Like one of millions who left Europe for the United States in the early years of the 20th century, Jacob Leon Brenn hoped to find a new life in a new country. His journey eventually brought him to Huntington, where he became one of the most successful businessmen in the community’s history. Brenn’s Huntington Laboratories grew out of an old brewery to four sites across the country producing maintenance and sanitary products. Brenn also showed his love for his new country and town by becoming a civic leader involved with schools, organizations and his synagogue.
In 1907, two men from North Manchester decided to open a company in Huntington and make the city “Home of the Cedar Chest.” Winfred Runyan and J. Wallace Caswell knew of no other company at the time that commercially produced cedar chests. The Caswell-Runyan company started as a 15,000-square-foot factory at 1025 E. Franklin Street, with seven employees. Ten years later the factory was expanded to include a line of floor lamps and telephone stands. In 1925 they added again to their products, developing the first commercially produced radio cabinets, and later juke boxes. Runyan died in December 1942, and Caswell one month later in January of 1943. The company continued and created a metal division to aid the war effort. It grew to multiple buildings and thousands of employees. One of the most devastating fires in city history destroyed the factory in 1962. Caswell-Runyan cedar chests are still sought after for their quality and value.
Frederick Samuel Cooper Grayston was set up for a successful future in his native England when he and his new bride decided they would make a new life for themselves in America. They settled in Huntington, where Dr. FSC Grayston became one of the state’s top physicians and left a legacy in his adopted hometown that has lasted to the current day. Arriving in 1850 in Huntington, Grayston set up his medical practice. He continued his studies in Chicago, graduating in 1860. In 1864 he was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln as examining surgeon for invalid pensioners, an office he filled for twenty years. Dr. Grayston was committed to lifelong learning, and earned a master of arts degree from Butler in 1880 at the age of 57. He contributed numerous articles to the medical community that were widely published, and held memberships in several medical associations. He was active in many Huntington organizations. He was a voracious reader, and built one of the most extensive libraries in northern Indiana. All three of his sons and a grandson followed him into local medical practice.
Dr. R.M. “Doc” Hafner was a civic force of nature who devoted the last half of a remarkable career to helping people and businesses in Huntington County prosper and grow. Reared on a family farm in Allen County, Hafner was an Army Air Corps pilot in World War II. He was a large-animal veterinarian who gravitated to banking and became chairman of the board and president of Community State Bank in 1971. In a remarkably influential 15 years of leadership in the financial sector, Hafner provided guidance, counsel, and financial support for an array of local businesses, from large corporations to individual entrepreneurs. Honors that came his way included a Sagamore of the Wabash from the state of Indiana and Chief of the Flint Springs Tribe from the Huntington County Chamber of Commerce.
Homer Hiner, born into a Huntington County farm family, was president of his high school senior class and played on a county champion basketball team. After a hitch in the Navy he returned home to open a diesel engine repair shop on Huntington’s south side. Before long he was driving his own truck and his company began securing hauling contracts. Hiner Transport quickly grew into a major regional carrier. His original complement of three trucks grew to a fleet of 132 tractors, 360 trailers, and 152 employees, and the trucks were a familiar sight on highways and byways for more than three decades. At home, Hiner was a key figure in civic projects from bicycle tracks to shooting ranges to all manner of assistance to community festivals. For decades he and his wife, Marj, supported, in ways large and small, advancement at Huntington and Ball State universities, Parkview Health, the Boys and Girls Club and the Historic Forks of the Wabash.
For more than 90 years, the Johnson family has provided the daily fuel to keep the residents of Huntington County moving. Initially, that meant the actual gasoline that filled the cars and trucks. Later, the business expanded to offer a different kind of fuel — the coffee, donuts and snacks from their Johnson Junction convenience stores with a variety of offerings for people on the go. Edward Johnson started Johnson Petroleum while working for Standard Oil in 1928. He sold the business to his son, Ralph, in 1971. Ralph continued to build the business by adding volume, trucks, and opening it first convenience store in 1975. When Ralph retired in 1999, he sold the wholesale division to his son Ryan, and the retail business to his daughter Darlene. Through the years, all of the Johnsons have given back to the community. They have been on numerous boards, volunteered in service and church organizations and contributed philanthropically.
