A lone walker strides up the hill. In the distance, lively conversation can be heard as shadows creep onto the hilly landscape while the sun begins to rise. The majestic Helfrich house sits high above the hill. The yellow flags in the background blow softly in the wind. Like almost every day on the The Loop, mornings start a little earlier and evenings end a little later as its loyal patrons come in search of fitness, camaraderie, and contemplation.
Slightly under three miles in length (depending on which southerly route is taken), The Loop encompasses Mesker Park Drive/St. Joseph Avenue to its east, Maryland Avenue and/or Golfmoor Road to its south, Harmony Way to its west, and Wimberg Avenue to its north. In 1923, Helfrich Golf Course welcomed its first golfers as pack animals pulling non-motorized mowers groomed its grounds. Five years later, Mesker Park Zoo opened its doors as the one of oldest and largest zoos in Indiana. In 1951, the Mesker Amphitheatre was completed after philanthropist George Mesker left three-quarters of a million dollars upon his death to enhance the entertainment in the park. Just to the north lies Alexander Memorial Park and St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery, whose grounds have held the remains of loved ones since 1917 and 1872, respectively. On the west side of The Loop, Mater Dei High School first welcomed its students in 1949 and continues to provide a faith-based education to those who pass through its doors.
In the summertime, young children and their families crowd into the fields of Golfmoor Park for our nation’s pastime. The pop of the racquetball and the chatter on the tennis and basketball courts can be heard by any pedestrian who walks by. As the sunny, warm days give way to the winter chill, the little white balls on Helfrich Hills are replaced by a snowy landscape full of sledders and snowboarders gliding down its slopes. The lakes turn to ice, and deer, fox, and other furry and feathery creatures scour the landscape for food until spring beckons the waterfowl to return home. Over the years, residents on Mesker Park Drive have heard anywhere from the crooning of Bob Dylan and Harry Belafonte to the hard rock of Poison and Jon Bon Jovi to the sweet ivory of Liberace; some days, when the wind freshens from the north, these sounds are replaced by exclamations of a primate or a large cat roar.
But on any given day, The Loop remains a symbol of vintage Americana. It is a place where people come to process the struggles of the day and the talk of the week; where parents push their kids in strollers, only for their kids to return and do the same decades later. It is a place where sometimes, the most unlikely of people may show up—like on a misty night five years ago when Sister Madonna Buder, known worldwide as the Iron Nun, came to run with a few new acquaintances. But more than anything, it is a place where the most likely people keep coming back. If you take an hour to sit and watch its patrons pass by, you are guaranteed to see a friend, or an old classmate, or just someone who looks oh so familiar even if you can’t place his or her name. Maybe in some way, The Loop has a custom of making strangers feel like friends, as for almost a century it has welcomed its family to come back home.