Lewis & Elizabeth Fidler John and Lois Fidler & Family

21 Aug Lewis & Elizabeth Fidler John and Lois Fidler & Family

For nearly 50 years, one sign of community progress was a Fidler concrete truck on the way to a job. Perhaps the foundation for a new home or office building was about to be poured, or maybe someone was getting a new driveway. Whatever the project, Fidler was a name associated with construction; it continues to be associated with building the community today.

The far-reaching Fidler enterprise started in Goshen, Indiana with a small filling station Lewis Fidler opened after he returned from Naval service during WWII. It was a decent business, but the nearby land proved to be more valuable. Lewis intended to sell the land for development. When that prospect didn’t work out, he used the property to start a sand and gravel business in 1946. Initially, the effort struggled.

Then in 1955, Lewis bought a ready-mix concrete company. He followed that by purchasing a concrete block company. Business took off. At that time, there were several ready-mix companies in the area, but the competition proved to be more of an opportunity than a problem.

At the time, ready-mix companies were all family owned businesses. As the owners of the other companies reached retirement age, Lewis was often able to acquire them with the owners’ blessings because no heir existed or the heir was not interested in the ready-mix business.

One former competitor was Yoder Ready Mix, under the guidance of Harold “Doc” Atkins. “Fidler was a tough competitor who knew what he was doing and provided a good product and excellent service,” said Atkins.

In the early 1980s, business was slow. Yoder and Fidler trucks were criss-crossing town going to a dwindling number of similar jobs. Atkins and Lewis decided they respected each other enough that they could merge companies to save money and still provide a great product. The merger took place in 1982.

“You couldn’t pick a nicer, more congenial, cooperative, and honest partner,” said Atkins of Lewis. ”He had the most positive attitude. ‘It will work,’ he always said.”

With the combination of the two major companies, the issue of the business’ name arose. Should they call themselves Fidler, Yoder, or some other name? Though his own family name was on the line, Lewis offered to let the employees come up with a name for the company. Atkins and financial officer Phil Holdread pointed out that there were no Yoder heirs in the company. Furthermore, most of the trucks and signs already had the name Fidler on them. Despite Lewis’ gesture to give up the name of the company, his partners convinced him to keep the Fidler name.

At one time, the fleet of Fidler trucks numbered 110 and the companies were spread throughout northeast Indiana. Thirteen ready-mix plants in towns like Bremen, Nappanee, Warsaw, Wolcottville, and Ft. Wayne joined the Elkhart-Goshen base of operations. Fidler even owned a ready-mix company in Wyoming.

Fidler, Inc. was sold in 1988, but John maintained ownership of Kuert Concrete in South Bend. Today, Steve Fidler manages that business, which has expanded to Goshen, Leesburg, and Rochester.

The Chairman of the Board for Fidler, Inc. was John Fidler, Lewis and Elizabeth (Snobarger) Fidler’s only child. John, however, didn’t start out in the front office. When John was 9 years old, he searched for leaks in railroad cars. Much of the Fidler sand was shipped out by railroad, so a rail spur went to the company gates. As the train cars waited to be filled, young John cleaned them out. Then he would climb into the empty cars with a wad of burlap. Whenever he found a hole, he would stuff the burlap into the potential leak. Years later, John’s son, Steve, had the similar grunt-work tasks.

John worked for his dad’s company every summer during his school years. He earned experience driving the concrete trucks, working as a dispatcher, doing bookkeeping, and making sales before he became President and eventually CEO.

His service to the company was interrupted by service to the country. After graduating from Goshen High School in 1957, John attended Hanover College for a year. In 1959, he volunteered for the draft.

Another important event that year was his marriage to Lois Eddy. They had been high school sweethearts and decided not to be apart during his military service. Lois was born in Sturgis, Michigan and lived in nearby Mishawaka before moving to Goshen where she and John met as teenagers.

During basic training, John was stationed in Kansas for 6 months. When he received orders to report to  Ft. Lewis, Washington, Lois came home to Goshen. The newlyweds figured the Ft. Lewis posting was only a temporary stop on the way to another location, probably overseas.

When it became apparent John was staying in Washington, Lois joined him. The couple spent 18 months at Ft. Lewis, but that service came within a month of being much longer.

