indiana group believing it was ready to throw in the towel to the inevitability of the loss of all the dunes.
As I sat observing this depressing meeting, I remember my friend Bess Sheehan and how she mobilized support for the Indiana State Park in 1919. I finally decided to speak up: “Maybe the women can do it.” The room was silent . . . no one picked up on my statement and the meeting was adjourned.
Wow! Did that go no where, I thought, as I picked up my things to leave. But then Dr. Strong was beside me asking: ‘Are you the woman from Indiana who suggested the women should take charge?’
Why yes, I’m Dorothy Richardson Buell from Indiana and yes, I did make that suggestion. Then he asked me if I would take it on.
I was stunned but at the same time flattered. I was uncertain of exactly what I was taking on. Never one to rush into things without reflecting, I said I would think about it for a few days.”
So! I went home and thought. I told Hal what I was asked to do. He, of course, said what he always said, “Do what you want to do. You’ll do it anyway no matter what I say.” He was right, of course. So I started making my lists:
- I’m 65 years old
- We have no financial worries; Hal and I can travel the world; visit Bob and his family in California, whenever we want.
- I know little about conservation, even less about politics.
- I’m not a scientist or an engineer. My experience is in the arts, drama and music.
- I’m 65 years old but healthy and energetic;
- I love the natural beauty of the area and this, once destroyed can never be replaced;
- I believe that we are placed in this world to do good and there is much to be done,
- I do know about organizing groups although mainly in the arts;
- I have a good sense of humor and lively interest in people; and I can get up in front of an audience or any group of people and talk.
Thus on Christmas in 1951, I wrote a letter to Dr. Strong saying I would do it but I have two handicaps – I can’t type and I can’t drive. I ended my letter with a quote I love from Daniel Burnham: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” (sic)
After talking with friends and neighbors, I called a meeting:
SAVE THE DUNES ORGANIZATIONAL MEETING,
JUNE 21, 1952, HOME OF Dorothy Buell, 17 Cedar Court
Twenty-one women came. Bess Sheehan, told the history of the struggle to preserve the Dunes that resulted in the Indiana Dunes State Park in 1925. As we discussed our options and plan of action, everyone agreed we were not fighting the proposed port but we are fighting for the 5 miles of unspoiled lakeshore, the heart of the central dunes between Ogden Dunes and the Indiana Dunes State Park. We are prepared to spend the rest of our lives, if necessary to save the Dunes.
I presented a plan for the organization, including officers and various working committees as well as sub-committees. I was nominated as president by acclamation. We voted to call the organization “Save the Dunes Council” and set the annual membership dues of $1.00.
A number of women from Ogden Dunes attended the first meeting. Some of these and then other residents soon became key leaders in the Council.
Hester Butz served as first secretary. Florence Broady, an attorney, and Alyce Meehan, wife of the president of the Town Board, led the petition drive in 1957 urging the Army Corps of Engineers to oppose the building of a deep-water port. Alyce proclaimed, “We’re fighting not just for ourselves, but for the whole Chicago area which uses the dunes.”
Downing Mann prepared a lesson plan for teachers that stressed the importance of the dunes. She also chaired the Ogden Dunes Plan Commission and its efforts to prevent a port or steel mills being constructed on property adjacent to Ogden Dunes.
Ed W. Osann, a Chicago lawyer and Ogden Dunes resident, had a key role on the Plan Commission. Later he and his wife, Ruth, provided leadership for the Save the Dunes Council. Ruth became its 3rd president.
Herb Read (John Wilhelm):
The key to Dorothy’s success was that she welcomed with open arms any new ideas. Every volunteer felt really a part of the organization. My dad, Philo Read, came up with the slogan “A Dollar for the Dunes”. It was adopted and Save the Dunes organization grew.
In the summer of 1953 the most dramatic action of purchasing Cowles Tamarack Bog took place and was quite a coup for the new Save the Dunes Council. The fifty-six acres were placed on sale by Porter County for delinquent taxes totally $1,730.
Dorothy (Judith) :
I’m not a botanist. I had to ask: what is a bog and why is it important?
I was told in this bog the late University of Chicago botanist, Dr. Henry Chandler Cowles, carried out pioneering work in the science of ecology.
I didn’t know anything about ecology, but I knew that we must do something.
