“There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?”
Actress Jenna Fisher’s character Pam Beesly said this of her experience working at Dunder Mifflin, the ordinary, fictional paper company featured on NBC’s cult classic show, The Office.
Born in Fort Wayne in 1974, Fischer moved from her home in Northeast Indiana to Missouri within just one year. But decades later, her brief residence here impacted my life in an unusual way. In late August 2019, I sat in my own Fort Wayne home researching a topic many would consider boring: Roads.
As I was wandering the Allen County Public Library’s (ACPL) Genealogy Center, a plain-looking book caught my eye: The Streets of Fort Wayne by Angus C. McCoy. I pulled the book from its shelf.
Flipping through its pages, I unearthed the backstories of many roads on which I had traveled most of my life. I learned that John T. Barr of Barr Street and John McCorkle laid the first plat of Fort Wayne, the former seemingly naming a road for himself. I learned that Kensington Boulevard, a street on which I played poker with friends throughout high school, found its name through homebuyer attraction to trendy English street names. Sooner than later, I had too much information floating around my head and a new conviction: Fort Wayne needed to know this history.
I decided writing and updating McCoy’s book was the best route to tell the story of Fort Wayne’s map. McCoy’s research dated back seven decades; surely with the technology and information available at my fingertips, I could update his findings.
As I researched, the question of how a road can be renamed begged for an answer. As a fun experiment, I started an online petition to rename a roundabout on the North side of Fort Wayne after my favorite character on The Office, Pam Beesly.
The unofficial petition gained some traction and media attention, but ultimately county officials quashed my efforts. However, in the process, I learned some valuable information that was later used to provide historical consulting for other groups wishing to rename roads.
Conducting some more research for my book, I stumbled upon some old phone books in the ACPL genealogy center. Shelves upon shelves of ordinary whitepages spanned the hall. Realizing the power before me, I took to the internet.
“Jenna Fischer parents,” my fingers typed. I scrolled to a celebrity bio page. “Regina Marie Fischer. Parents: Jim and Anne Fischer.” My eyes raced to the shelf holding 1970s phonebooks. I pulled one from the shelf and flipped to the “F” section.
My finger traced the endless rows of last names, finally finding its destination: “James Fischer,” the page read. Behind the name, I found the address of Jenna Fischer’s old Summit City home. My attention returned to my phone.
I typed the numbers and letters of the seemingly ordinary address and clicked “search.” Apple Maps traced my route to the destination where The Office actress once lived—only two miles from my own childhood home.
But who lives there now? As a researcher, I had heard of a tool offered by Allen County that can display the tax records and payments of a particular property. These tax records, although outwardly bureaucratic and mundane, tell stories about the thousands of houses in Allen County.
The particular tax records I found told me several families once called the Fischers' old house, “home." The county documents indicated that the most recent tax payments came from a Scott A. Randolph, who purchased the home in the early 2000s from William J. Voors, a recently deceased Catholic priest who helped found St. Jude Parish, South Bend in 1948. Voors’s great-great-grandfather was Irish immigrant William Reed, for whom the nearby Reed Road is named.
Because I knew Scott’s address, perhaps I could have sent him a letter informing him about the history of his home. However, utilizing technology would be my first step in contacting him.
I found him on Facebook, but he last posted publicly in 2011. Scott had also listed his wife, Joanne, in his “intro” panel. Joanne’s account showed relatively recent activity, which indicated good chances that she would respond to my message.
After 10 days, Joanne returned my message. “Wow,” she typed. Surely, she did not expect a message from some random journalist on Facebook, much less a message telling her that a famous actress she had seen on TV once occupied the home in which her family had lived for years.
I set up a call with Joanne and Scott to learn more, at which point I learned that Scott is a bus driver for Fort Wayne Community Schools.
“One of our daughters—The Office is one of her favorite shows, so she’s watched every one of them,” he said. “Instantly, when (Fischer's) name came up, she knew who she was.”
I learned that the Randolph family had raised two daughters in the home, and one of their daughter’s family currently lives with them.
Several months later, I published my research on Fort Wayne’s roads under the title, Crossroads of History: Paving Through Fort Wayne’s Streets. In addition to the book, I established the Fort Wayne Road Commission (FWRC) as an entity through which I would record and maintain the history behind the city’s road names. The FWRC also maintains a list of potential future road names. This list is especially relevant as our nation considers renaming roads that remember stalwart advocates of slavery, like John C. Calhoun.
In short, McCoy’s small transcript from the 1940s gave me the power to write a book. Decades-old phone books and tax records led me to the Randolph family and their story. A house built with simple lumber and cement became a home for several families to make memories. For centuries, people gave names to mere strips of asphalt and concrete to remember their beloved family, friends, and experiences.
There’s a lot of beauty in these “ordinary” things in Fort Wayne. Isn’t that kind of the point?