Service Above Self
The 1.2 million-member organization of Rotary International had somewhat of a simple start. As most people and businesses do, Paul P. Harris, a Chicago attorney, started rotating to different places to eat lunch with his friends, exchanging ideas, and networking. On Feb. 23, 1905, the Rotary Club of Chicago was born. Less than nine years later, the Rotary Club of Evansville formed on Dec. 9, 1913. The club received its charter on March 1, 1914, which marks this year as its 100th anniversary. To celebrate, the Rotary Club of Evansville is hosting a Gala Centennial Celebration at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 1 at The Old National Events Plaza.
“This club has probably been the prominent service club in the city,” says Jeffrey Berger, who was selected to be the club’s president during its centennial year. “We are 240 plus members strong. It’s a special time when a lot of service clubs are struggling right now. A lot of clubs are struggling in membership and we’re maintaining, holding on, and doing great, and now this is our year to celebrate all of these accomplishments.”
Berger, who works as Vice President, Chartered Wealth Advisor and Financial Consultant at Hilliard Lyons, has been with the Rotary Club of Evansville for 17 years. He joined at 26 when he moved to Evansville as the then-executive director at the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra. Jock Moody, a board member of the EPO and longtime member of Rotary, told Berger to join, and he did.
“I had no idea what Rotary even was,” Berger says. “For a long time, all I did was come to meetings. First, I came purely for networking. My goal was to tell some people about the orchestra, raise money, sell some tickets, and whatever happened happened. Then I started to get involved, and you start to learn about the international component (34,000 clubs in more than 200 countries and geographical areas) and the role in the community, and it’s amazing.”
The Rotary Club of Evansville meets every Tuesday (a tradition that has been kept for 100 years) at noon to around 1 p.m. to eat lunch while reviewing club business and listening to keynote speakers. Annual dues are $640.
Evansville’s club, the 102nd charter, began with 114 members with R.H. Pennington, a wholesale fruit dealer, as its first president leading meetings in the St. George Hotel, which was located at the corner of S.E. First and Locust streets.
Since then, meetings of the Rotary Club of Evansville have moved locations five times — first from the St. George Hotel, which was built in 1874 but razed in 1915 to make way for the construction of the McCurdy Hotel at the same site. Meetings were held in the Pompeian Room on the ground floor of the hotel, while special meetings took place in the Rose Room on the top floor. During the next 100 years, the club met at Hadi Shrine, the Executive Inn, Memorial Coliseum, and finally at the Tropicana Executive Conference Center where meetings are held today with its more than 240 members.
In an article in the Evansville Courier dated April 11, 1915, a member of Rotary was described as “coming to his meeting with a big broad grin on his face, expecting to have and to help others have a genuine good time, and goes away happier, and better prepared to withstand the worries and cares of business life.” The original motto of Rotary International was: “He profits most who serves best.”
“Service Above Self” later replaced the original motto in the 1960s. And that’s exactly what the Rotary Club of Evansville has been determined to live up to.
The Rotary Foundation of Evansville Inc. was formed in 1990 and is the charitable arm, which funds local educational and service projects.
“We give our money to schools through grants and services projects,” Berger says. “Recently we created the North Woods trails, which is a full trail system, used by people of all ages. We did the Rotary Youth Fitness Center at the YMCA of Southwestern Indiana, a fitness center with smaller equipment for kids, the Howell Wetlands Project … We renovated the women’s restrooms at the Old Coliseum — it was not our finest service project, but somebody had to do it.”
Rotary did not overlook its obligation to the youth of the community. It provided the funds to construct and maintain the “Monkey Ship,” one of the oldest structures at Mesker Park Zoo in the summer of 1933. Twenty rhesus macaques or Nazuri monkeys were added to the concrete structure, which was a reasonably accurate replica of Christopher Columbus’ Santa Maria at one-third scale surrounded by water.
During the holiday season, a special meeting and program was provided for the children of the members.