Narrator (Joan) :
The treasury of the new Council was virtually empty. So Dorothy Buell made a few phone calls. The first was to Mrs. Bess Sheehan. She arranged the donation of the $750 that remained from the effort to establish the state park in the 1920s. The next was to Mrs. Norton Barker of Michigan City. She was an ardent conservationist and donated $700. The Council had $125 and Hal Buell wrote a check for the remainder, $153. Thus, the irreplaceable bog, known to botanists all over the world was saved.
But by October 1953 again discouraged, Dorothy writes to Rueben Strong, who had asked Dorothy to take on the job of saving the dunes
Dorothy Buell (Judith):
I am very much discouraged. Much of Ogden Dunes is very indifferent . . . they feel a park next door will bring the Negroes into Ogden Dunes ‘roaming the beaches!’”
Narrator (Joan): Reuben Strong wrote back:
“I am delighted with the grand start you have made in our campaign and I am also gratified by having our judgment confirmed in asking you to undertake this important work. . . .You have been wonderful in doing as much as you have and the Mineral Springs Bog purchase alone justifies what you have done. I did not expect activity during the summer, yet you did a lot. In fact, you were wonderful.”
We hoped to buy up the best dunes land piece by piece. We needed the support of foundations for a program of that magnitude. But we didn’t get it. Most of the foundations said they had no provisions for real estate expenditures. So we failed.
By 1954 Indiana Governor George Craig proposed funding of $3.5 million to purchase 1,500 acres for development of at Burns Harbor.
By 1956 Bethlehem Steel acquired 4,000 acres of the Central Dunes and its front organization.. In 1957 the Indiana legislature appropriated $2 million to purchase the harbor site pending approval from the Army Engineers.
Herb Read (John Wilhelm):
I was in my twenties when I became active in Save the Dunes. I told Mrs. Buell at a meeting that I had an idea on how to stop the port. So she appointed me chair of the Committee to Oppose the Port and told me to run with it. We check-mated it for awhile. George Anderson of Ogden Dunes and I were able to find enough faults in the port proposal that the Bureau of Management would not approve it.
Mrs. Buell recognized individual talents to carry forth. She empowered the membership on ideas about petition drives, selling cards to raise money, any worthwhile idea. There was an advisory board but the day to day operation was entirely volunteer. Input was accepted and appreciation was shown by her to all the volunteers. That’s important to an all volunteer organization. This was part of her ability to make it work.
Bob Buell (Dorothy’s Son):
Bob Buell (John Wilhelm):
I remember at mother’s home in the Dunes she had in the upper hall a combination chair and table, a gossip bench, I believe, it is called, on which her telephone was placed. This was the government headquarters, of the Council or so it seemed to me during my infrequent visits in the 1950s and 60s. How often I saw her sitting there talking, talking, talking—-recounting developments, discussing new tactics, reviewing strategy, occasionally expressing outrage and frustration, but generally speaking calmly in her strong clear voice.
I never saw her in a meeting or at a hearing so I thought of her as a telephone general, using her voice far more often than her presence to accomplish the leadership task. She loved her associates in the Dunes work and wanted to know them all personally and well.
They must have found her difficult to refuse because certainly one of her talents was to induce people to do things they did not want to do—or even thought they could do. This must have been true for friend or foe alike. It certainly was for her son.
Florence Broady an activist, an Ogden Dunes neighbor, and a close friend remembered:
Florence Broady (Mary Jo):
I have been active in Save the Dunes Council from the start. I know Dorothy Buell well. Probably no one in the country was less interested in politics than she was, although she was a life-long Republican and said this often. She turned to the politicians for help. We were desperate. She went to all of Indiana’s leading officials—Republicans and Democrats—and found almost all against a national park.
Politics was always a mystery to me and I guess it still is. All I know is that we are right and we have to go through a lot of grief to win. We had to build a consensus on saving the dunest. I decided to use my skills in oratory to stress key points when meeting with officials and the public:
- We are not opposed to jobs; jobs mean bread and bread is the staff of life. We are opposed to people like, Mr. Humphrey, president of National Steel, who has said he prefers jobs to picnics. We ask: why is it not possible to have jobs and picnics? Surely this is the viewpoint of a humanitarian.
- These dunes were God-given and man-inherited . . . one of the most beautiful and unusual natural shrines in America. To despoil the dunes would be a travesty of the true American spirit.
