Bawel, Menke join business hall of fame

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

Bawel
Menke Sr.

HUNTINGBURG — Doug Bawel and the late Robert “Bob” Menke were inducted into the Dubois County Business Hall of Fame this morning at a ceremony at the Huntingburg Event Center.

The Dubois County Business Hall of Fame recognizes individuals for their business excellence, vision, innovations, inspiring leadership and community service to the greater Dubois County area. The Hall of Fame was created by the local Junior Achievement chapter, and will become a permanent display at the Dubois County Museum.

Bawel is CEO and board chairman of Jasper Engines & Transmissions, a title he has held since July 2011. Bawel joined Jasper Engines as a sales trainee in 1976, and later served as advertising manager, sales manager and vice president of sales before partnering with a group of associates to purchase the company from its founder, Alvin Ruxer, in 1987; Bawel was then elected president. At the time, the company had 550 associates and sales of $58 million.

He is a past recipient of the Indiana Business Leader of the Year Award, Indiana Corporate Leadership Award and Entrepreneur of the Year for Manufacturing. He currently serves as president of the Patoka Valley Health Care Cooperative, is on the board of OFS Brands and is president of Affinity Insurance, the world’s largest heterogeneous captive insurance company. In his acceptance remarks, Bawel reflected on the mentors who helped him along in his career and the many people who have supported him, including his family and co-workers at Jasper Engines.

“I truly am still under construction,” he said.

Menke Sr. grew OFS from a small manufacturing company into the major employer it currently is with more than 1,700 employees. He started his business journey working at Du Crafts, which was owned by his father, William Menke, stringing Venetian blinds. After his father’s death, Menke Sr. took over the company, which had about 30 employees at the time. When the company’s Ferdinand plant burned in 1970, it was moved to Huntingburg. Du Crafts became Styline, and the businesses were merged.

Menke Sr. was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, and returned home in 1945 to take over business responsibilities. He was a state representative to the Indiana General Assembly from 1952 to 1954. He was environmentally-conscious and helped encourage education in public and environmental affairs.

During his life and career, Menke Sr. was awarded several honors, including multiple Sagamore of the Wabash awards; the Nature Conservancy’s highest award, the Oak Leaf, in 1982; the University of Evansville Medal of Honor in 1988; and the Distinguished Citizen Award of Boy Scouts of America in 1996. Menke died in 2008. His son Hank, current president and CEO of OFS Brands, was inducted into the Business Hall of Fame in 2017.

Menke Sr.’s wife, Phyllis, accepted the award on his behalf. In her remarks, she recalled that he was always “thinking outside the box.”

She shared that in the early years of OFS, the family owned ponies — one male and a few mares. The family’s herd continued to grow until it was time for them to get rid of a few. Menke Sr. decided to offer a free pony with every truckload of furniture, and a photo of ponies being loaded onto furniture trucks was shown in the video tribute to him during this morning’s event. The company stopped giving ponies away after one got loose in Cincinnati and caused problems, Phyllis said.

Unique ideas like that were normal for Menke Sr.

“Bob liked to think outside of the box on a lot of things,” Phyllis said.

Today’s ceremony is the fifth Hall of Fame induction in as many years. Past Hall of Fame inductees include Stanley Krempp, founder of what is now MasterBrand, and Mark Schroeder with German American Bank, in 2018; Gervase Schwenk, former CFO of Jasper Engines & Transmissions, and Hank Menke in 2017; Best Home Furnishings founder Clem Lange and the late Alvin Ruxer, founder of Ruxer Ford and Jasper Engines & Transmissions, in 2016; and Robert Ruckriegel, chairman of Jasper-based Servus!, and the late Arnold Habig, founder of Kimball International, in 2015.

Bawel said he was humbled to be included among the business leaders in the Hall of Fame.

“They are true servant leaders,” Bawel said. “That’s what I aspire to be.”




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