The club sponsored a special lunch honoring all of the scholars from the city’s high school, who posted a 3.0 grade point average over the preceding two semesters. The program began in 1965, and discontinued in the early 1980s. The club also awarded several district Rotary Foundation Fellowships to students at the University of Evansville and University of Southern Indiana for overseas study for one year.
Membership in Rotary is based upon one’s business or professional classification. There could be only one classification given for a multi-business or professional organization. Over the ensuing years, some fairly detailed classifications were created to allow a person to become a member. For examples, “Sand and Gravel” was the classification for J.W. Bedford, who owned Bedford Nugent Sand and Gravel Company. “Awnings and Tents” was created for John J. Daus, whose father founded Anchor Industries, Inc.
Until May 1987, membership also was restricted to men only. The Supreme Court ruled in a 7-to-0 decision that states may outlaw such discrimination by Rotary Clubs. That same year, the Rotary Club of Evansville’s Board of Directors took immediate action and admitted two women into its membership on the same day — Jan Davies, then and current CEO of the Girl Scouts of Southwestern Indiana, and Carolyn Georgette, the then-Vice President of the Indiana Bell Telephone Company, who is now deceased.
Davies, the first member inducted, says she’s heard “through folklore” that a coin flip decided which of the two women would be admitted first. The flip of the coin went to Davies, who has been a Rotary member since.
As president of the Junior League of Evansville and CEO of the Girl Scouts, Davies found herself being recruited into Rotary after the Supreme Court decision.
“I think the older members were more uncomfortable than the younger members,” says Davis of being a woman entering a men’s club. “I don’t think that it was a negative feel, yet more of an uncomfortableness. At any point when there is radical change with something, not everybody is very happy about that, but I always felt that everyone was very positive.”
Two weeks later, Margaret Blair, who was the CEO of Research Systems, Inc., joined. In 1996, Georgette became the first female president of the club. Fellow female, Pepper Mulherin, is the current President-Elect and the AT&T Director of External Affairs for Southern Indiana.
It’s these changes and the ability to adapt that Berger says the club is constantly striving toward.
“There is a lot of tradition, but also a need for growth,” Berger says. “We have to change and attract a new and younger generation. The biggest struggle is getting younger members to join. The average age used to be 35-37 and now it is 20 years older.”
One of the ways Rotary is working on attracting younger members to the club is to first introduce them to Rotaract, an organization for young professionals ages 21-35 in the Evansville community.
Rotaract meets on the second Thursday of each month at 11:30 a.m. on the 15th floor of the Fifth Third Bank in Downtown Evansville. Yearly dues are $170, which covers lunch and membership.
“For someone who is 30 years old and who is trying to get in the business, and to sit and have lunch with the president of USI, to have the opportunity to sit and socialize and network with them, it is worth the invest of their time and resources to come,” Berger says.
(Harry Lukens, Rotary Club of Evansville Historian, contributed to this story.)
For more information about the Rotary Club of Evansville, contact 812-962-4687 or visit evansvillerotary.com.
We’ve missed this little online extra we prepared for several years, so we’re bringing it back. To show how stories in our February/March issue of Evansville Business fit into the broader context of world events, this edition of Link Up brings the Internet to you. No Google search required.
Now that you know about Bitcoin
Financial writer Bob Boxell explained the virtual currency you’ve been reading about. To most of us, bitcoins sound both exotic and confusing. Our story was timely. The Silk Road, a website that allows users to buy and sell black market drugs with bitcoin, making it one of the biggest players in the virtual currency market was hacked last week. Read about the $2.6 million hack in this article in Forbes.
Evansville Rotary celebrates 100 years of service in 2014. We paid tribute to the influential organization with our cover story. Just this week, Rotary International, gave an additional $36 million in support of polio immunization efforts. Since 1985 Rotary has led the battle against polio, and kept the pressure on as worldwide cases plummeted from 350,000 per year to several hundred.
