Gary Olynger

Gary Olynger stands at the site of the planned Gas City Auditorium. Gary’s mother Phyllis, a former Mississinewa school teacher, donated the land to the city for the project.

The school that provided a livelihood to a teacher will now use land gifted from that teacher as the site of a new community auditorium in Gas City.

The new Gas City Auditorium, due to be completed in 2021, will be used by Mississinewa Community Schools. The land that it will stand on comes from the family of Phyllis Olynger, a former teacher at the school.

The Olynger family has owned and farmed their land for more than 100 years, according to Phyllis’ son Gary Olynger. The land first came into the family’s possession in 1910, when Sol Wise purchased 200 acres of land, including the location where the auditorium will be built.

The granddaughter of Sol was a woman named Phyllis Wise, and in 1943 Phyllis married Albert Olynger.

Phyllis spent much of her early years as a housewife, raising three sons, Gary said. It was not until later in Phyllis’ life that she sought to become a teacher, going back to school at age 45.

“When I was 14 or 15 she got a part-time job as a teacher’s aide,” Gary said. “She did that for two or three years. And she said to me: ‘The only thing a teacher’s aide has is they can go in an hour late. Other than that, they’re [teachers] making three times what I’m making.”

This realization led Phyllis to Indiana Wesleyan University, where she obtained a four year teaching degree in three and a half years. After graduation, she became a first-grade teacher for Mississinewa Community Schools, where she taught until her retirement.

The 200 acres that the Olynger family lived on remained in their possession until 2019. Phyllis, at the age of 94, signed an option with Gas City to gift five acres of the land to the city to create the new event center. Phyllis passed away from cancer two weeks later.

When officials approached Phyllis about potentially naming the event center in her honor due to the donation, Phyllis declined, according to Gary.

“She didn’t want it,” Gary said. “Most of the local people around here know about it because my family has owned this land forever.”

Instead of the center bearing her name, Phyllis chose to have the center represent the town of Gas City and Mississinewa Schools. Gary said she found pride in presenting the gift to the city, and without a form of recognition for it.

Now due to the donation of land, Mississinewa schools will have a new $13 million facility to maintain and be a home to the district’s fine arts and music departments, and Gas City will have an event center that they can use to cultivate new economic opportunities and draw in nationally recognizable acts to play or perform in the center.

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