Business & Professional
A child of German immigrants, Nelson Bechstein was born into the grocery business.
His father opened the namesake downtown market in 1900, and Nelson became owner in 1937 after his father’s death. Nelson ran the Bechstein’s for 55 years, providing quality goods including a full-service meat department and a deli featuring barrels of its signature sauerkraut from a recipe the family brought with them when they immigrated from Germany in 1883.
Customer loyalty allowed the small, family-owned grocery to survive through an era when large supermarkets were running out the neighborhood stores. The Bechsteins never turned away anyone who was in need. They always made sure customers had milk, eggs, cereal or diapers, even after regular store hours.
Nelson was active in the community and was named Chief of the Flint Springs Tribe in 1976. When he died in 1992, his son Steven took over the store. The family celebrated 100 years of the grocery in 2000, but the store closed later that year.
The Bechstein’s building continues to provide food to those in need as a food pantry run by Love, INC.
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.
Drabenstot Family & Nick Freienstein
Many eateries across Indiana claim to have created the breaded pork tenderloin, and even more say they produce the best the state has to offer. But only at Nick’s Kitchen does the tale of the crispy bun-filler have firm roots. Unofficially recognized as the birthplace of the sandwich, the restaurant tops most rankings as the best tenderloin in Indiana and throughout the Midwest.
Nick Freienstein, who got his start selling hamburgers from a pushcart, opened Nick’s Kitchen in 1908 at 506 N. Jefferson Street. There, he added a new sandwich, a handheld version of the German wiener schnitzel, which quickly became a local favorite.
Gene and Peggy Drabenstot purchased the restaurant in 1969. All five of the Drabenstot children took part in the family business. Daughter Jean Anne bought Nick’s Kitchen from her parents in 1989, and she and her husband Kenny Bailey run the original downtown restaurant. Son Jim and his wife Dana purchased Nick’s Junction in Roanoke that same year. In 1992, daughter Nancy and her husband Ray Bonebrake opened Nick’s Country Cafe in Huntington. All three feature the famous tenderloin.
Dr. FSC Grayston
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. Robert M. Hafner
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.
Ralph & Barbara Johnson Family
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.
Law was an unlikely career choice for a farm lad from west-central Illinois, but Stanley H. Matheny has made the most of it. He has been an attorney in Huntington for more than six decades, earning a place as a leader in the legal community not just in Huntington County, but throughout Indiana.
Matheny was valedictorian of his high school class and was awarded a full scholarship to Wabash College. After attending Indiana University School of Law in Bloomington he joined the venerable Huntington practice of Lesh & Lesh in 1959 and is still of counsel to the firm, known today at Matheny, Hahn & Denman, LLP.
Matheny has long been active in the local and state bar associations as well as numerous community organizations and as a lay leader at Trinity United Methodist Church. His career has been highlighted by terms as judge of Huntington City Court and as Huntington City Attorney. Over time, his focus has settled on the realm of elder law, and Matheny has maintained his role as the unofficial “dean” of Huntington County attorneys.
Orville & Ruth Merillat
The transformative bond between Orville and Ruth Merillat and Huntington University was forged through a common purpose, based on a shared faith.
After World War II, the Merillats, both Ohio natives, settled down in Adrian, Mich., and opened Merillat Woodworking, Inc. Orville provided the design and craftsmanship while Ruth ran the business operations.
Over the next four decades, Merillat Industries grew into the nation’s largest manufacturer of kitchen and bathroom cabinetry, produced by more than 3,000 employees at 10 facilities. The Merillats, both dedicated members of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, dedicated themselves to return much of what they made to faith-based and community causes.
In the late 1960s, the Merillats’ son Richard was a student at Huntington College, supported by the United Brethren denomination. That association evolved into a philanthropic relationship that transformed the appearance of the 160-acre campus and continues to this day. Both Merillats served on the college’s board of trustees and were awarded honorary doctor of humanities degrees in 1978.
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.
Alvin & Clara Schenkel Family
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.
The Dewey & Julia Souder Family
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.
Dr. Douglas Ware
Doug Ware has spent his life in agriculture, and he understands the importance of having deep roots.
Even through his own travels across the country, and a worldwide reach from the products and methods he has created, Ware credits the foundational strength of his hometown Huntington for the successes in his life.
Ware was a top athlete and student at Huntington High School, playing on the legendary state runnerup 1964 Viking basketball team, and earning a football scholarship to Purdue.
He went on to earn a Ph.D. in animal nutrition and became an innovator in the industry, earning 33 patents for his natural products and methods that have enhanced efficiency in animal production, food safety and animal health.
Ware and his wife, Virginia, have shared their success by giving back to their hometown through donations for a science building at Huntington University and scholarships to help develop a new generation of leaders. He takes a personal mentoring approach, often meeting one-on-one with scholarship recipients.
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.
Gerald "Jerry" Yeoman
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.
William & Marjorie Zahn Family
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.