All in the Family
Could you work with your family? The Nix family, led by brothers David and Dan, have successfully run restaurants in Evansville for 40 years. They’ll have to keep going, though, to compete with the longevity of the oldest true family-owned restaurant in the U.S.: Antoine’s in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The restaurant originally opened in 1840, but moved to a larger location and reopened in the 1860s. Antoine’s has consistently served up platters of traditional Louisiana Creole, and claims to have invented Oyster Rockefeller. As the story goes, Antoine Alciatore tried for more than two years to establish himself in New York when he decided to move his family to New Orleans, and set up a restaurant. He envisioned a business that would see his family through for generations to come. Read about New Orleans “most beloved dowager” in this Gourmet story from 2009.
The Rising Tide
Those of you who know me, either personally or through the pages of Evansville Business, know that my oars don’t go too terribly deep into the water so from time to time I afford myself the opportunity to impart random information to clear my mind and help me remember where I left my car keys. So away we go.
This morning when I awakened at 4:55 to go for my 5:30 run, it was a balmy three degrees. With age comes a little bit of wisdom so I can assure you that my morning run was indoors on a track. My long time running companion, Michael, who is (believe it or not at 5:20) always early to pick me up, was of course already waiting when I came downstairs at 5:17 a.m. We both have found that it is more advantageous to our workout regimen if we rely on the other to force us out of our warm beds and onto the track. Our standing agreement is that if either of us is not up for the run that we can go to Denny’s to have breakfast. Over the last 20-something years, neither of us has ever exercised that option, although we have come remarkably close a few times. But this morning, sitting in the lobby of the fitness center without ever removing my warm-up clothes while drinking coffee, reading the paper, and watching the news, seems like the best idea. I don’t think I will be doing that again anytime soon; the insults from the gym faithful were fast and furious. After speaking to many others, I don’t feel like I’m alone in apathy after the horrendous winter that we are enduring and being more than a little winter-fatigued.
Yes, I know you’re just dying to know my thoughts on the Indiana University Medical School’s Evansville location. By now everyone in the community is very familiar with this project, which has the potential economic impact of $340 million by 2020, along with programs that will include more than 265 health professional students within three years of opening the campus. There has been a considerable debate that has occurred in the community and for some reason, many people have asked if I have any inside information because I am in the media business (I do not), and my wife is on the Indiana School of Medicine-Evansville Community Advisory Committee (she does not) as to where the ultimate location will be. While I have my own personal preference, this project reminds me very much of early discussion of the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana, even prior to forming a Board of Directors. We were fresh off of Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana, Inc. opening their new facility in Princeton, Ind. The one thing everyone involved in economic development has realized is that this type of investment in the region no matter the locale is certainly a rising tide for all boats. Toyota now employs 4,500 people and indirectly has contributed to an additional 12,910 jobs throughout the state. They have been a tremendous advocate in our community philanthropically and what I find most impressive is that when the economic downtown occurred in 2009, Toyota refused to lay off any of their team members. Instead they used that production downtime for training, reinvestment, and helping the communities in which they serve. So no matter where the IU Medical School decides to locate, I am very confident that this will be a remarkable win for our entire community and will create additional business spinoffs and opportunities in health and technology. Just look at what has transpired a mere 25 miles away.
An ongoing “issue” of mine and in these letters over the years is, as a long time youth sports coach, I have seen a continued decline of youth league sportsmanship. No matter what I write about on this page, nothing elicits as much agreement and conversation in my columns as the drastic need to reverse the continued slide and decline of youth league sportsmanship. For those of you who still are a part of the youth sports scene or perhaps have grandchildren playing, I am confident that you know what I mean. People are quick to dismiss this as a result of overzealous parents and at times that can be true, but as a front row observer I will tell you the main problem in an era of year-round travel sports are my fellow coaches. I think everyone aspires to represent themselves, their team, and their school in the best possible light but often are caught up in the heat of the moment and their best intentions go south, sometimes in a hurry. What I, as a coach, am prepared to advocate for is a zero tolerance policy toward any unacceptable behavior. I am tired of hearing about coaches being “talked to” every year about their behavior and then being allowed to continue to coach year after year. If you are unable to conduct yourself in a manner that imparts character, morals, and ethics on the children that play for you, then either straighten up or get out of the way. The rest of you, think for a minute about what you have witnessed at the gym, ballpark, soccer fields, etc. Are you comfortable with what you are seeing? Then have zero tolerance for it.
