Honoring enterprise, invention, innovation and entrepreneurs is the purpose behind the annual Kosciusko Economic Development Corporation’s Entrepreneur and Innovation Hall of Fame.
Six companies and 13 individuals associated with those companies were inducted into the KEDCo Hall of Fame Wednesday evening in Warsaw.
Honored individuals included Paul, Steve and Bruce Grossnickle, Dr. Ron Manahan, Elburn “Gay” and Dan Robinson, Bill Henthorn, Reub and Chandler Williams and the Williams Family and Rex, Brent and Josh Wildman.
Companies recognized were Grossnickle Eye Center, Grace College, Robinson Construction, Seymour/Midwest Rake, Times-Union/Reub Williams and Sons and Wildman Business Group.
George Robertson, KEDCo president, gave the background on the Hall of Fame. Questions focused on the county’s uniqueness, why it is the orthopedic capital of the world, have one of the highest per acre “value-added” dollars in agriculture and have unique world-class manufacturing companies in this county.
The answers resulted in celebrating the tradition of invention, innovation and entrepreneurship of the county’s history, its present and its future.
To date there have been 24 companies recognized for making providing a strong county economy and providing jobs for residents.
Paul Grossnickle had served as a U.S. Navy fighter pilot and later as a Navy optometrist. In 1957 when he returned home, he started his optometrist practice. This was the beginning of a practice that saw constant and strong growth, evolving to include opthamlmology services. Retiring in 2005, at 81, Groosnickle turned the business over to his sons, Dr. Steven Grossnickle and Dr. Bruce Grossnickle. Today they have over 100 employees, performing 5,000 surgeries a year and handling 50,000 patient visits.
Grace College Seminary
Dr. Ron Manahan was the fifth president of the college. His visionary leadership brought development of new programs, construction of new facilities, expansion of global outreach and affordable tuition for students and families. He insisted the college be a partner of the community and serve the community. He was a key initiator and facilitator in working with BioCrossroads on a grant from the Lilly Endowment resulting in OrthoWorx and the Orthopedic Capital Foundation. Numerous accomplishment occurred during his tenure.
Gay and Martha Robinson started the company in 1956 building homes in the Warsaw area. By 1959 the company started in commercial and industrial work. It was Robinson Construction, along with six other local businessmen, that bought the Wagon Wheel Theatre and built and operated a Holiday Inn franchise, now Wyndham Gardens.
The company is now operated by his son Dan. With the help of their businsses, RCI developed Pierceton’s first industrial park, started Medcast, formed West Hill Development purchasing 110 acres off of US 30 and Silveus. They financed and leased the first speculative building currently occupied by Custom Engineered Wheels. They later invested in another start-up Winona PVD.
Bob South and Steve Petty started Midwest Rake Company in a garage where they made a prototype rake. Their first order was 144 units as a result of a trade show. The original owners sold their shares to Bill and Bobbi Henthorn and Jeff and Jo Plank in 1996 and 2000 respectively.
Growth continued for the company, focusing on markets for tools in landscaping and irrigation contracts. The company purchased Seymour Manufacturing, Seymour in 2012 and in 2013, adopted a new name to reflect the merger of over 23 different tool brands. With over 250 employees, the company makes over 3,500 different tools and 8,000 different repair handles, selling worldwide.
The daily newspaper has its beginnings back to 1854 when Civil War General Reub Williams began penning public occurrences of the day. The first publication was The Northern Indianian and was the first newspaper in the county and state to receive news electronically through the telegraph. The Williams family also started WRSW and was the first radio station in the state to have a female sports announcer and the first to provide sports coverage.
Wildman Business Group
Rex Wildman started the business in 1952. He had flown supplies over the hump in China during World War II, returning home and starting a career with Standard Oil. He risked everything when he purchased a local dry cleaner and in 1963 moved the company to Warsaw, known as “Warsaw Cleaners and Shirt Laundry” or Buffalo Street Cleaners.
In 1977 Rex and his son, Brent, ventured into the industrial uniform industry. In 1992 the business expanded launching a new direct sale division, Signet Expressions, which transformed into Wildman Corporate Apparel. In 1998 Brent acquired a competitor, doubling the business overnight. Steve Bryant became chief executive officer in 2000. In 12 years the company grew from $3.75 million in revenue to $38 million and from 70 employees to 200.
Under Bryant’s leadership and with family support, the company diversified into Facility Services, Wildman Corporate Apparel, Winona Paper and Sportula Products, known as iDNA Brands. Josh Wildman, Brent’s son, became chief executive officer in 2011. Under his leadership there has been 175 percent growth in the first several years.