WOLF LAKE — It might seem like a story about a fiberglass bison.
But it’s not.
It’s about the lasting strength of small-town ties.
Sarah McJunkin hasn’t lived full-time in Wolf Lake since around 1963, one year after she graduated from Wolf Lake High School.
But for three straight days recently, she was out sweating in her Rome City barn — with some help from husband Ken — stripping the paint from Wolf Lake’s Centennial Bison.
“I’ve been working on it every day,” McJunkin said recently. “I sweat a lot. It’s time consuming. It’s not really hard.”
No, hard is the bond that she has with her hometown.
Churubusco. North Webster. Lake Wawasee.
McJunkin has lived all of those places, and for the last couple of decades, she’s called Rome City home.
But home is really where she grew up. It might be a small-town phenomenon, but there really is, quoting Dorothy, no place like home. Even if you no longer live there.
“I was born and raised in Wolf Lake, across from the hospital,” McJunkin said. “The little town just means so much to me. I feel a connection. It’s just a lot of memories as a kid.”
The town has certainly changed over the decades. She remembered when it had three grocery stores, two restaurants and a Hudson dealership.
But it’s still Wolf Lake. It’s still home.
That’s why she has always made regular visits there. That’s why when an opening came up on the Luckey Hospital Museum Board — where McJunkin was born — she volunteered.
The museum board received a financial gift with the caveat it had to be used to beautify Wolf Lake. The board chose to purchase one of the bison — which it named Luckey — that was being sold to commemorate Indiana’s bicentennial in 2016.
The bison arrived in time to be part of the 2016 Onion Days Parade, but after sitting out for a winter in the park, it began to show some wear.
“We noticed in the spring it started peeling,” McJunkin said.
The original artist who painted the bison did some patch up work, but by 2018 the Onion Days committee asked the museum board to have the bison removed from the park because it was again in disrepair.
Noble Township Trustee Scott Zeigler removed the bison to his property in 2018.
“The way it was looking, it had to be redone,” McJunkin said.
On Aug. 17, Sandy Huntsman and McJunkin went out to Zeigler’s home to check on the condition of the bison.
“I said, ‘Oh my gosh, no,’” McJunkin said. “It almost brought tears.”
McJunkin offered to strip the paint from the bison.
Zeigler brought the bison to the McJunkin’s home on Aug. 18. The couple moved some things in their barn to make room for the large fiberglass animal.
The day after it arrived, she went to work.
It is an arduous task. McJunkin works in areas approximately 4-inches by 4-inches, prepping it, then stripping, then immediately rinsing the area.
The rear section of the bison is mostly smooth, but the forward half is covered with various contours meant to resemble the fur of the bison. Stripping such areas becomes even more difficult.
“I’m determined to do it,” McJunkin said. “Luckey is going back home, and he’s getting a makeover.”
Husband Ken has been chipping in to help with the project. He knew once his wife had put her mind to it, the project was going to get done.
“I told her to go for it,” Ken said. “I knew she wanted to do it. It needs done. She’s always going here and there helping people with something.”
As the McJunkins have been going about their painstaking labor, Huntsman has been attempting to organize the next phases of the project.
“She’s a big help on this,” Sarah McJunkin said.
Once the paint has been stripped from Luckey, McJunkin said the next step will to be have small holes in the fiberglass repaired, something Leon Huntsman, Sandy’s son, has volunteered to do. The bison then will need to be professionally primed.
A Ligonier artist has agreed to put a fresh coat of paint on the bison. Then, McJunkin said she would like to see the bison get a treatment of auto sealant to make sure the new paint job will last.
“I want it to look nice,” McJunkin said.
Once it is done, Luckey will be headed back to the park in Wolf Lake.
“People probably think I’m crazy for doing this, but I don’t feel that way,” she said. “That’s why I want to do this… for the town.”