As always, I look forward to hearing from you.
Todd A. Tucker
The Future of WNIN
Former WNIN president, David Dial, offered words to his successor in the April/May 2013 issue’s “Back Talk” in Evansville Business: “stand tall and be proud of what you’re doing and the people of Evansville will welcome you.” Current president and CEO of WNIN Tri-State Public Media Brad Kimmel took those words seriously when mapping out the changes he had in mind for the station.
In an age when PBS shows, like “Downton Abbey,” and NPR’s “Morning Edition” are available to stream on any mobile device and laptop, introducing more local programming is crucial in Kimmel’s dream for the future of WNIN. After seeing so much success when airing the first two episodes of the show “Abbey Chat,” Kimmel anticipates the show to engage the community in ways the station hasn’t done before. “For one of the biggest shows in the country, it surprises viewers to learn the hit show Downton Abbey is a PBS series,” Kimmel says. “The idea was to connect the local community with the show and it’s been a hit so far. A lot of viewers were calling in to talk about the show and what they thought would happen next week.” The live half hour call-in or text-in show will immediately follow each new episode of “Downton Abbey” aired locally at 8 p.m. Sunday evenings on channel 9.1 on WNIN PBS.
In Kimmel’s nine months as president, he has begun to implement ideas for local programming that are expected to draw in more members. “We’re working on possibly doing a local kitchen show, roughly titled “Great Kitchens,” in which people will get to show off their unique kitchens,” Kimmel says. WNIN also is interested in airing a countdown show highlighting the top local athletes, weather disasters, and burgers. In terms of radio, Kimmel says they are looking into doing live broadcasts around the Tri-State area.
At the start of his presidency, Kimmel recognized that some things had to happen before he could develop new programming. “One thing people sometimes forget is that WNIN depends on the local community for support since we can’t run commercials,” Kimmel says. A lot of the station’s funding comes from a variety of sources, including government grants, major gifts, and special fundraisers, including the upcoming WNIN-PBS9’s annual auction airing April 28 through May 4.
For more information on upcoming fundraisers and how you can become a member, call 812-423-2973 or visit wnin.org.
Guarding the Campus
When your son or daughter leaves for college, you hope success follows them. But what happens when his car won’t start after a class, a bad asthma attack strikes, or her neighbor decides to act out a scene from Animal House on a Tuesday night?
That’s where Sgt. Josh Thomas, 30, and Officer Steve Gibson, 63, come in. Both Evansville natives, they are two of four second-shift public safety officers the University of Southern Indiana employs, trains, and holds accountable for the wellness and safety of their students from the hours of 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. each day.
On a recent rainy Friday evening, the duo helped a student who had run out of gas by providing her with a free gallon of gas. Thomas also prevented a student from going the wrong way down a busy one-way street using a little humor.
“He’ll figure it out,” says Thomas. “Come on man, you’ve got this.”
Each day, the security staff patrols the campus, including its parking lots and housing, to help students with everything from car trouble to more serious matters. The entire second-shift team is trained emergency medical technicians and each officer’s vehicle is equipped with basic life support equipment.
“The biggest misconception is that people just think we’re security,” says Gibson. “But there’s so much more that we do.”
