The Heart of Goshen
Gina Leichty has worked hard to bring goodness to her hometown
If you’ve heard about “The Good of Goshen,” or enjoyed one of Goshen’s First Fridays, then you’ve been touched by Gina Leichty’s vision for creating community and encouraging local aspirations in Goshen, IN. Gina has had a hand in many things connected with the “Goshen Renaissance” over the past decade.
Born and raised in Rensselaer, IN, Gina attended Goshen College and graduated with a degree in English. She fell in love with the community and stayed, and has been using her communication skills to promote it ever since. She developed her knowledge of the business community through serving as director of operations for MDC Goldenrod, and then as director of communications for several RV-related companies, before co-founding Eyedart Creative Studio with her husband, Ben Stutzman.
When I asked Gina how her passion for creating community in Goshen began, she reminisced about the early days of the Goshen Farmers Market, now a thriving and beloved Goshen weekend event.
“As a young single mother with a toddler daughter, I loved to go to the farmers market on Saturday, not just for food but for community and connection,” Gina says. “It’s always been a family-friendly place.”
In 2002, Paul Steury, one of the market’s founders, asked Gina if she’d serve on the market’s board. Now that her daughter is graduating from college, Gina still frequents the farmers market and gathers with friends for coffee and treats at Rachel’s Bread, a bakery and café housed there. “Her place is almost a sacred space,” Gina says as she describes the atmosphere that Belgian-born baker, chef and writer Rachel Shenk has created for people to gather, enjoy good coffee and delicious food, and converse.
Gina’s appreciation for such a sense of connection and community has fueled her vision for Goshen as a vibrant place where art, crafts and local businesses can thrive.
“Food is a great way to learn about Goshen,” she says when I ask about the local food and restaurant culture that has grown up in the city in recent years. It’s a great place to find locally owned, independent eateries that emphasize local foods and include a wide range of choices.
“Visitors to the River Bend Film Festival this March were astonished to learn that within a radius of a few miles they could sample croissants at Rachel’s Belgian-style bakery, Puerto Rican cuisine at Rolling Scones in the Old Bag Factory or the nostalgic Americana cuisine of Goshen’s Olympia Candy Kitchen.”
The River Bend Film Festival, which drew several thousand participants, came to Goshen for the first time this spring with support from Eyedart Creative Studio.
Eyedart began as a downtown art gallery and web design business, intended as a gathering place for people interested in building community around the arts. Today it is a communications firm specializing in community-development projects, public relations, advertising and event planning with the philosophy of “marketing for good.” Among its many projects, Eyedart manages “Downtown Goshen, Inc.,” a not-for-profit corporation to promote the city of Goshen; coordinates fundraising for the restoration of the Goshen Theater; and is involved with such long-term projects as the redevelopment of the Hawks Building.
In 2006, the same year that Eyedart opened, Gina teamed up with Eric Kanagy to begin Downtown Goshen, Inc., and First Fridays in Goshen. Now a well-established event, it seemed like a creative risk when they held the first event in June 2007, wondering if anyone would attend. When more than a thousand people showed up, Gina and Eric knew that the timing was right. During the economic downturn of 2008, First Fridays thrived, providing opportunities for people of diverse neighborhoods and age groups to mingle, supporting local businesses, and helping to create local networks at a time when people were looking closer to home for entertainment.
First Fridays has helped provide a sense of civic pride and identity for Goshen, transforming it into a destination as well as a beloved hometown, showcasing local musicians, high school theater and choir events and Goshen College’s Lavender Jazz ensemble, as well as hosting ice sculpture events, bicycle races, car shows and food tastings. One weekend a year, downtown Goshen transforms a block of city street into a beach volleyball tournament. The city trucks in more than 600 tons of sand for the event. (After the tournament, the sand is removed and recycled for snow/ice removal.) In addition to the competitive volleyball tournament, the annual August SandBlast festival includes live music, downtown shopping and free sand activities for kids.
As I spoke with Gina, I was amazed to discover not only that she loved many of the same things about Goshen that I do—great community, amazing local restaurants, the vibrant creative culture, the blending of old and new—but that she had actively nurtured many of them into being. Gina Leichty is truly one of Goshen’s treasures.
Downtown Goshen, Inc: cityonthego.org
Good of Goshen: goodofgoshen.com
Goshen First Fridays: facebook.com/gofridays, cityonthego.org
Eyedart Creative Studio: eyedart.com