The Places We Call Home: Celestine

Photos by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Celestine Elementary kindergartner Alexis Reckelhoff, center, sings the words to "The Gingerbread Man" as kindergarten teacher Renae Rohleder reads to the class on Dec. 13. Rohleder attended the school as a child. "My first day coming back, even the smell was the same," Rohleder said about returning to teach. "It was like going back in time."


Sense of compassion for one another is a basic component to Celestine’s identity.

The families are generations old, with children and grandchildren and great-grands settling in the unincorporated village.

The people support each other, and are quick to help anyone who has a need.

They welcome newcomers to the community, and make them feel as at home as they feel.

Celestine, which was established 175 years ago, is its own distinct community.

“We’re not an incorporated town. We don’t have a sheriff. We don’t have a town board or a mayor,” said Celestine native Tony Buechler. “But we kind of do, through the leadership groups of the church and the park and the clubs. These groups look after the town, and see to the needs of the town.”

And most of the community is involved in one or more of the different groups, thus giving them an intimate role in taking care of Celestine.

“We are always there for each other. That is the root of this community,” said Glenda Reckelhoff, director of religious education at the St. Celestine campus of the St. Isidore Parish. “We are rooted in that faith from generations and generations and generations ago. With that, it’s about how you serve other people.”

Buechler has been a part of the Celestine community all of his life. He left to go to college, but came back afterward to settle in the eastern Dubois County town and run the family farm. His family has been a part of Celestine for at least 125 years.

Celestine Elementary School students return to class after a fire drill on Dec. 13.

“There’s a tremendous sense of family here,” he said. “The faces are all familiar to you, even if you don’t know the person intimately. You may not be super close to them, but you know they are a part of the same community. There’s a real comfort to have that extended family.”

Having that extended family comes in handy. Both Reckelhoff and Buechler mentioned, as an example, the tornado that came through Celestine in 2011 and severely damaged several homes.

“There was a tremendous outpouring of people that next day,” Buechler said. “People were standing on the damaged property of those they didn’t know intimately, people they weren’t close friends with. But they were out cleaning up the debris. And they were happy to help. They wanted to contribute. That’s the extended family.”

And the involvement isn’t only during a time of crisis.

“People get involved with the Celestine Community Club, and with the church and the school, and with Celestine Park,” Reckelhoff said.

The Knights of Columbus is heavily supported, as is the Celestine Volunteer Fire Department, Buechler said. There is also Celestine Inc., which does community projects, like the annual Celestine Streetfest.

“There is definitely a structure and a collectivity of the community that goes back to the Catholic church, and the community was founded by Father Kundek,” Buechler said. “We are now a multi-denominational community; we are not the mono-religion that it would have been 50 years ago. I think the church side of things led to a bunch of other things that unite the community.”

Ron Sander of Celestine plays sheepshead with Jim Hochgesang, Ed Werner and Dave Prechtel, all of Jasper, at Happy Hour Sports Bar and Grill in Celestine on Dec. 13. A group of 16 people meets every Thursday afternoon to play the card game. The men joked that Sander is "the assistant mayor of Celestine."

Celestine was founded by Father Joseph Kundek, who platted the area in 1843 and named it and the parish after Rev. Celestine Rene Lawrence de la Hailendiere, the second bishop of the Vincennes Diocese. The town’s early history is noted in the St. Celestine Catholic Church’s history, as the two are very much linked. Many of the town’s first inhabitants, including those who came from Hesse province in Germany, are recorded in the church history.

Two books have been published documenting the community trek through time. The first history book was printed in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the community, in 1993, and contained the community’s history up to that point. The second book continued to today, and was printed this year in conjunction with the community’s 175th anniversary celebration. Both books are available at the church.

It is through the church that Joel Johnson and his wife, Sharon, became involved in the community when they moved to Celestine from northwest Indiana 17 years ago.

“We knew absolutely nobody,” Joel said.

The two attended and got involved in the church. “I wasn’t Catholic at the time,” Joel said. “Sharon was a devout Catholic, so she started going, and I went with her.“

What he found through the church was an extended family. “They were all very pleasant and welcoming to us, especially me, not being Catholic,” Johnson recalled. He ultimately converted to Catholicism and got more involved.

Ron Sander of Celestine dons his Celestine 175 years celebration hat while playing sheepshead at Happy Hour Sports Bar and Grill in Celestine on Dec. 13.

Along with working as a groundskeeper for a number of years, he served on the parish council for three years, one of those as president. Sharon worked at Dubois Elementary for a few years; she also served as president of St. Anne’s Solidality. They’ve also been involved in the “Save the Jeeps” campaign, and support different activities and events in the community.

Their daughter, son-in-law and three grandsons live here, too, moving to the area about five years after the Johnsons.

“There are two main things that impressed me about this community,” Joel said. “One is the openness of the people. They welcomed us with open arms. The other is the giving spirit, which is different from northwest Indiana. Everyone up there is so fast-paced, going here, going there. We got down here, and it’s like if someone here needs a hand, the community just pulls together. That was something to see. It opened our eyes; it really did.

“We are blessed to be here.”

Celestine is their home, Joel said.

“We’re not German. Sharon is Croatian and I’m Swedish. But that didn’t matter,” he said. “They took us in. We are part of the community, and that’s due to the warm, welcoming feeling we get from the people here.”

Service to each other and the community are the elements that have helped Celestine last, thrive and stand the test of time.

“There’s a power to being a small community,” Buechler said.

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