Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Who We Are 2013

February 28, 2011

Friends In it for long haul

They went to school together, played sports together and now they enjoy life as neighbors

GOSHEN — Two young boys met in elementary school and became fast friends. That duo became a trio in high school.

Since then the bond between Jim Hoke, Brent Bontrager and Mitch Herschberger has been unbreakable.

The three have only grown closer over the years — and not just emotionally. The men literally live next to each other.

They didn’t plan it that way, though.

Brent lived in Georgia until he was 5 years old and moved to Goshen.

“Literally, the first guy I meet was Jimmy,” he said, “We’ve been friends ever since.”

Brent and Jim went to Model Elementary School and then continued on to Towncrest Junior High together. Mitch was at Parkside Elementary School and attended Whiteman Junior High.

Then at the onset of high school, gym class happened.

Mitch and Brent exchanged a few “comments” in gym, they slapped each other in the face and like that they were friends. The three had lunch together and their friendship was cemented.

All three were on the football team. (Brent was also on the baseball team, Jim on the wrestling team and Mitch on the basketball team.)

“There’s never been a black sheep of the three,” Brent said.

Post high-school

For many a school friend, graduation day would have spelled the end to that closeness.

Jim and Mitch went on to study criminal justice and become police officers for the Goshen Police Department.

Brent married classmate Kris Grise and immediately put down roots in Goshen.

But every Wednesday and Thursday night — Mitch and Jim’s nights off work — Kris would make dinner for the single friends of her husband.

At the time, Mitch lived a couple of blocks from the Bontragers. Soon after, Jim bought a house a couple of blocks from the Bontragers and Mitch moved in with him. They lived together for four years.

When the house next door to the Bontragers came up for sale, Mitch bought it. They were next door neighbors for two years. Mitch had also in the meantime married his wife Julia (Fisher) in 2002.

Brent, a financial adviser for EdwardJones Investments in Elkhart, had a growing family — daughters, Jordan, 18, Katie, 16 (Mitch’s goddaughter), Rilee, 10, and Madison, 8 (Jim’s goddaughter) — so they moved to a new home in a nice, new subdivision on the city’s west side.

The Herschbergers were also busy starting their family. Because they were expecting, the Herschbergers decided to move into a larger home and did so in 2004 — next to the Bontragers. They now have two sons, William, 6, who is named after Brent, and Emmet, 5, who is named after Jim.

“This whole thing was not planned,” Jim said laughing as Mitch explained that Jim was the next one to move in. Jim’s house was in the process of being built by the Goshen High School building trades class when the Herschbergers moved in — and it just happened to be the next lot.

About six months ago, Jim and his 13-year-old son Brady added to their family. Jim married his wife, Jennifer, who has a 9-year-old son, Nicco.

“It’s not like we can’t cut the umbilical cord and get away from each other,” Bontrager said.

It all just worked out the way it did by happenstance, they insist.

Life as neighbors

So what do three friends with three adjoining backyards do?

“We all spend a lot of time out back,” Julia said.

The families get together for barbecues and just hang out talking.

Will feeds Brent’s dogs every morning. And the school bus stops at Brent’s house, so all the kids congregate there in the morning to wait for the bus.

“All of our wives are apt to correct us,” Mitch said with the other two agreeing wholeheartedly. “Regardless of whose husband it is.”

They are all able to get into each other’s homes through a key or garage codes — good for emergencies, not so good for three men who like to play pranks on each other. The Herschberger house has had its inside toilet papered.

The pranks aren’t limited to the adults.

“I’ve got to watch myself when I go out in the morning,” Brent said, because the kids like to launch water balloons at him.

One benefit to being neighbors is sharing tools, equipment and labor.

“We share one riding lawn mower and one snow blower,” Brent said. “Jimmy definitely is the one who takes care of the yards and the driveway more than the other two of us.”

Mitch said he has a push mower that he likes to use — “It’s about the only exercise I get.”

Julia said that when she needs help fixing things in the house or even hanging wall decorations, Brent is the one she calls.

“I’m not very good with tools,” Mitch explained.

Instead, he’ll volunteer to watch all of the kids.

With all of their commitments, the three men may not be able to spend as much time as they used to together but they make a point to stay involved with each other and with the kids.

“We are all just as good as friends as ever,” Brent said. “We are kind and respectful to each other, but we all have our flaws.”

Raising a family in Goshen

All three said they never had a second thought about staying in Goshen and raising families.

“Goshen still has the hometown atmosphere,” Mitch said. “It’s gotten bigger, but it still has Friday night football and the Olympia. It’s not Chicago or Indianapolis or South Bend, but it’s close enough if we want to go, we can.”

And, Brent added, Goshen is good for children.

“It’s a great place for kids,” Brent said. “The Goshen schools have extremely good academics.”

Jim agreed.

“I never thought twice,” he said, “about sending them somewhere else.”

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