John Niederman and Pathfinder Services have been on an extraordinary journey, together, for nearly 35 years. Pathfinder, the Huntington-based social services agency, has earned state and national accolades for the breadth and quality of its human and community development services. Niederman has led the organization to that recognition, and in the process has himself been recognized as an imaginative, inspiring voice in social services policy. In 1978, Niederman, a Notre Dame graduate, and his wife Judy moved to Fort Wayne, where John took a position as director of special services and vocational education for the Anthony Wayne Rehabilitation Center. Niederman joined Pathfinder in March 1985 as its president and chief executive officer. Under his leadership, Pathfinder has become a statewide leader in comprehensive human and community development efforts and has established offices in several northern Indiana locations.
For more than half a century, Huntington felt the influence of the leadership of Don Purviance. After serving in World War II, Purviance returned to his family's Majestic Company, building it into the nation's leading fireplace manufacturer. He was devoted to improving life in Huntington, and took on leadership roles in community organizations, service groups, youth development and agencies for health and aging. He and his wife, Emmy, were also avid supporters of the work of Huntington University and the First Presbyterian Church.
One of Huntington’s longest-lasting and most successful businesses had humble beginnings. Alvin and Clara Schenkel’s dairy started with just two cows, but grew to not only be know for their business acumen, but for the quality of their products, which have been honored nationally on multiple occasions. Schenkel Dairy remained in the family through four generations, and over the years the dairy and those family members have been active in helping to create better communities in Huntington County.
Jim Shuttleworth was an engineering visionary and entrepreneur who took materials-handling innovation from Huntington County to a worldwide market. Shuttleworth, Inc. – founded in 1962 in Warren and later moved to Huntington – became a leader in conveyor systems for custom manufacturing and shipping needs. Jim Shuttleworth was the guiding force in the company’s global expansion. At home, he supported a variety of civic causes as well as his alma mater Purdue University, and Huntington University. He was a pilot who restored and flew World War II-vintage military aircraft. He lost his life at the controls of one of those planes in 2003.
Appointed by the Board of Trustees of the Methodist Memorial Home for the Aged in 1937, Dewey and Julia Souder moved to Warren, Indiana, from pastoring a Methodist Church in Roanoke to be Administrator of the Home in Warren. Dr. Souder served as Administrator for 28 years followed by his son, Philip E. Souder, who took over full leadership responsibilities in 1965. The current United Methodist Memorial Home CEO is David P. Souder (Philip’s son) who has served in that capacity since 1993. The United Methodist Memorial Home was founded on the philosophy of helping senior citizens fully enjoy their retirement years, a philosophy of fostering friendship, belonging, security, and dignity, by respecting individual privacy and independence while offering professional and thoughtful medical care and guidance. United Methodist Memorial Home owns and operates Heritage Pointe of Warren, Heritage Pointe of Huntington, and Heritage Pointe of Fort Wayne with 750 employees, over $85 million in assets and serves more than 900 residents at the three locations.
With products distributed to more than 90 countries, Van Buren-based Weaver Popcorn is one of the leading brands in the business. Welcome Weaver brought the company to prominence after he came on board in 1945 to join his father, who started the business in 1928. Welcome Weaver was also active in the Huntington County community in leadership with the Methodist Church, the local YMCA and on the school board, where he assisted Huntington County through consolidation in the 1960s.
Jerry Yeoman was one of those rare people who not only comes up with ideas but takes a leadership role in helping put the ideas into action. He started Yeoman Engineering in the garage at his home on North Lafontaine Street in 1959. Yeoman built his company into a successful and well-respected business producing high-quality precision industrial molds. He was active in the United Way and served on the Huntington County Medical Memorial Foundation for many years. His passion for building Huntington’s infrastruture led him to a co-found the Lime City Economic Development Commission and he was instrumental in the development of River Forks Industrial Park. His care for the people of Huntington County showed with his involvement in establishing Pathfinder Services, PAL and Little League (Gemmer Field) baseball, and the LaFontaine Center.
First Federal Savings Bank can trace its corporate lineage back more than a century. But the First Federal we know today began 62 years ago, when a Huntington businessman, William Zahn, joined the board of directors of People’s Savings and Loan. That board appointment led to Zahn becoming a bank employee. He rose quickly to become a vice president and, in 1963, was named its president. Three years later, the institution’s name was changed to First Federal Savings and Loan, now First Federal Savings Bank. William Zahn retired from First Federal in 1990, but his legacy of family leadership continues at the institution. His son, Stephen E. Zahn, joined the bank in 1966 and became its president and chief operating officer in 1980. The third generation of Zahn family leadership at First Federal arrived when Stephen Zahn’s son Michael joined the business in 1996. He succeeded his father as president and in 2011 became the bank’s CEO.