Faith in our Lives Rounding Board

Entrepreneurial Spirit

Entrepreneurs instinctively know how to change a way of life. Through extraordinary vision, they are able to make yesterday’s dreams today’s realities. Here are six entrepreneurial businesses that continue to thrive today.

Rarely do family-owned businesses prosper as long as LECO has. Charles E. Schultz founded the Laboratory Equipment Corporation in 1936 with the introduction of the rapid carbon determinator, a scientific instrument for the iron and steel industry.

Schultz’s daughter and son-in-law, Elizabeth and Robert Warren, took the company’s reins in 1976. They continue to direct it into the 21st century. Today LECO’s innovative analytical equipment for metals, energy, environment, foods and geology are unsurpassed in the industry. Recently LECO entered the Life Science field to expand in an increasingly competitive global market.

Among their many civic undertakings, Mr. and Mrs. Warren’s generosity is responsible for Berrien County’s acquisition of the Silver Beach property.

Gast Manufacturing, Inc. got its start in Bridgman, Michigan in 1921 when a blacksmith named L.L. Tirrell began manufacturing insecticide sprayers for orchards. H.E. Howard and William H. Gast teamed up with the founder to form the Tirrell Manufacturing Co. Their entrepreneurship led to the development of the rotary air pump.

Howard and Tirrell eventually sold their interests to Gast and he renamed the business, Gast Mfg. Co. The company squeezed through the Great Depression, but a disastrous fire on December 28, 1938, rendered the manufacturing plant a complete loss. With a great deal of courage and foresight, Gast moved its entire operations to Benton Harbor in 1939.

Under the direction of William C. Gast, the founder’s son, the company’s pneumatic products became known worldwide; its continuing success called for moving to larger facilities on M-139 in 1955.

William C. Gast’s son, Warren, joined the staff in 1953 and was promoted to president in 1973. The father/son combination proved very effective, in part, because they applied the Golden Rule to customers and employees.

Prompted by Warren Gast’s plans to retire, IDEX Corp. of Northbrook, Illinois purchased the company in January 1998 and continues to lead with pneumatic products for industrial, environmental and medical applications.

Reflecting on the benevolence of their parents William C. and Martha Gast, Warren Gast and his wife Lou and Marcie-Gast Schalon and her husband Edward Schalon, formed the Gast Foundation and the Schalon Foundation. These charitable trusts have supported many worthwhile institutions and projects. The Bluffside Development, that includes the Silver Beach Carousel, would not have been realized without the generous support from these families’ foundations.

A hallmark of any thriving community is its medical care. The city-owned St. Joseph Sanitarium located at 1821 Niles Avenue, was opened February 1, 1935. This 35-bed facility was almost always at capacity, so plans were made for a larger facility. Groundbreaking ceremonies for the 104-bed Memorial Hospital took place on the 17-acre property overlooking the St. Joseph River on August 26, 1949. Mergers, acquisitions and building additions have since created Corewell Health, a preeminent provider of medical care for Southwest Michigan.

Whirlpool Corporation is a Fortune 500 global leader in the manufacture and marketing of home appliances. Brothers Frederick and Louis Upton founded Upton Machine Co. in 1911. The fledgling company produced electric motor-driven wringer washing machines. After a bumpy start, a 1916 alliance with Sears and Roebuck put Upton’s “Allen” brand in the Sears retail locations and catalog. As electricity became available in rural America, the company’s sales grew.

Upton Machine merged with the Nineteen Hundred Washer Company of New York in 1929 to form the Nineteen Hundred Corporation. In 1949, it changed its name to Whirlpool Corporation. During the 1950s Whirlpool expanded its product line when it merged with Seeger Refrigeration Company and acquired RCA’s air conditioner and range lines. Whirlpool then continued to make astute acquisitions and critical realignments to expand its domestic and global markets.

Whirlpool Corporation’s legendary philanthropy is directed through its Whirlpool Foundation. Its support for the Bluffside Development came with its donation of Whirlpool Field, the site of the Whirlpool Compass Fountain (opened in 2009) that entertains children and adults all summer long.

Vail Rubber Works is a century-old, family-owned business. William A. Vail began the company in Chicago in 1904, the first to make molded, rubberized horseshoes to cushion horse hooves on the newly paved streets. Vail relocated to St. Joseph in 1920 to be closer to the emerging paper market. The company then developed a process to rubber-coat rollers not only for paper mills, but steel and aluminum mills. Vail attributes its long-staying power to the quality of its products, its unwavering commitment to customers and a harmonious relationship with its employees.

Auto Specialties Mfg. Co. (Ausco) moved from Chicago to St. Joseph in 1917 to manufacture automobile parts. Under the guidance of James W. Tiscornia and his brother, Waldo V. Tiscornia, the nascent company grew hand-in-hand with the bourgeoning auto industry.

Ausco built its reputation by making castings and specialized disc brake systems for farm tractors, construction equipment, and aircraft. When car manufacturers began offering automobile jacks, Ausco’s jack line prevailed. Today, two separate Benton Township companies continue to market their versions of Ausco brakes and jacks.

For many years, the Auto Specialties sign was a city landmark. Built in 1954, it gave a clear view of the time and temperature. This 60” x 100”, one-hundred-ton “erector set” was torn down in July 1992.

In gratitude to the community, the Tiscornia Foundation was organized in 1942 and continues to support many worthy causes. In addition, the north beach property was deeded by the James W. Tiscornia family to the City of St. Joseph for all to enjoy. It is aptly named Tiscornia Beach.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit Rounding Board was made possible by a donation from Bob and Becky Rice.