Anton 'Tony' Hulman Jr.
Hulman's generosity shaped city
By Stephanie Salter

He came from money, married money, made plenty of his own money, and gave a ton of it away. He traveled easily through Europe, went to prestigious prep schools, graduated from Yale and spent his adult years pushing the borders of a financial empire ever outward.

He liked well-tailored suits, parted his brown, wavy hair in the middle, sported a sweet, almost elfin smile, and spoke in a tenor pitch that never lost its born-and-bred Midwestern twang.

Millions of people around the world came to know that twang through the thrilling command: "Gentlemen, start your engines." Generations of folks in his hometown grew up thinking of him as one of their own.

Anton Hulman Jr. preferred it that way, to be viewed as "Tony," the hard-working, innovative, breath-takingly generous native son of a city his family - as no other before or since - helped build and shape.

Remove Tony Hulman and his equally generous wife from the local landscape, and Terre Haute would be some other place, poorer in almost every way.

No Hulman Center. No Hulman Links. No Hulman International Airport. No Hulman Memorial Union at Indiana State University. No expanded and deeply endowed Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. No Mary Fendrich Hulman Hall at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College. No Vigo County Historical Museum. No Clabber Girl building. No Indianapolis Motor Speedway or its 500-mile race.
To mention just a few.

Anton Jr., born Feb. 11, 1901, was given his father's name and the masculine version of his grandmother's - Antonia - who had died in 1883. Tony's mother, Grace Ada Smith Hulman, was Anton's second wife. The first had been dispatched in a divorce - a radically rare occurrence in 1898, let alone in a Catholic family.

Tony was an only child, but never lacked for friends. He grew up at 802 Chestnut St., played with other children of affluence and attended grade school at St. Benedict's, where his granddad was instrumental in the building of the parish church.

At 17, Tony joined the American Red Cross Ambulance Corps to do his part in World War I, then began administrative engineering studies at Yale. Already an accomplished track-and-field athlete, he played on Yale's undefeated football team of 1924 and earned seven letters.

As his father before him, Tony knew the family coffee and dry-goods business was his destiny. He took that metaphoric ball, ran with it and - before all was said and done - reconfigured the field, the stadium and the entire game.
If Mr. Potter had been a nice guy in "It's A Wonderful Life," - or if George Bailey had been the rich one - Tony Hulman could have been the model: a man with so much wealth and power, it was barely hyperbole to say he owned the whole darn town.

At one time or another, Tony Hulman not only piloted his family's Hulman & Co. - transforming Clabber Girl Baking Powder into a powerhouse - but owned or wielded controlling interest in Richmond Gas, Terre Haute Gas Co., the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Indianapolis and several Coke plants throughout the state, Meadows Shopping Center, the Terre Haute Tribune and the Terre Haute Star, the Cook Brewery in Evansville, the Terre Haute House and WTHI radio and television, whose call letters, people joked, stood for "Tony Hulman Inc."

Oh, yes, he also bought the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Nov. 14, 1945, for $750,000. It was an outlay of cash about whose return he said he did not care. He made money anyway.
In Evansville tobacco heiress Mary Fendrich, who Tony married in 1926, he found a kindred spirit who apparently shared his sense of giving back to their communities.

Although she eventually left Terre Haute for Indianapolis, Mary kept donating money to local colleges and causes, and she had plenty to donate. Eleven years after Tony's death in 1977, Forbes magazine put her on its list of America's 400 wealthiest people.

In an 1849 letter from Francis Hulman (Tony's great-uncle) to his brother, Herman (Tony's grandfather), Francis said of Terre Haute: "This place is, as I said, one of the best in this vicinity, and, if we have any luck, we are sure to make money."

They had the luck, they made the money, and they passed it on to Anton Hulman Jr., who carried on the family tradition and passed it on to the city he called "home."

Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or stephanie.salter@tribstar.com.

 

 Submitted photo

Tony Hulman

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The Anton Hulman Jr. File
Born
- Feb. 11, 1901, only child of Anton and Grace Ada Smith Hulman; died - Oct. 27, 1977, heart failure.
Education - St. Benedict's School, Lawrenceville (N.J.) Academy and Worcester (Mass.) Academy; Yale University - administrative engineering degree.
Hulman & Co. - Anton Sr. advises employees, "Don't give Tony a place in the business. Let him work for it." Two years after joining family business in 1924, Tony is sales manager. By 1931, he is running company, expanding coffee and dry-goods business and launching 10-year national advertising and marketing campaign for Clabber Girl Baking Powder.
Marriage - Oct. 6, 1926, to Mary Josephine Fendrich in Evansville. Her family members, cigar manufacturers, are wealthier than the Hulmans. Mary and Tony have one child who survives, Mary Antonia Hulman, born Dec. 26, 1934. Mary Fendrich dies at age 93, April 10, 1998.
Philanthropy - Tony and Mary donate millions to local schools, colleges, historical renovations and museums, including $11 million to Rose Polytechnic Institute, more than doubling its endowment, and $116,000 to city in 1943, which is used to by land for airport. Hulmans give land and property, too: 123 acres to Rose Poly, former WTHI Radio Center to county for use as offices, 226 acres for golf course. Family sells 756 acres to U.S. government for new penitentiary.
Indianapolis 500 - Buys dilapidated Indianapolis Motor Speedway for $750,000 in 1945 from group headed by WWI flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker. Transforms it into international racing destination and makes race opener, "Gentlemen, start your engines," famous. Grandson Tony George now serves as president and CEO; daughter Mary, now "Mari" Hulman George is board chair.
Sources: Hulman family history and Tribune-Star archives