By DEBRA K. SCHEIMAN-NEILSON
Allen County Senior Life Newspaper
FORT WAYNE — Kind, caring and compassionate are three adjectives Chuck Surack’s employees use to define him. They aren’t alone. Fort Wayne rejoices in the accomplishments and achievements of this humble human and how they’ve benefitted our great city.
“It feels like a personal responsibility really,” Surack proclaims. “I mean I’ve been incredibly fortunate and blessed. How sad would it be to go through life and not help others in need along the way?”
Helping is one of the things Surack does best. His choice of business investments has sustained or created many local job opportunities. His time, talents and philanthropic efforts have resulted in shelves full of awards, but Surack isn’t about the acclaim.
“The only reasoning behind the awards for me is the hope to encourage others,” he says.
Surack traces his successes as a leading entrepreneur, businessman and philanthropist back to his childhood where he made and sold potholders by the hundreds and managed an extensive paper route.
“The same principles I learned in Boy Scouts of being trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent remain my same mottos to this day. These are amazing standards to live by and in which to conduct business. I teach all the employees to always do the right thing for the customer.”
Welcomed into Surack’s office, it felt more like a ‘home’ atmosphere where employees were cared for like extended family.
“I hate it when anyone feels intimidated by me,” he acknowledges. “I sit in the cafeteria and chat. Employees can get on my calendar anytime if they want to talk.”
He is clearly a man of influence, yet highly respectful and almost unassuming.
“My father was my biggest role model,” he recalls. “He was a chemical engineer who also ran various businesses including a TV repair shop, exterminator service and a pro-bowling center.”
Born in Ohio, Surack’s parents moved to Fort Wayne when he was a seventh-grader. A saxophonist since fifth grade, he continued playing through high school, where he was in Wayne High School marching band. After graduation, he toured as a saxophonist/keyboardist with a band until 1979. He then returned home to Fort Wayne, creating a mobile 4-track recording studio out of an old VW bus, where he taped preachers and singers randomly, then reworked the recordings for better sound inside the living room of his mobile home. He later purchased a modest 1,000 square foot home, where his first recording was produced out of the garage. He dubbed the enterprise ‘Sweetwater Sound.’
By 1990, he was selling as well as recording. Ever tech savvy, he reverse engineered a Kurzweil 250 synthesizer and before long drew the attention of famous entertainers seeking his expertise for their own sound.
In 2006, Sweetwater opened its corporate headquarters on 44 acres off US 30 West with around 220 employees. Now 1,500 employee-strong, the ever expanding campus holds corporate offices, a music store, recording studio, service center, theater and pavilion for concerts, warehouses and more.
“No two days are alike ever,” affirms Surack. “I work hard – 110 percent and play hard. I’m just a normal person who believes failure is not an option; anything is possible.”
Surack, 61, and his wife, Lisa, have two adult sons, Cameron and Tyler and a 12-year-old daughter, Adderley. He remains an active musician and enjoys flying helicopters.