Miller’s Senior Living Community is pleased to announce that Ric Ladonski of Niles will present a program about “The History of the Freshwater Pearl Industry” in the Michiana area. The free program begins at 2:00 p.m. Tuesday, June 24th in the Main Lobby and guests are invited.
People don’t usually think of the Michiana area as a hotbed of freshwater pearl activity, but that was certainly the case in the late 1800s to mid 1900s. Ladonski, a retired Niles teacher has researched the history of the area pearl industry and enjoys sharing his knowledge throughout the Michiana area.
Ladonski is a retired machine tool teacher in the Niles and Brandywine school districts. He became interested in learning more about the area’s pearl industry when he happened to be down at the Niles riverfront and saw a shell with holes in it showing evidence of machining.
“I saw a clamshell with half circles and then full circles punched out,” he said. “Then I saw the grooves and realized they had been machined. That’s my background. People think that buttons are punched, but that’s not true. They would shatter if they were punched. They were drilled.”
During his research Ladonski found that there were at least seven pearl button factories in the area, mostly along the St. Joseph River from Mishawaka to St. Joseph. There was also one on Paw Paw Lake near Watervliet.
The heyday of the pearl industry was from the late 1880s to the years right after World War II. The last factory closed in 1948 due to the development of zippers and plastic buttons.
Ladonski encourages men as well as women to attend the presentation. Men often find the connection between the tooling and machining of the pearl buttons quite interesting.
Miller’s Senior Living Community is located at 625 Oakhill Ave. For more information call 574-936-9801 and ask for Anna Corbett or Cindy Flagg. Children must be accompanied by an adult.
Photo Caption: Retired school teacher Ric Ladonski is pictured with some of his pearl display.