Tribune Staff Writer
NEW BUFFALO — The country's first Highway Travel Information Center celebrated its 75th birthday Thursday. And the event marked more than one special occasion. Maureen Lubke didn't anticipate a farewell party on her last day with customer service at what is today called the New Buffalo Welcome Center.
Although the day marked a historical occasion, Lubke would tell anyone who listened the celebration was for her, and she almost kept a straight face. "That's what I've been telling people," the New Buffalo resident said. "They threw me such a wonderful party. Nobody has ever done that." Lubke has worked at the center for three summers. The center first opened on May 4, 1935, on U.S. 12, only a few minutes from its current location. It moved into its more modern facilities on April 6, 1972, to be adjacent to Interstate 94 after its completion. Nearly 40 years later, the facilities still receive compliments. "Everybody who comes through tells us how nice the grounds are," Lubke said. "I think the maintenance crew deserves credit for that." On Thursday, more than the facilities attracted people, as a ceremony unveiled a new state historic marker commemorating the center as the first of its kind. Door prize drawings, a "Taste of Michigan" table, a third-grade choir and the presence of Miss Michigan 2009, Nicole Blaszczyk, highlighted the celebration. Lubke said the compliments and people passing through have always been her favorite part of the job, and the full parking lot exemplified her point."It's a fun job. You meet a lot of people," she said. "I'll miss that. "Some of those people travel through the center on a routine basis. One Chicago resident, who didn't identify himself, said he has been making the trip through the area every couple of months for 18 years, and happened to come across the anniversary celebration. "We usually stop here because it's about the halfway point. You can stop here and use the bathrooms, get a drink of water and stretch your legs," he said. "When I drove in, I told my wife, 'Something must be going on here. I can't imagine why there are so many people.'" Whether there were so many people because of the center's anniversary or Lubke's last day, the celebration marked a distinct point in both histories. "This has been the biggest thing to happen while I've been here," Lubke said.
Staff writer Douglas Farmer: firstname.lastname@example.org
South Bend Tribune