1981: An Amazing Year…Ronald Reagan was elected our 40th President. Columbia, the first space-rated shuttle, catapulted into outer-space. MS-DOS was released by Microsoft. Lady Diana Spencer married Charles The Prince of Wales. MTV was launched.
And, Playboy came to Kokomo
It was also the year of my birth. Having spent the majority of my 34 years in Kokomo, I had heard whispers of the elusive Playboy article picturing Kokomo’s “landscapes”. Well, the Volume 28, Number 4, April 1981 Playboy Issue with The Girls of Kokomo, is in fact real.
And, I viewed it recently. You know, for the articles.
Instead of clumsily thumbing for a centerfold like an eager adolescent boy, I handled the magazine like a curator holding a piece of history (mainly wishing that I had worn gloves ewww). Seriously, I don’t know where this thing has been.
I quickly glanced over the nudie pics and wispy Farrah Fawcett hairdos, and I went straight to the words. Admittedly, I expected paragraphs highlighting Kokomo’s barely-there bars…after all, this is Playboy.
But instead, I was surprised and fascinated. There are gorgeous women worldwide. So, why come to Kokomo?
“Jeff Cohen, the Associate Photo Editor [of Playboy] and impossible dreamer who makes these projects happen explains, ‘Among other reasons, Ronald Reagan, during his campaign in Florida, said that Kokomo epitomized every small town in the country – That in its problems – unemployment, inflation, its dependence on a few sources of income – were shared by many towns its size’”.
That is what enticed Playboy’s visit. Kokomo’s economy has garnered national headlines more than once. For example, nearly seven years ago Forbes diagnosed Kokomo as one of “America’s Fastest-Dying Towns”. Then just last year, CNN ranked Kokomo as #1 in its “Housing: Top 10 Most Affordable Small Cities”. Our economy rebounded, our population is growing, and Kokomo looks better than ever.
We are an impressively resilient city
To really understand this, we have to take a look at our history. Which is probably why the Playboy author did his due diligence to explain the new and old Kokomo from his perspective.
Referring to the “new Kokomo”, the author alludes that the commercialism, along what is now State Road 931, is an “abomination”. People just passing through Kokomo on 931, would not have a sense of what else Kokomo has to offer. There isn’t anything wrong with fast-food chains or malls, but a lot of cities have these. They are convenient, frequented often and economically important- but not unique.
“The old Kokomo is much more pleasant”, expresses the author. The character and history of our city were not lost on him. “Quiet streets, old-time architecture…Rockwellian innocence…cars parked around the square…the charm undeniable”
The article predicted that “Somewhere between the old and the new, is the future of Kokomo”.
And, here we are today
Preserving the old with restoration to historic land sites and revitalization. Improving infrastructure with new sidewalks, safer streets, public transportation and over 46 miles of trails. And, we are welcoming the new ALL OVER Kokomo…
- Northside: Complete revamp of the Northside Little League Park, Metco Inc. expansion, Patriot Porcelain reopened, 9 new single family homes built using NSP funds (Neighborhood Stabilization Program realized from federal stimulus funding), AndyMark Inc. robotics expansion
- Eastside: Saran Industries invests $4.4 million to create jobs, Markland Mall renovations, Martin Luther King Memorial, Jackson Street Commons, Cutler Park improvements, new construction/new retail, Kokomo Airport expansion via $2.2 million grant from FAA
- Downtown: Partnership with Howard County on the Downtown Incentive Package, the YMCA, the parking garage, Kokomo Municipal Stadium, Depot District revitalization
- Westside: Soccer Complex, new fire station on Dixon, new dog park, Walk of Excellence Trail extension, JCF Real Estate 13 acre investment
- Southside: Indiana University of Kokomo remodel, IUK Annex student housing (88% leased as of early October), Kokomo Auto World invests multi-million dollar remodel, Jackson-Morrow Park reforestation
AND, the city has increased its operating cash balance by nearly $15 million in the last eight years, while also maintaining the lowest total debt per capita when compared to its Howard County counterparts, Russiaville and Greentown.
With more than $2 Billion in private investment since 2009, the lowest unemployment rates in 15 years, more than 75 new businesses, and playing ball at the Kokomo Municipal Stadium; we’ve come a long way, Kokomo!
Progress and perseverance
From Playboy to play ball, a lot can change in 34 years. But Kokomo didn’t die as a town, instead it flourished while becoming stronger. And, Playboy just announced that it will no longer center its brand on nudes and instead will focus more on articles, which I found to be well-written and insightful.
There are some things that will never change though…
Kokomo will always be,
“A bighearted little city with a sense of pride, a sense of accomplishment, a sense of history and one hell of a good sense of humor”
Well said, Playboy. Well said.