In distant Germany, the United States became involved in the struggle between East and West, known as the Berlin Crisis. This conflict placed new expectations on the U.S. Military. Starting March 31, 1961, terms for servicemen were extended at least 1 year. A month before that new deadline, John was released. He and Lois returned to Goshen with their new daughter, Kelley. Back in Goshen, John resumed his work for the family concrete company, and his immediate family grew when son Steve and daughter Karen were born.

John said working for his father taught him good, basic life skills. “I learned an awful lot from him. He was extremely honest and ethical. His word was as good as gold.” Another lesson was the value of giving back to the community. “From an early age I learned to give back. Our family has always been blessed because of the community and our employees,” said John.

In the early 1980s, the company faced inflation and a difficult economy. “We hunkered down and cut the fat,” said John. “We wanted to keep everyone on the payroll for the benefits, even if we had to cut their hours.”

“The Fidlers always have been the kind of clients who delight a lawyer,” said George Buckingham, John’s attorney and golf partner. “They care about others and want to benefit the community.”

John said his parents were always very involved in philanthropic activities. When his father was working hard, his mother would take the time to serve on boards and give to the community. Lewis’ service as a member of the Goshen Rotary Club was legendary. He was President in 1965-66 and was named Rotarian of the Year in 1995. For 44 years, he served with perfect attendance. John is also a member of the Rotary Club, as is his son, Steve.

One lasting example of the Fidler generosity is the Elkhart County Community Center, located at the county fairgrounds. The Community Center building project was brought to life by the Goshen Rotary Club.

When the club’s President, Dale Showalter, needed money to get the building going, he turned to Lewis. ”Our first eager contributor was Lewis Fidler,” he said. Showalter said he and Lewis traveled the county making speeches to different groups about the project and raising money to make sure it was completed. Thanks to their work, the center was dedicated in 1991. Today, a plaque inside the Center proclaims the efforts of Lewis Fidler and the other benefactors.

Lewis’ involvement with the fairgrounds went beyond the Community Center. He supported the construction of the grandstands. “He was a heck of a friend to 4-H,” said Showalter. Lewis spent his entire life making sure the fairground and 4-H program were active, viable enterprises. ”Lewis was one of the backbones of the nationally known Elkhart County 4-H fair,” he added.

Lois was involved for many years with the organization that sold admission tickets. John was a contributor of both time and land to the fair. Some of the Fidler grandchildren are active in 4-H today. In 2003, John and Lois were named 4-H Fair Parade Marshals. Lewis and Elizabeth held that honor in 1988.

In addition to the fair, many organizations have been touched by the Fidlers’ generosity. Goshen citizens talk about the Fidlers’ years of support of the Goshen Boys and Girls Club. John served as Board President of that organization.

Education has also benefited from the Fidlers. Lewis and Elizabeth set up a fund in their name at Goshen College that provides scholarships annually to deserving students. John and Lewis established a fund through the Elkhart County Community Foundation that enables the Goshen Rotary Club to award scholarships.

Lewis held many offices and received multiple honors, including an appointment to the Indiana Judicial Nominating Committee in 1975 by Gov. Otis Bowen. Lewis served on the Goshen College Advisory Board and the Phend Field Development Committee in addition to other groups. In 1984, he was inducted into the Ready-Mix Hall of Fame, to which John was also later inducted. Lewis passed away May 19, 2003, 10 years after Elizabeth’s death on October 4, 1993.

John has continued much of his father’s service. In addition to working with the Boys and Girls Club, he served the local Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization, the Goshen Hospital Board, the Maplecrest Country Club, and the Elkhart County Community
Foundation.

Lois served Dollars for Scholars, Child Abuse Prevention Services, Camp Fire Girls, YWCA, Meals on Wheels, and Head Start. Together, John and Lois are active members of the First United Methodist Church in Goshen. They have worked on many Church boards and committees over the 50 years they have been members. Lois has also taught Bible School and Sunday School.

Although the Fidler name is no longer on trucks pouring concrete, the community will long have concrete evidence of the family’s generosity. Fidler Pavilion in Goshen’s Pringle Park is one visible example. Much of their assistance is not visible, and many sources said the family prefers to stay in the background. Though the Fidlers would be the first people to visit if seeking support, they would be the last to take credit for it.

“Our family has a strong affection for this wonderful community we live in. Setting up a family charitable fund at Elkhart County Community Foundation seemed to us the best way to help more organizations, to touch more lives, and to give back to those who have given to us,” said John. “We have an obligation to give our time, our talent, and our money.”