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January 15, 2014

KITCHELL: One man-made confluence reveal the past

As the harshest winter snows in decades melted around his home in western Cass County Sunday afternoon, Jonathan Justice kept his sense of humor even as he struggled for words.

A respite of a wintry January unveiled landscaping around his home that you just don’t see anywhere else in the undulating countryside, dormant with flora and fauna.

Inside, there was his welcoming companion, Jimmy, his sister, Margaret, hospice staff, family members and his adopted pugs, immaculately vigilant with their faces mimicking Winston Churchill minus a cigar.

This is Jonathan’s homefront, but it is also the battlefront in the ongoing war against cancer. Quietly, he reflected on what may be the most visible crowning glory of his life — the landscaping of the Wabash River from the confluence with the Eel River five blocks east along the Little Turtle Waterway.

Justice, a Logansport High School graduate who went on to Cornell before graduating from DePauw University and pursuing an architectural degree, found himself, like many native Hoosiers, back home again in Indiana later in life. His father, former State Rep. Robert S. Justice, passed away in the early 1990s.

“I returned to Cass County to take care of my mother, only to find out she didn’t want to be taken care of,” he says of the late Catherine Leirer Justice, a former Purdue professor.

What he did find that needed to be taken care of was the stretch of donated railroad right of way — a wasteland that had once been the right of way for Harry Truman’s whistlestop campaign in 1948 that made the Chicago Tribune blush. That stretch that welcomed the last sitting president to visit Logansport was a barren wasteland chaffed by cinders and debris from a bygone era.

Justice, who had grown up near the Wabash along the Fitzer Farm in Clinton Townshp and remembered Sunday drives along the Wabash when he was a child, said his boyhood days along the wide expanses of the Wabash in the county didn’t have much to do with his adult volunteerism. His life took him to Milwaukee where Wisconsin trail advocates had taken on tasks similar to Little Turtle. He had worked on trails there and wanted to work on Little Turtle.

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