“The Scripture about doing good things quietly fits him,” said friend Jean Daering. “He’s very modest.”
“He served on the boards of a lot of charities around town,” said former colleague Bob Stackhouse. “He never became the head person who got the attention. Bill always worked in the background but he was responsible, in a lot of ways, for their success.”
The modest, behind-the-scenes philanthropist is Wilbert H. “Bill” Budd. His quiet generosity that received accolades from friends and co-workers was the driving force behind many Elkhart charities. While he never tooted his own horn, the local philanthropic groups knew he was there.
One organization that counted on Budd’s support is the First Congregational Church of Elkhart. As a member of the church, Budd established the Charitable Fund and was a Life Member. Once that fund found solid footing under Budd’s guidance, it began reaching out to help others. Currently, it is able to donate over $30,000 per year to charities. Local schools, Church Community Services and the Salvation Army are among the groups that have benefited from the benevolence of the First Congregational Church fund.
Building on the success of foundation-type giving, Budd helped establish the Elkhart County Community Foundation in 1989. As an endowment, the ECCF uses earned interest to fund important and benevolent projects throughout the community. At one time, Budd served as a Director and Treasurer. Several funds within the foundation, both designated and unrestricted, bear his name. His influence within the Foundation is further displayed by the ECCF funds supported by the First Congregational Church. Budd said that he was proud to have a part in establishing this Community Foundation and to help it grow.
As a member of the Foundation’s Legacy Society, Budd ensured that the Elkhart County Community Foundation will be able to carry on his good deeds in perpetuity.
Like the mighty stream that starts with a small trickle, this fountain of generosity had a humble beginning.
Wilbert H. Budd was born February 25, 1913 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His father died when he was only six years old, but his mother, Amanda, married a second time. She had two children, Margaret and Charles, with her second husband.
When the Depression struck, his step-father was able to get Bill a job with him in a grocery store. Between the grocery store and a job at a local restaurant, Bill was able to work his way through the University of Michigan. He lived at home to save money and make his education possible.
While Budd was in high school in Ann Arbor a girl named Alice Fulkerson caught his eye. Though they didn’t date through high school, Budd started going out with her when he became a college student. Budd and Alice worked part time to help with tuition payments. Their friendship deepened. The day after Christmas in 1935, they got married.
That same year, Bill Budd earned a B.S. Degree in Electrical Engineering from University of Michigan. With his new wife and fresh college degree, Budd moved to Chicago.
Budd said he always wanted to be an engineer. His first professional job in that field was with Chicago Edison, a major telephone company. Budd said he didn’t like working there. “It was too big,” he said.
Although the job paid well, he began looking for another company. He wanted to be an engineer but preferred a smaller setting. The problem was that not many companies were looking for engineers during the depression. He contacted the placement office at U of M, and discovered, to no one’s surprise, that “not a lot of engineers were being placed.”
Then a letter arrived at the placement office at U of M. A man named Basil Turner was looking for an engineer in Elkhart, Indiana. Budd hopped in a car, drove to Elkhart for an interview and found, “just what I was looking for.” Turner had sales people but needed engineers for his growing company.
Budd was thrilled with Turner and the exciting, smaller company known as the Chicago Telephone Supply Corporation. As Budd came aboard, they were known for what Budd called “country style telephones.” But the company was expanding into electronic radio parts. The volume and tone controls made the company, which became known as CTS Corporation, widely successful.
At the time, many people – including Budd – owned crystal radios. But 30 different companies were beginning to manufacture more substantial radios to sell to the public. CTS made the controls for those radios.
With recognizable talent, Budd moved up through the ranks until he was in charge of the engineering department. The company had salesmen who would contact companies and Budd would go along to answer questions and talk about the product CTS could produce.
Once he got enough sales experience, Budd contacted the companies himself. RCA, Zenith, Philco and other major businesses started to rely on Budd. The combination of the sales department with engineering was effective. He became known as a sales engineer. As Budd described it, he would visit customers, see what kind of device they wanted, and then design it. Along the way, he earned 29 United States patents.
His work habits impressed not just his client, but his co-workers as well.
“He was terrific. Couldn’t be better,” was how Bob Stackhouse described Budd as a boss. Stackhouse began to work for Budd around 1950. “Everybody who worked for him or with him thought the best of him,” he said.
“Great guy personally and professionally,” said J.C. Wells, another CTS colleague.
Throughout Budd’s tenure, CTS underwent a lot of changes. Budd said one exciting part was during WW II. He said CTS produced many products for the armed services. The Army and Navy presented CTS with three separate awards for stellar workmanship.
