Lange’s passions leave lasting impact

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Photo provided by Lange family

HUNTINGBURG — Clement "Clem" Lange was never one for the spotlight.

But he was one for working hard to support his family and his local community.

His supportive efforts still continue through the company he created, Ferdinand-based Best Chairs, now known as Best Home Furnishings. They also last through the local organizations and long-standing institutions he and his family supported, including the Lange-Fuhs Cancer Center.

“If you didn’t know who Clem Lange was and you met him, you would have never known,” said his friend Tom Krodel. “That was one of the great things about him. He was just a common individual who was an entrepreneurial and developed what he loved doing into a company.

“He was just a normal guy doing it.”

Clem Lange, 85, died Saturday, March 6. He will be laid to rest Saturday.

He was born in St. Henry, raised on the family farm and graduated from Holland High School. When he served in the U.S. Army, from 1958 to 1960, Lange was a mechanic and stationed in Germany. When he came back home, he worked at a company and learned how to cut, sew and upholster.

“Mom always told the story about how they ran out of work at the job,” his daughter Sheila Wendholt said. “He’d go to work at 7 and come home at 9. They didn’t have enough for him to stay busy, and he didn’t make enough money to make a living."

So he and a few other guys got together and decided they could do a better job, something more sustainable for their families. Best Chairs was born in 1962.

“I can remember, as a kid, that dad would work all day,” Wendholt said. “He’d come home, eat supper and then we’d go back with him in the evenings and he would set up the upholstery lines and get everything ready for the next day.”

She recalled how her father would extend himself to make sure the work at the start-up business got completed.

“He didn’t have enough work to keep a sewer busy for a full day. He found an older lady in Owensboro that sewed. So he would cut the pieces, we’d go across the bridge to Owensboro and leave them,” Wendholt said. “This lady would sew. And in a couple of days, he’d go to pick that up and leave another load. He did that until things were busy enough so that he could keep a sewer busy for 40 hours a week.”

Best Chairs developed connections to what became faithful customers who bought chairs. But his upholstery skills were vital to the company.

“He would re-upholster semi-trailer seats. My mom said that's how he kept the family fed,” Wendholt said.

Lange believed in being hands-on. “He always said how are you going to tell somebody how to do something if you can't sit down and show them?” Wendholt said.

Krodel got to know Lange through their business relationship when Krodel worked at Old National Bank. That business relationship developed into a friendship over the years.

“He was a great entrepreneur,” Krodel said. “He built a heck of a business. And even with that, he was, or where he came from. He was very humble, always very friendly. He would help you out if he could.”

Lange believed in supporting the community as well. As a couple, Lange and his wife, the former Mary Fuhs, gave the lead donation that started what would become Memorial Hospital’s Lange-Fuhs Cancer Center.

“It’s an interest to everybody to try and help cure cancer and help people with cancer,” Wendholt said.

The disease has touched her family personally.

“So they are really passionate about that,” Wendholt added.

They also donated to the Tri-County YMCA, the Ferdinand Community Center, the Forest Park Football program, the Dubois County Community Foundation, the St. Henry, Holland and Ferdinand Fire Departments, the St. Henry Catholic Church cemetery, Holland Park, Huntingburg Gym, Ferdinand 5th Street Park, and the Ferdinand Folk Festival, as well as supported municipalities, groups, schools, organizations and foundations behind the scenes.

“They always believed in supporting local,” Wendholt said. “When you give nationally, you may not know where the money is going. But when you give locally, you can actually see where it goes.”

“They never lost their roots,” Krodel said. “They were very helpful to the community. They just wanted to make things better for people.”

Lange started to step back from working in his late 50s, leaving the day-to-day operations of the company to his sons. And although he was retired, he remained chairman of the board of directors.

“He'd still come in at the holidays and make sure he shook everybody's hands and greeted them and things,” said Eric Vollmer, senior marketing strategist at Best Home Furnishings. “He was witty. He didn't have a whole lot to say. But if you were talking to him, he had some kind of remark or some kind of reply that was humorous. He was approachable and someone you can go talk. He was just nice.”

His experience as a mechanic in the Army was useful for the hobby he divulged in after retirement: restoring cars.

“When he started to restore old cars, he would tear them down completely — every nut and bolt and screw — clean it and put it back together,” Wendholt said. He could also work on the upholstery. And any cloth pieces, like the soft top for a convertible."

He would sandblast and paint vehicles with his friends.

“One time I was in his shed, and he was bending a piece of metal for a fender for his car. He didn’t have anything (no instructions) to go by. I asked him, ‘How do you know what you’re doing, how to make that shape?’ and he said it was from a picture. He looked at a picture what this old car was, and he basically created a piece.”

He had about 50 cars in his collection, and restored about 30.

His first car was a Hudson Essex-Terraplane, Wendholt said. Terraplane cars were produced by the Hudson Motor Car Company of Detroit between 1932 and 1938, with the maiden year being called Essex-Terraplane.

“He felt that Hudsons were a challenge,” Wendholt said. “And we’ve been to California looking for car parts. He’s been to Pennsylvania, Texas, pretty much all over the country looking for parts.”

And he liked to actually use his cars.

“If you would ask him what his favorite cars were out of the bunch, it’s the ones that he restored himself,” said his friend Bruce Sickbert. “They may be worth $10,000 or $15,000. Those were his favorite ones to drive and enjoy. And he has some more expensive cars. But everything he's got don't just sit there and look pretty. He actually drives them.”

Sickbert and Lange worked on restoring cars since the mid-1970s, and Sickbert started working for Lange at Best Chairs in the 1980s.

They participated in shows together as well as the Great American Race, a vintage car rally race, for five years.

The Great American Race was a two-week journey in which they would cover 4,000 miles. They used the Essex for that race, putting more than 40,000 miles on the vehicle, Sickbert said.

“The big thing for me was I was the navigator, so I got to tell Clem what to do,” he said, laughing. “For two weeks out of the year, I'm the boss and he's gonna listen to me instead of vice versa. It’s not every day you get to tell the boss what to do.”

Lange spent his life working for the betterment of others — whether that was for his family, for friends, or for the community.

“What Clem did and how he accomplished that is just amazing. And he and Mary C. were very, very philanthropic to the community,” Krodel said. “They gave back to the community that they loved.”

“He was a jewel,” Sickbert said. “We’re gonna miss him, that’s for sure.”

Lange is survived by his wife, Mary, his four children: Wendholt and Glenn, Joey and Brian; nine grandchildren; eight great grandchildren; and three sisters

The family requests any memorial gifts or contributions be sent to the Lange-Fuhs Cancer Center or the Clem and Mary Lange, Best Chairs Endowment, an endowment established through the Dubois County Community Foundation that benefits Ferdinand, Holland and St. Henry.




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