After 35 years in the radio and broadcasting field, Gibson, left the field because it “wasn’t fun anymore.” He volunteered with Knight Township Fire Department, and then worked at the McCutchanville Fire Department, which serves the USI campus, which turned into a job with the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana fire department in Princeton, Ind., where he worked for eight years. Three years ago, a third-shift opportunity at USI’s public safety office opened. Now, he works alongside Thomas during the second shift and maintains a lieutenant and public information officer position at the McCutchanville Fire Department.
Thomas became a part of the USI team after previously working at St. Mary’s Hospital as a security dispatcher and as a deputy for the County Coroner’s office. He graduated from USI in 2007, with a degree in political science and criminal justice. For the first two years, he was on the third shift team, and has been sergeant of the second shift for the last two. The excitement of interacting with students drew him to the full-time position and hasn’t waned since.
The pair agrees interacting with students is a major attraction of the job and they also hope to instill a sense of friendliness and helpfulness.
“These kids sometimes make decisions they haven’t thought through,” says Gibson. “We as the office of public safety, we’re here to try and keep them safe.”
For more information on the University of Southern Indiana campus police, contact the Office of Public Safety at 812-464-1845.
During a time when funding for local music and arts is dwindling, the Mesker Music Trust ensures they always will be remembered.
The trust was created between 1940-1941 with a $250,000 bequest from the estate of George L. Mesker, the founder of George L. Mesker and Co., which is commonly known as Mesker Steel. Its original purpose was to fund “music in Mesker Park or in other parks in the city,” according to the structure of the trust.
Mesker was born in Evansville in 1857. By the early 1900s, Mesker Steel was a leading producer of cast iron and sheet metal storefronts in the U.S. After his death in 1936, Mesker left property and funds to build Mesker Park, Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Gardens, Mesker Amphitheatre, and the music fund.
Each year, Patrick Koontz, vice president and senior trust officer at Fifth Third Bank, whose Management and Trust Department handles the Mesker Music Fund, and two other anonymous members of the general public review grant proposals to suggest a recommendation to the bank on where a portion of the money should go.
Federal tax laws require private foundations annually distribute at least 5 percent of the monthly average balance of the fund for charitable and administrative purposes, which Koontz says is currently around $770,000.
“The need for funding of the arts is a bottomless bucket,” Koontz says. “It is very difficult to decide where to give the money. If people are given the choice to give to a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, or a concert, it can be very difficult for the arts to get funding. This fund forces there to be a safety net.”
Last year, nine organizations shared $33,370 in Mesker Music Fund distributions. They include the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra Youth Concerts, Tales & Scales musical storytelling programs, Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library music events, and the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp.
Koontz asks that grant proposals be submitted to him before April 1 in order to be eligible to receive a grant in the calendar year.
For more information on the Mesker Music Fund, contact Patrick Koontz at Fifth Third Bank at 812-456-4663.
It all started with a fire. In 1974, Mike Small’s father’s home furniture business burned down the day before Small was set to begin working. Partly because of this fire, Mike found himself in charge of the office furniture department, though it went largely unnoticed in the grand scheme of the business. When Small’s father Ed Small Jr. retired shortly after the fire, he asked his son if he wanted to continue the family business. Small said he had no interest in home furniture, but he’d like to try his hand at making a business out of the office furniture department, a business that would become Corporate Design. “The building’s been in Mike’s family three generations now. It means something to people who have lived here a while,” design space planner Andrea Kirkland notes.
Corporate Design has built up a large client base since its humble beginnings. The company now provides office furniture and flooring to a number of local businesses as well as clients outside the Tri-State area. Corporate Design’s office allows them to serve all of their clients’ needs quite effectively. “We’re kind of blessed,” says Small, “with 15 people and 12,000-square-feet.” Its large floor space has allowed Corporate Design to create a large showroom for its clients where it can showcase hundreds of possible office furnishings. The rest of the floor space is largely occupied by the staff, which is split up by department. Though as Kirkland points out, “The entire place is a working showroom 24/7.” The staff uses desks, filing cabinets, and other furniture items to test out products for their customers.
