Project Description

The Jennings Center has operated in East Central Neighborhood since 1948. The City of Fort Wayne Historic Preservation, Neighborhood Planning & Activation, and Park Department staff collaborated with Ball State University public history program students to interview past participants in Jennings Center youth programs operated by the Parks and Recreation Department.

The recorded oral history videos document the history and impact on the youth of the East Central Neighborhood. The oral history videos are valuable recorded evidence of the cultural history of the Jennings Center; they foster pride in the cultural history and diversity of southeast Fort Wayne.

Voices of the Jennings Center

Oral Histories

Please check out each Oral History below by visiting the Allen County Public Library link in each bio.

Anita Jennings Dortch is the daughter of Albert Jennings. Anita Jennings Dortch goes into many details about the Jennings Center and the Impact it had on the community. It offered the community experiences that they could not get anywhere else. Anita Jennings Dortch also goes into how it still remains an important part of the community today. It offers shelter and comfort for the families that become a part of the community. Anita Jennings Dortch wants to show that the Jennings Center should be remembered for the importance that it holds.

Bennie Lewis was a professional basketball player in Australia. He comes from East St. Louis, Illinois. Bennie Lewis was the supervisor of the Jennings Center from the early 2000s to 2019. He has a physical education degree. He currently works as a mentor towards young adults who want to further their basketball career. He talks a bit about the Jennings Center and the Black Lives Matter movement. Teenage Sunday, which is scholarship offered by the Jennings Center, is also mentioned.

Condra Ridley was just 1 year old when her family moved to Fort Wayne. She participated at the Jennings Center during some weekends and most special events as a youth. As an adult she participated by volunteering for a program through her job at the Allen County Public Library. This had her reading to the youth throughout the summer at different locations, but it all started with the Jennings Center. She also served on the council for the Jennings Center for a year or two sometime later on. Her involvement with the center has died down these past years, but she wants to get back to reading to the youth.

Denise Porter was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1953. She lived her life with her family in the East Central neighborhood, where she along with her brother attended the McCulloch Center. She speaks about her times there, along with some of the programs that were given by the McCulloch Center. How life for children was in the center, and how everyone in the neighborhood had a sense of community. It takes a village to raise a child. This saying is one that she believes in, especially with her time at the McCulloch Center. She also states her relationship with Albert G. Jennings, the director of the McCulloch Center from 1951 to 1979. She then tells more about her current life and status with the now Jennings Center. Stating what is currently being done to preserve this place and community. But also stating what she wants to see in the future. Wanting to plant a seed for the future.

Though he didn’t grow up in the East Central Neighborhood, Thomas Edward Nolan, “Eddie,” began attending the Jennings Center when he was about 12 years old. He mainly attended to play sports and gather with friends. Nolan lived in the Southeast side of Fort Wayne and later became a basketball, football, softball, and track coach. Today Nolan is a high school teacher and coach at South Side High School and he also coaches at the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne. Nolan recounts his memories of spending time at the Jennings Center and what the center, and centers like it, can offer youth today. He also discusses crime and safety.

Jacqueline Turner is a resident of the East Central neighborhood and has been for 63 years. She was originally born in Chapman, Tennessee, and then moved to New London, Connecticut where she met her husband. Together they moved to Fort Wayne in 1959 when African-Americans were segregated to only certain housing areas in the city. The Turners were not as active participants in the Jennings Center as some members, but had lots of friends there and took part in various activities such as the Christmas wassail, going to basketball games, and even chaperoning one of the dances. Turner wasn’t involved with Jennings Center but did some participating in the Neighborhood Association and the Martin Luther King Center. They were friends with the Starkes and the Jennings. Her daughter Kellie Turner is present in the interview to assist her with being asked questions.

John Dixie was born and raised in the East Central Neighborhood of Fort Wayne, Indiana. He grew up attending the Jennings Center, formerly known as the McCulloch Recreation Center, and developed a close relation with some of the staff such as Mrs. Sweat, Mr. Dodi, and Albert Jennings himself. He has a close relationship to Mr. Jennings, who he referred to as a second father that taught him morals and how to play basketball. He explained he spent much of his time at the Jennings Center, playing with friends or participating in the talent shows. Mr. Dixie has been singing his entire life, from the talent shows to the choir at Pilgrim Baptist Church. When he was not at the Jennings Center, he was either at the church or doing chores at home. He would often walk to the store Whities or Brownies to buy snacks or groceries with friends or his neighbors the Stevensons, who attended the same school and church. His experience at the Jennings Center and its staff not only made a lasting impression on him, but also his children. Three out of four of his daughters attended as well as his son, showing the importance of the Jennings Center to the people of the East Central community. Mr. Dixie now spends his time at the church, but fondly thinks about his time at the Jennings Center.

Kellie Turner is a resident of Fort Wayne’s East Central neighborhood and Grambling State University graduate. She acted as the regional director of 21st Century Scholars and was program director from 2006 to 2010. She currently is the Neighborhood Association President for East Central.

Michael Ayers is the facility supervisor of the Jennings Center for Fort Wayne’s Park and Recreation department. As a youth growing up in the southside of Fort Wayne, Ayers would commute to the McCulloch Center and participate in their many sports leagues. In 1994, Michael Ayers would join the team under director Robert Starke as a recreation leader at the newly renamed Jennings Center. In this interview for the Jennings Center Oral History Project, he will share his history with the Center, along with visions for the future.

Sheila Dufor Truttling lived in the East Central neighborhood of Fort Wayne, Indiana and attended the Jennings Center, formerly the McCulloch Center, during her youth and into adulthood. She attended Indiana University at Bloomington where she received her Master’s degree. The interview that took place was part of a joint project between Ball State University and the city of Fort Wayne, Indiana regarding the Albert G. Jennings Center as part of an effort to get it recognized as a historical site. Sheila speaks in a jovial and lighthearted manner about the helpfulness of Mr. Albert G. Jennings, Ms. McCoy, friends, and family as well as the East Central neighborhood that she grew up in as a child and as an adult.