Anyone who knows Merrill knows that he is an ornery cuss. He’s been that way all of his life – giving grief to anyone that would take it and push it right back. He never backed down from a fight – as can be seen in old family photos. He’s had black eyes, cracked ribs, broken fingers and fat lips to his credit. Some thought he was a hood, a river-rat, and a punk but to others, he was a dad, a husband, a friend and a mentor.
His life as a young child was hard. His father, Glen Landis, died from tuberculosis in 1945, when Merrill was only 2-years old. His mother, Edith, was left alone to raise five kids all under the age of eight. Edith soon remarried and added eight more children to the brood. The family moved to a Kentucky farm where the children – regardless of their age –were out in the fields picking crops right alongside their parents. They did not get traditional schooling like other children their age received – it was work the farm so the family could survive.
At some point around 1950,the family moved into a 3 room house in Riverhaven – a small area between NewHaven and Fort Wayne, Indiana. Life there wasn’t much easier. With so many mouths to feed, school was not an option for the Landis boys - they were all required to do something to help put food on the table. As they grew older the boys were sent to live with relatives in Logansport, Indiana, to help on the farms. They would stay there for months on end only seeing their mother and siblings once in a long while. Then, around 1957 (or so), a couple of the boys left home and went into the Navy.
Merrill and Doris, however, got married and had three children; Tim, Jerry and Kim. Merrill and Doris struggled to support three kids working long hours for little pay, and were often frustrated. Things began to change in the early 1970’s when Merrill got a job at B.F. Goodrich making tires, and Doris began working at Wayne Home Equipment. In 1975, Merrill and Doris bought their first house on Parrott Road (Riverhaven), where they raised their kids and lived until 2001.
Merrill loved to play basketball. In the different places he lived over the years, he would put up a basketball hoop anywhere that he could fit one. Sometimes he would put a hoop upright alongside the road so he could use the road the ‘court’, and other times right on his driveway. Ultimately, he bought a small corner lot across from his house specifically to build a full length basketball court with a hoop on each end. He worked hard to keep the court in tip-top shape for the basketball games on the weekends. Merrill taught both Tim and Jerry how to play and they began to invite their friends for pickup games. It wasn’t long before the neighborhood kids caught wind that they could play and would spend hours on the court - and Merrill was there right along with them. For years he, he was the one to beat.
This passion developed, not only for him, but for the neighborhood kids. Over time, the ‘corner lot’ became the only park the kids had and Merrill was a big part of that experience. He spent a lot of time with the kids, teaching them not only about basketball, but how to be fair and how to follow rules. You could borrow his basketball anytime but you were responsible for bringing it back. If you didn’t, he would track you down – and you would certainly remember next time. He would also ‘referee’ games. He would make sure there was no fighting on the court and if so, you weren’t allowed to come back for a while (until you cooled off).
He held huge annual basketball tournaments that often had up to 10 teams of 3. They would spend all weekend in bracket-style playoffs, barbequing and handing out trophies and ribbons. Summer in Riverhaven was highly anticipated by many. Merrill was a steadfast presence in the neighborhood and kids looked up to and respected him greatly.
Even though Merrill and Doris moved out of the neighborhood in 2001, they still frequent Riverhaven every day picking up cans for recycling. Picking up cans is really just an excuse for Merrill to stay connected to the people he’s grown to know over the years.