One military product was designed to help aircraft fight an enemy after dark. It became one of the most recognizable military products. As Budd described it, “In the movies, you see the screen that has a blip that goes round and round. We made it. The thing that goes round and round.”
That “blip screen” was a key component of radar. Scientists at MIT invented radar, but they needed the work of Bill Budd and CTS to complete the product.
“I’m very proud of that,” Budd said.
Another device for the war effort relied on CTS’s experience as a former phone company. The Army needed something portable that could transmit radio and telephone signals. They wanted something like an old crank-type phone that would enable a soldier to communicate on the radio too. CTS developed the RM29, an example of which was displayed for years in the CTS offices.
CTS supplied the RM29 to the Army, Navy and Air Force. They also produced them for the Russian army, who was a US ally during WWII. Budd notes that the company had to hire an interpreter to write the device’s instructions in Russian.
By the time he retired in 1972, Budd had served in many positions at CTS, including Executive Vice-President, Chairman of the Executive Committee, Senior Vice-President and Director of the Corporation. From 1972 to 1980 Budd continued to serve as a consultant to CTS.
The CTS Foundation started as a way to make loans to employees’ children to go to college. Started by Basil Turner, the fund has helped “hundreds and hundreds” of students afford college. The students didn’t have to pay back the loan until after graduation, and nearly every one did. Budd was there when the program started and was the Director of the foundation at one time.
Through the many successful working years, Bill and Alice enjoyed a happy home life too. They had no children of their own but were generous with love and support to several nieces and nephews. Sadly, Alice passed away in June of 1992, but her benevolent spirit lives on. According to her will, a trust fund was set up to continue to support the extended family. In addition, funds within the ECCF bear the name “Wilbert and Alice Budd.”
With the passing of Alice, Bill became lonely. Jean Daering, whose husband Duane was a CTS colleague, said Bill proclaimed that he would not get married again. But he would have liked a companion for visiting restaurants and traveling. Through church connections Daerings introduced Budd to Justine Sparks, the 1980 Niles, Michigan Businesswoman of the Year. She was the Director of Social Services for the Niles hospital. Bill and Justine discovered a keen companionship and many mutual interests.
In June of 1994, Bill and Justine were married. She brought three adult daughters and two grandchildren to the new family. “They all took to Bill,” said Daering. “It was a nice adopted family.” With the new family came new community giving. “Wilbert and Justine Sparks Budd” is the title of at least two funds within the ECCF.
In his typical, humble fashion, Budd preferred to give the credit for his generosity to others. In a 1996 speech to the Boy Scouts, Budd talked about Basil “Base” Turner, his first boss with CTS. Turner taught Budd about the business aspects of engineering, sales and management. He also taught Budd about philanthropy. Budd considered him a mentor.
He listed other philanthropic mentors and the projects they accomplished, some with Budd’s assistance. George Cooper, Lee Martin and Ross Martin organized a new building program for the YM/YWCA. Ross Martin also worked with Budd on the building program for the First Congregational Church.
Art Decio impressed Budd with his continued work for groups like the Salvation Army, United Way, the Y, as well as other civic and charitable programs.
Budd worked with Bill Martin and his son Frank on investing. Their successes enabled him to be generous with the First Congregational Church Charitable Fund and other philanthropic projects.
While Budd would rather give the credit to others, there is no question his impact is felt by numerous worthy causes. Bill Martin said, “For many charities around town, Bill has been the mainstay forever. But few know about it.
“Whatever you hear about him, it’s better than that,” he said.
Budd served for nearly a decade on the Advisory Board of the Elkhart Salvation Army and the Board and Executive Committee of the Elkhart County Council on Aging. He has been an active supporter of the Elkhart Area Career Center and YMCA-YWCA Foundation and Properties Corporation.
As much as he tried to keep quiet, others noticed his gifts. He was recognized by the Tau Beta Pi Honorary Society (1934), Phi Kappa Phi Honorary Society (1932), Salvation Army Others Award (1979), Kiwanis Layman of the Year Award (1979), and the Salvation Army William Booth Award (1991).
When Budd retired from CTS he built Oak Manor Offices, “to give me something to do.” He and a small staff had an office within the complex just west of Elkhart on Old US 20. There he managed his investments and gave some of the earnings to philanthropic causes and also helped nieces, nephews and their families get good educations. “He was an astute investor. Very wise with money,” said Daering.
Like the people he lists as mentors, Budd hoped to inspire future successful men and women to make the most out of what they have earned.
“If you have been prosperous in this community be a good steward and continue to give something back,” said Budd “It could be your time, talent or money.”