- There is a great drama being played out in the Dunes:
The last Act begins with the formation of Save the Dunes Council in 1952 and it will not end until remaining dunes are preserved. All citizens are invited and obligated to participate in the third act.
Bob Buell recalled:
Bob Buell (John Wilhelm):
I think her naivete in business and politics became an asset. She did not always comprehend the odds against her cause and that coupled with her sense of the dramatic and dogged determination were all part of her success. She was aggressive for her cause and was willing to push any bell that would open a door for help to save the dunes.
Dorothy Buell (Judith):
From my many visits to Indianapolis I got the impression that for most Hoosiers, Democrats and Republicans alike, there was a tacit agreement that had been reached: the southern part of the state was to be kept for farmers and the affluent and the northern part for blacks and other workers. The industrialized Lake Michigan shoreline was to provide the tax base for the rest of the state. Industrialization was inevitable.
The lowest point for Save the Dunes Council came in 1957 when Bethlehem Steel acquired land in the Central Dunes, “about 4,000 acres, a pristine tract of wild, high dunes, lakes, . . . ponds, wetlands and forests which extended from Ogden Dunes east to Dunes Acres and from the lake south to US 12”.
Dorothy Buell (Judith):
Believe me when I say I was utterly exhausted and discouraged, ready to throw in the towel. Then, I received a call from a friend. I was told that there is one man who loves the Dunes and has power to do something about it: Senator Paul Douglas from Illinois. I said I had tried to contact him but I never heard back.
In early 1958 I went to Palo Alto, CA for a change of scene and to be renewed with a visit to son Bob and his wonderful family.
Narrator (Joan): Dorothy’s Granddaughter Nancy Buell:
Nancy Buell (Mary Jo):
I remember I was about 8 years old when Donna visited us. Donna was the name we called our grandmother, Dorothy Buell, because her mother was called “Donna” by my dad and his cousin. I had scarlet fever but survived. Donna spent hours reading to me— the entire book BLACK BEAUTY. Her voice was very soothing. I later was in awe of the fact that she read the entire book to me and never complained or asked to stop.
Bob Buell (John Wilhelm):
My mother never understood the word “no”. What’s more, the people who said “no” to her didn’t understand that she didn’t understand that they were saying “no”. My dad, Hal, was always an anguished bystander to my Mom’s undertakings.
Dorothy Buell (Judith):
Still the worry about the dunes stayed with me. My plane was grounded in Santa Barbara, California at 5:00 a.m. one morning. I was trying to think of someone who lived there that I might visit, and then I remembered that the well-known nature writer and close friend of Senator Douglas, Donald Peattie, had a home there.
He was also on the advisory Council of the Save the Dunes Council but I had never met him. To be proper, I waited until 10:00 a.m. to call at the Peattie home. I had a hunch that he just might have an idea for what we could do.
A housekeeper let me in but told me Mr. Peattie was too ill to see me. Soon Mrs. Louise Redfield Peattie appeared in the doorway. I told my story to her. She advised me to write a letter to her good friend Emily Douglas and mention the Peatties. She told me that Emily would see that the senator would read my letter.
Shortly after I returned to Ogden Dunes, I received a call from Mrs. Douglas telling me her husband would “take up the torch” of saving the dunes.
Narrator (Joan): Thus Paul Douglas became the unexpected champion of the Save the Dunes Movement.
Paul Douglas (John Stiles):
I was born in Maine and in 1920 came to the Midwest to teach at the University of Chicago. In 1931 I remarried. Emily Taft was a colleague and fellow Democratic activist. She was also the daughter of Lorado Taft, the noted sculptor. Lorado Taft had championed Dunes preservation with Jens Jensen and Stephen Mather before World War I.
Before our marriage Emily continued her family’s tradition of love for the Lake Michigan wilderness. She built a rustic cabin high atop a dune in Dune Acres. After our marriage, we would take the South Shore from Hyde Park. We did not own a car. We swam, walked on the beaches and in the woods, wrote and escaped the pressures of university and political life. For me, the Indiana Dunes were the only acceptable substitute for Maine for serenity and renewing ones life.
Prior to my contact with Mrs. Buell, I was worried about the steel expansion. But it seemed impossible to stop this movement. But I recall that one moonlight summer evening at our dunes cabin I had made a pledge that if I could ever do anything to save this beautiful area that I would. Now, twenty-two years later, with encouragement from Louise Peattie and Emily, a way appeared that I could do something about the dunes and I followed it.
