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NWI Times: Former Association President & Hall of Fame Member Honored

Friday, November 13, 2015  
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MERRILLVILLE | Veterans are known for their courage and honor, and Region native W.F. "Bill" Wellman is no different.

Wellman, a World War II Marine veteran from Valparaiso, and all veterans were celebrated Wednesday during "A Lifetime of Showbiz: The Tribute to W.F. 'Bill' Wellman."

The event was an effort between the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority and the Star Plaza Theatre.

The program was moving, inspirational and entertaining. It included a one-on-one conversation with Wellman, presented in an "Inside the Actors Studio" format.

Speros Batistatos, president and CEO of the South Shore CVA, led the conversation that discussed all aspects of Wellman's life. As Wellman spoke to the audience and Batistatos, pictures from his past were displayed.

Wellman described what it was like when he and others heard of the attacks on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.

“It was an emotional day,” he said.

Wellman said many had to go to maps to find out where Pearl Harbor was located. He said busloads of basketball and football teams flocked to recruiting offices to join the military after the attacks.

Wellman and some of his friends later quit high school in 1943 to join the Marines, he said.

He also recalled many occasions from his youth.

In particular, Wellman explained the importance of baseball in his childhood.

At that time, there were baseball teams everywhere. He said his father told him sticking with the sport would result in employment and money.

Wellman said his father in 1920 was offered a job at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City to run its baseball team.

“The warden wanted to win the league,” he said.

Wellman said his father held tryouts with the prisoners and determined to put together a high caliber team, the prison needed to hire a couple “guards” to play positions that needed some help.

He said his father later produced a championship team there.

“He played baseball until he was in his 50s,” Wellman said of his father.

Many at Wednesday's event gave high praise of Wellman and his contributions to the area.

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, said Wellman over the years has reached out to help many people, groups and organizations in Northwest Indiana.

Visclosky described him as a honorable person.

“His word is gold,” Visclosky said, “Whatever he tells you, you can go home and go to bed and know that it's the truth.

Visclosky also remarked that Wellman is a good businessman.

Wellman's venture into the theater business started in Valparaiso. In 1958, he opened Wellman's Restaurant there and the accompanying BridgeVU Theater. He also helped create the Star Plaza Theatre, which opened in 1979.

Wellman's accomplishments throughout his life have earned him many awards, including the Sagamore of the Wabash, which he received from former Gov. Mitch Daniels. He also was inducted into the Indiana Restaurant Hall of Fame.

Wednesday's program not only honored Wellman and other veterans.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the NWI Veterans Action Council, Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Indiana and American Legion Post 94 in Valparaiso to help those who served.

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