MEDORA, Ind. — Unhappy with recent social change and new laws that he sees as anti-family, an Indiana Catholic wanted to show his community what he felt a real family looked like.
In June 2015, Kenny Striegel took out a notepad and began sketching what would later become a 14-foot-by-15½-foot shrine. He planned it as a place where people could come for meditation and prayer.
To make his vision a reality, he then went to the computer and began pricing statues of the Holy Family.
“The statues I found online were fiberglass, and the prices were outrageous, ranging from $4,800 to $6,000,” Striegel said. “My cousin, Del Steinhart, has a small grotto, and he suggested calling The Concrete Lady in Clarksville.”
That concrete shop had plain statues for $165 and painted ones for $275, so Striegel headed down to Clarksville with his friend and neighbor, Richard Christopher.
The men were able to find the painted statues needed for the grotto. The first was of St. Joseph. He held a carpenter’s square, representing his vocation as a carpenter. Also, Joseph held white lilies to represent his goodness and obedience to God.
The second was of Jesus with a heart symbolizing Christ’s divine love and compassion toward humanity.
The third statue was of Mary, arms down by her sides and palms facing forward to illustrate the rays of grace.
Striegel also purchased a statue of Moses and the Ten Commandments for his front yard and a second statue of Mary.
“I got a statue of Mary for my son, Monte, and it’s up at his house so he can see it every time he goes out the door,” Kenny said.
Striegel is originally from Jasper but relocated to Jackson County after his wife died in 2012. His sons, Monte and Jason, who both live in the Medora area, wanted him to live closer to them. Another son, Brett, lives in Mooresville, and his daughter, Janet, resides in Colorado.
Kenny, his grandson, Andrew, and Christopher went to The Concrete Lady to pick up the painted statues toward the end of July 2015.
The statues, which weighed around 1,000 pounds each, were loaded onto a gooseneck trailer at the concrete shop to be brought back to Medora, where Monte used a Case loader to move the statues. He enlisted the help of three or four friends.
“Then I went to over to Bedford to the limestone guy over on the west side of Highway 37,” Striegel said. “Well, I found the slabs of limestone that I needed for the engravings.”
Striegel called Voss Funeral Service in Seymour to see who did their stone etchings, and they gave him Clint Hackman’s name.
After getting a call from Striegel, Hackman went to Medora and took pictures of the stone slabs and obtained the information as to what words should be etched on each one. Using stencils, Hackman finished the project around March of this year.
Still with no one to build the grotto, Striegel decided to bring his notebook of sketches and go out to breakfast with Monte. They met with Conrad “Connie” Calmer of Seymour, who said he had done masonry.
Striegel showed Calmer his plans for the grotto and asked him if he thought they could build it. Calmer said he had laid bricks for houses and chimneys but never something like this.
After Calmer agreed to give it a try, Striegel told him that the both of them together, with St. Joseph, would build it.
“I did an apprenticeship as a brick mason in South Bend from 1961 through 1967, the year I came onto the Indiana State Police department,” Calmer said.
He became a crime scene technician with the state police in 1980 and retired in May 2001.
“I still did masonry while I was with the department, and that’s what put my girls through college,” Calmer said.
Construction on the grotto began in November 2015. The grotto then was covered up for the winter to protect it from the elements before work started back up in April. Tom Melton of Seymour also helped with the project.
“I helped out Connie by carrying some of the rocks and mixing the mortar,” Melton said.
Besides the limestone slabs, some of the materials used were blocks and stone veneer. Many geodes also were used to build the shrine, and all of them came from a creek on Monte’s property.
“Geodes are crystal rocks that don’t absorb any moisture whatsoever, just like glass,” Calmer said.
Two of the stones Striegel found for the grotto were in the shape of Indiana. They were found that way naturally and were uncut. As you look at the front of the structure, one of those stones is placed to the left of Jesus’s head, and the second one is to the left of Joseph’s head.
Construction was completed June 18, a date that Calmer knows well because six days after he finished, he had an accident in his barn.
“I took the sections of scaffolding home to work on some lights in my barn,” he said. “One of the sections broke, and I fell 10 feet, shattering my left heel. I still need to finish the lights when I get well.”
Calmer said building the grotto has been a learning experience for him, and overall, he believes it turned out well.
This fall, Striegel hopes to plant roses that have been passed down through six generations from his great-grandmother in front of the grotto.
He also plans to get back in touch with Hackman to see if he can come back out to the grotto and engrave the completion date.
The grotto is located at the junction of U.S. 50 and State Road 235. There is a bench there for visitors, and the grounds have been blessed by Father Dan Staublin of St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Seymour. It is open to the public.
“Several people have asked me what they can do here,” Striegel said. “I told them you sit down on the bench here and talk to the Man, just how you and I are talking. Tell him your problems, and He will listen.”