Opinion: Hoosier memories

Commentary by Dick Wolfsie

In celebration of our 200th year as a state, I am sharing the names of some Hoosiers who no longer receive the attention they deserve. As you will see, the first one is not just long forgotten, but also short and forgotten.

It’s no small wonder that Che Mah lived in Knox, a tiny town in Starke County. Che Mah was a small wonder himself, once reported to be the shortest man who ever lived. He towered under Tom Thumb, who reached 32 inches. Born in China in 1848, Che Mah was only 28 inches tall and tipped the scales (he was a very small tipper) at 40 pounds.

Che Mah married an average-sized woman and was considered by most a gentleman who never angered anyone. This was a good idea on his part. He did, however, tick off his wife, who sued him for divorce, complaining that Che Mah was jealous and abusive — just two of his shortcomings. Che Mah claimed his wife had ceased to perform her wifely duties, which is more than we need to know. Che Mah was buried at the highest point in Crown Hill Cemetery in Knox, Indiana. A fitting end for someone who seldom had anything that fit.

When Hoosier Roy Robertson worked for the Salem Creamery in the 1940s, Audra Qualkinbush, one of the owners of the creamery — and a home economics teacher — complained about the chubbiness of some of her students. Robertson was asked by his boss to perfect a new product that had less butterfat. Skim milk had already been invented, but consumers had no choice between the 3.5 percent milk and the virtually tasteless skim, nicknamed “Blue John” by many country folks because of its watery blue tint.

Robertson worked for more than a year tinkering with how to remove the fat and then replace it with other milk solids so the taste would still please milk lovers. Robertson was never recognized, nor did he profit from his invention. Since he never got a patent for his process, other dairies were soon producing his 2 percent milk.

By the way, 1 percent milk was later invented by Robertson’s half-brother (just kidding).