Perhaps the room that best exhibits the versatility of the office is its “Chair Room.” With more than 25 styles of chairs, the room allows clients to find the perfect chair for their needs. “A chair is a lot like a car,” Andrea says, “there’s a right one for everybody, and it’s different for everyone.” However, the room also doubles as a conference room for Corporate Design and features a Smart Board.
“Technology is becoming a bigger part of the office. Furniture is adapting to this,” Mike notes in reference to the Smart Board as well as the Mediascape technology in the office.
Mediascape is a new office technology sold by Corporate Design that allows all users to plug their laptops in and take turns projecting onto a main screen, which is especially useful in a collaborative setting. These newer devices especially have helped Corporate Design in its work with clients as far away as South Bend, Ind., to the north and Fort Campbell, Ky., to the south.
Throughout his years of experience in the office furniture business, Small has learned a number of lessons. He’s found that popular items in New York and other major cities are not always as popular with Evansville businesses, which tend to form a more conservative office furniture market. He’s also found that, at the end of the day, office furniture is about people. “Everybody’s business changes,” Small says. “You want to optimize where your people are.”
For more information about Corporate Design Inc., call 812-422-3000 or visit cdievv.com.
Recovering from the financial crisis of 2007-08 can be like recuperating from a car accident. You might look fine six years later, but your back still aches or your neck still hurts. That’s comparable to buying a house these days. Real estate agents are selling and lenders are lending, but the cascade of home foreclosures that dragged down the national economy several years ago can make it downright painful to go through the mortgage process. Locally, lenders and agents are trying to plow through tighter rules in order to keep the momentum going. Home sales were up 11 percent in 2013 compared to 2012 in the four-county area of Vanderburgh, Warrick, Posey, and Gibson. In that same region, they were 23 percent higher than in 2011.
“The mortgage lending process has changed significantly as a result of the financial crisis,” says Chris Weiberg, manager of mortgage secondary markets at Old National Bank. He also is a member of the Indiana Mortgage Bankers Association board of directors. “The average person is now required to place a larger down payment on a home. Additionally, borrowers are required to fully document assets, income, and employment in most cases. Before 2007, many loan programs offered options for reduced documentation.”
Most people attempting to finance a home quickly learn about Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac (FMCC). Their proposed reforms would require down payments of at least 20 percent and FICO scores of at least 680. Otherwise, your fees go up. The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also has weighed in with new rules, including a debt-to-income ratio of 43 percent or less. That means your total monthly mortgage payment, plus other recurring bills such as car loans, student loans, and utilities, should not exceed 43 percent of your monthly gross income in order to receive a qualified mortgage. The national average is already close to 40 percent.
For those who qualify, the financial crisis did serve one good purpose. It drove down interest rates, and that means a 15-year mortgage can still be found for less than 4 percent and a 30-year remains below 5 percent. So when Uncle Joe grumbles to you that he paid 12 percent interest on his mortgage in 1982, keep in mind that jumping through a few extra hoops might be worth your short-term pain and suffering.
For more information about the Indiana Mortgage Bankers Association, visit indianamba.org; Fannie Mae, fanniemae.com; Freddie Mac, freddiemac.com; or Consumer Financial Protection Bureau , consumerfinance.gov. Contact a mortgage lending institution for current interest rates.
Tucked down on the southern end of Green River Road across from what locals still call the Lawndale Shopping Center, Kenneth and Linda Parkman busy themselves each week selling pieces of the Gulf Coast to Evansville.
“I want everybody in the area to eat well and eat fresh,” says Kenneth Parkman, who owns Par-K Seafood, speaking with two customers from Henderson, Ky., as they sat down for their meal at his small restaurant.
Later, he receives a compliment from the pair: “Those oysters were as good as any I’ve ever gotten down in Florida.”
The Parkmans’ mission to give Evansville fresh seafood takes Kenneth down to the Gulf Coast and back at least once a week. Parkman was born and raised in Gulfport, Miss., and he makes the 10 and half hour, 650-mile drive back to the area to buy only the freshest ingredients and seafood for the recipes sold at his Evansville restaurant. In search of the best quality seafood, Parkman will travel to Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi.