I had earlier tried to persuade Indiana’s senators, William E. Jenner and Homer Capehart to sponsor preservation legislation. While Jenner deferred, Capehart was initially interested toward my feelers. But soon, he let me know that his fellow Republicans in Indianapolis had other plans for the dunes.
Later Emily was seated at a dinner next to Charlie Halleck, Republican leader of the House of Representative and the district’s congressman that included the area wanted for the park. He told her he was furious with my interference in an Indiana land issue. What he wanted was to ring the lake front from Gary to Michigan City with steel, cement and chemical factories and electrical plants.
Dorothy Buell (Judith):
I returned to Indiana that spring very hopeful that Emily Douglas would be able to influence her husband. On Easter Sunday 1958 as Hal and I were having our Easter dinner with my sister Olive at home on Cedar Trail the phone rang. I was stunned to hear a deep voice on the line, saying:
Paul Douglas (John Stiles):
Hello, Mrs. Buell, this is Paul Douglas from Illinois. Excuse me for interrupting your Easter Sunday, but I wanted to let you know that I received your letters and telephone messages about saving the Indiana Dunes. I intend to introduce a bill shortly to establish the Indiana Dunes National Monument. I’ve given up trying to work with the Indiana senators, representatives and governor.
Dorothy Buell (Judith):
I was stunned and almost speechless! I finally answered, Thank you Senator Douglas. What can Save the Dunes and I do to help you?
Later, I realized that Senator Douglas’ decision to join us in Save the Dunes Council was the most significant event to achieving our goal. Of course, he was accused of joining the group to protect Chicago’s port interests. We were accused of tricking him to join us. This is simply not true. This man had vision and plunged into the fight. Senator Douglas was one of the finest men I’ve ever met, despite the fact that he is a Democrat.
Following that Easter phone call, on May 4, 1958 Senator Douglas and Dorothy Buell, along with others, toured the Indiana Dunes. He held a rally and press conference in front of the Ogden Dunes entrance sign. Douglas announced his intention to introduce a bill to establish the Indiana Dunes National Monument in order to protect the “last four miles” of Indiana Dunes.
Despite visits from senators and public hearings in Chesterton on the Douglas bill, the future of saving the dunes looked bleak. In early 1959
National Steel broke ground for a new finishing mill on its 750 acres just east of Ogden Dunes. And on June 15, 1959 the Town of Portage was incorporated, thus surrounding Ogden Dunes on three sides and preventing the town from controlling the zoning outside its boundaries.
With the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, Dorothy and the Council had some hope that the Port could still be stopped and that the Central Dunes, owned by Bethlehem Steel, could still be saved. Kennedy’s appointment of Stewart Udall as Secretary of Interior was a positive step, especially with his visit, along with other senators, to the dunes on July 23, 1961. [Include photos] This generated a great deal of press coverage, especially with the presence of local politicians. Yet, little came of this visit. By late 1962 Bethlehem Steel had ordered the bull-dozers to begin their work on removing the Central Dunes.
“Senator Douglas stood beside me, watching, with tears running down his cheeks.”
In 1963 the Kennedy Administration proposed a port-park compromise with the Central Dunes, becoming part of the Port/Steel Complex and 11,000 acres, elsewhere in the dunes, becoming part of the national park system. This effort to save part of the dunes included congressional hearings. Dorothy and other members went to Washington and testified in support of the compromise. In her letter to her son, Bob, she gave her reaction to the Washington hearing.
. . . On the evening we arrived I had to attend a strategy meeting at Senator Douglas’ office. Douglas told us what the agenda has to be and that there was to be no booing or laughing . . . The witnesses against the park spoke on Monday and Tuesday and had 20 to 25 minutes each. On Wednesday . . .we were reduced finally to three minutes each. We protested coming all the way from Indiana on our own individual expense. Senator Bible then allowed us up to 10 minutes . . . It was maddening.
. . . We are delighted with the coverage. I was on Chicago television, Channel 9, last night with Douglas . . . I was never so scared in all my life, my first experience on T.V. I’m relieved it turned out well. . . .
We made a good showing in numbers and testimony. In two weeks we’ll know the decision of the sub-committee. Meantime, we must thank you for your letters to Pres. Kennedy. Kennedy has just included Indiana Dunes in his message to Congress on conservation-the best thing that could happen to us at this crucial time. . . .
No less important to us and to me, especially me—was your recent visit with us -you have no idea how much good you did us. Just like a breath of sunshine into our rather grim, for the problems, lives. Your spirit—your personable, handsome appearance and charm, with wit, and with it your real interest in us- was a tonic badly needed. . . . We are proud of you. Thank you. Very lovingly your mother
The assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963 brought an end to the discussion of a compromise. Most of 1964 was given over to the transition of the presidency to Lyndon B. Johnson and the ensuing presidential election. During these difficult months Dorothy and Senator Douglas remained in touch. An example of their friendship is reflected in this handwritten note he wrote on the death of her sister Olive, July 22, 1964:
Paul Douglas (John Stiles):
Dear Mrs. Buell:
I am terribly sorry to hear about the death of your sister, Olive. I know you were devoted to her and my heart goes out to you in your loss. Mrs. Douglas joins me in sending our sincere condolences and our affectionate regards.
In 1965 the battle of the port and the dunes resumed. Congress approved funds for the harbor on October 27, 1965. New congressional hearings on the park were held in April 1966. And again Dorothy testified. Senator Paul Douglas wrote on April 19, 1966:
Paul Douglas (John Stiles):
Dear Mrs. Buell, You did a magnificent job on the Dunes hearings. Apparently the present schedule is to have a hearing with the National Park Service witnesses next week . . . But it is for the Subcommittee to see if they can agree on a bill in a week or two thereafter. . .
Paul H. Douglas
In October 1966 Congress authorized a 6,539 acre Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. On November 5, 1966 President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation creating the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Three days later, on November 8, Paul Douglas lost his senate seat to Charles Percy. Despite this disappointing loss, Senator Douglas sent a telegram on December 2, 1966 to Dorothy Buell.
Senator Paul Douglas (John Stiles):
Greetings and congratulations to one of the most unselfish group of men and women who it has ever been my pleasure to know… working with you to save some of the magnificent dunes for this and future generations. I think I should warn you that the enemies of the dunes have not given up the battle and will probably seek to throw obstacle after obstacle by trying to cut appropriations and other means. … Let us finish the job.
Thus ended a long productive and remarkable collaboration of the Illinois Senator and Mrs. Buell. They shared a single-minded belief in the absolute value of their cause and right would triumph. Separated by only a few years in age, they shared the courteousness of an earlier time.
They left a lasting legacy, but one that requires continuing vigilance and a continuing struggle to balance economic, social and cultural interests. Dorothy turned over the leadership of the Save the Dunes Council to Sylvia Troy of Beverly Shores in 1967.
Sylvia Troy (Mary Jo):
Frankly, I never thought it would happen. Anyone who was anyone opposed it: the Indiana Senators turned us down; industry opposed it; the Chamber of Commerce opposed it. The only people who supported it were the people, the Save the Dunes Council, that wild-eyed band of conservationists, and Senator Paul Douglas of Illinois . . .
In the summer of 1968, Dorothy and Hal made plans to move to Palo Alto, California.
Dorothy (Judith): I’m just trying to get organized for our move to California. I’ve been at this for hours, days . . . You know how difficult it is for me to leave this house, this community, these dunes, this Lake . . . This was our dream house. We planned on dying here! Not in Palo Alto, CA. But Bob, Jean and the three grandchildren, Richard, Ann and Nancy, are there.
Bob’s been urging us to come out there for years. He keeps saying, “You’ve put in your time in Indiana. You’ve fought enough wars. You’ve even won a few battles! Let someone else take over . . .come to California. Put your feet up and relax in the sun.”
(Sharply and indignantly) Can you imagine ME putting my feet up___RELAXING! (Puts her head down and upright body slumps showing the weight of her age.) But Hal is almost 87 years old and he has been so ill! He’s failing . . . I see it every day.
(Pulls herself together and stands very erect and look at the audience) Well! I’m 81! I know I don’t look it. Or act it. Or feel it! Except at times like this.
(Puts her head down sadly . . .)
Narrator (Joan): In the fall of 1968 Dorothy and Hal were settled into their small house near the Palo Alto, town center, especially so Dorothy could walk to everything. Hal died in October of 1970.
The following are some remembrances by neighbors, colleagues and family.