“I could give you shrimp gumbo and you wouldn’t complain,” Parkman says. “I could give you shrimp and oyster gumbo and you wouldn’t complain. You’d take it and think ‘that’s good enough,’ but I don’t do that. I give you seafood gumbo and in that I put it all: the crab, the shrimp, the oysters, and the crawfish, if I’ve got it. I could make money off all that other cheap stuff and you’d never know, but the problem is, I’d know.”
The importance of freshness and quality is really an extension of how Parkman feels about his adopted hometown of Evansville.
“It feels like Evansville has been picked on a lot,” Parkman says. “Evansville has been bullied a lot by other cities so now we don’t think we deserve it — the good foods. But we do. You do.”
Parkman’s deserving dishes change according to what ingredients are available and what he deems good enough to purchase during his trips down to the coast but menu staples include jambalaya, seafood gumbo, red beans, and rice and fish.
A customer can come in and order just about any type of fish and Parkman will begin his quest immediately to find and bring it back for them.
“Fish is the most perfect thing you can put into your body,” Parkman says. “It’s wild caught which means it gets up every morning and says, ‘I’m either going to be prey or predator.’ It’s fish from the least toxic area of the ocean you can get, so when I bring it in to you and you eat it, you’ve put that back into your body to replenish you and (by extension) Evansville.”
For more information about Par-K Seafood, call 812-401-5222 or visit par-kseafood.com.
When “Elvis left the building,” he sometimes had John F. Maier to thank.
Maier, an Evansville native, drove a limousine for the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, during his trips to Evansville in 1972 and 1976.
But the icon is far from the only superstar that Maier, owner and founder of Comaier Services, has escorted over the last five decades of the family owned business.
Nearly every entertainer who has performed at the now-demolished Roberts Stadium or The Ford Center and used a limousine or SUV driving service has used Comaier Services to take them to and from their destination. Through the help of promoters like Larry Aiken and Sunshine Promotion, Maier’s company has driven names such as John Denver, Glen Campbell, Aerosmith, Kiss, Kenny Rogers, and Bob Seger.
“Once you get on the roster of these promoters around the country, they keep a file on every city they are promoting,” Maier says. “When it comes up Evansville, Ind., why I was just there. When they come back five, 10, or 30 years later … that’s how you get known. Just stay put.”
And that’s just what Maier, 69, has done. The company will celebrate its 50th anniversary on May 4. “There was no planning of this company,” he says. “If you asked me to do something, I did it.”
Maier grew up on the same block as the Fire Alarm Station, 118 Baker Ave., and the now-closed Johann Funeral Home, 113 Garfield Ave., near N. Main Street. At 17 years old, Maier started driving ambulances for Johann Funeral Home, which is where he met his longtime friend Fred Lucas.
Then at 18, Maier drove funeral coaches and limos at a funeral auto livery in Indianapolis, before he decided he could bring his own business home. In May 1964, a 19-year-old Maier borrowed $300 from his aunt Mildred Thompson and another $350 from Lucas, who “hawked” his car for Maier. With the money, Maier purchased a 1953 Pontiac ambulance and medical equipment.
Before the U.S. Congress enacted the Emergency Medical Services Systems Act of 1973, Maier said, “only personal experience was required” to work in an ambulance. Maier drove the ambulances at racetracks such as Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Ind.
The company, located at 111 E. Columbia St., quickly grew to motorcycle funeral escort services and funeral auto livery, limousines, security guard services, wheelchair transport, traffic control, and oversize load escort. The ambulance service was sold in 1994. Maier also owns Boone Funeral Home, which he bought in 1985.
Comaier Services now employs around 70 people, many of whom include Maier’s children and grandchildren.
For more information on Comaier Services, call 812-422-8515 or visit comaierservices.com.