Pat Peterson, a neighbor from 43 Cedar Trail and owner of the Frank Lloyd Wright’ Armstrong house:
Pat Peterson (Mary Jo):
We moved into Ogden Dunes in the summer of 1958. I was in my early 30s with a young son. I remember Dorothy as being a very friendly neighbor, out going and funny. She would walk down and visit and enjoyed talking to my son.
She never remembered anyone’s name so always called me “Honey”. I went to Washington with her and a group from Save the Dunes to one of the hearings. I took my son along because I used to live in Washington and I wanted him to see it and get to know my friends from there.
I knew Hal only by sight, from a distance. I never spoke with him. He was an engineer of some type and not as friendly and outgoing like his wife.
Herb Read (John Wilhelm):
As far as I know I don’t think Dorothy ever drove a car— nor could she use a type writer. Hal drove her every where! A number of times I drove her through the dunes, first in my little Studebaker and then in a little jeep on little trails through the dunes. The central trail called the Ft. Dearborn Trail ran right through the central dunes.
Nancy Buell in a letter to Joan Meister, February of 2016: Thank you for being patient with all of our reminiscing. I hadn’t put it all together that my first memory of Donna was her reading to me. We use to write letters to one another …she encouraged me to share my favorite words. . . . She was trying to set up an opportunity for me to tour the Dunes and stay with Florence Brody, a dear friend of hers. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make the visit.
After our conversation, I more thoroughly went through the letters of hers that I had found. I was struck by her enthusiasm for helping people—she casually mentioned that while in Palo Alto she was answering the phones for a program serving the blind. She encouraged that in me. We discussed politics some. She mentioned the hearing in Washington, but not in any detail. I think my sister Ann was right that her passion for “saving the dunes” was borne of not only her love for the land but also for the cause of preserving it as a respite for people of Gary and Chicago.
Oh! I just had another memory of the visit to the Dunes when I was five—it was running down the dunes themselves! What fun and probably terrible for the plant life. . .
Ann Buell (Mary Jo):
When I was in high school I worked in a coffee shop in Palo Alto. Donna would drop in and talk to all the customers. Nancy was a social worker and worked for a drug abuse program in Palo Alto as well. It was a rather radical program. Donna would stop in there and talk to all the clients. She just liked people. Hal was always quiet and rather taciturn.
Narrator (Joan): Obituary, PALO ALTO TIMES, May 18, 1977:
Mrs. Dorothy Richardson Buell of Palo Alto, founder of the Save the Dunes Council and noted clubwoman, died Tuesday in a San Jose convalescent hospital. She was 90.
Mrs. Buell was named one of the top ten clubwomen of the nation in 1956 by the Ladies Home Journal, and one of the top women newsmakers in Indiana in 1961 by United Press International. Mrs. Buell had lived in Palo Alto about nine years. . . . organized four book clubs and gave play readings professionally. . . .Internment will be in Neenah, Wis. The family prefers memorials be contributions to Save the Dunes Council, Box 863, Chesterton, Ind.
We will close with the moving words by Archibald McKinley, a Northwest Indiana writer, historian and chronicler of local stories; a comment by Herb Read; and an inscription by Alfred A. Knopf.
Archibald McKinley (John Stiles):
Dorothy was the closest thing to charisma the Calumet Region had experienced since Earl H. Reed’s “mythological Indian maid planted the ‘dream jewel’ that transformed a desert into a paradise – the Dunes. An intriguing woman – she never seemed to age and simply enchanted people. Dorothy was a performer and was at the top of her game in front of an audience. Whenever she took the stage, an eerie quiet descended, a hush of expectancy ….
Herb Read (John Wilhelm):
Almost everyone has heard of the big 1917 Dunes Pageant sponsored by the Prairie Club and others that attracted thousands of people to the Dunes. Dorothy told me that she was in the pageant and she was in the Dance of the Four Winds.
Isn’t it fitting that as a young woman who appeared in the pageant that brought so much awareness to the beauty of the dunes and an early attempt to save it for posterity, as an older woman was able to create an organization, the Save the Dunes Council, that actually saved a large section of the dunes and was the driving force behind the Indiana Dunes National Lake Shore.
Alfred A. Knopf, publisher of the 1983 book DUAL FOR THE DUNES by Kay Franklin and Norma Schaeffer, added these words, ones that are a warning for all of us:
You may frequently win a battle, but you can never win the war. Whenever one threat is put down, another immediately arises: the struggle is endless, and conservationists must always be ready to rally their forces for another fight. Even triumphs carry their own dangers.