Verkamp, Seger to join business hall of fame

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Verkamp
Seger

JASPER — Gilbert Verkamp and the late Jerry Seger will be inducted into the Dubois County Business Hall of Fame as its 2020 laureates.

“As anyone who has had the pleasure of working or associating with them know, these two individuals represent the finest our region’s business community has to offer,” Christian Blome, assistant vice president and Vincennes University Jasper dean, said during Junior Achievement of Southwestern Indiana’s announcement of the new laureates. “Through business excellence, vision, innovation and community involvement, they have provided inspiring leadership to the community.”

The induction ceremony will be at 7:30 a.m. Thursday, May 7, at The Huntingburg Event Center.

Verkamp, retired chairman and CEO of MasterBrand Inc, will be inducted as the active laureate.

He started with Aristokraft/MasterBrand Cabinets Inc. in 1968 as assistant to the president and founder, the late Stan Krempp. Verkamp became president in the early 1980s when Aristokraft was about $20 million in annual sales. Through organic growth and acquisitions, the company was nearly $800 million when he retired in 2000. He led the company through its first major acquisition, which was the Schrock Companies in the mid ‘90s. This acquisition led to its channel strategy and current success. MasterBrand Cabinets Inc. is now a $2.6 billion company supporting over 13,000 employees across North America.

In addition to Verkamp’s leadership at Aristokraft/MasterBrand Cabinets, Inc., he took roles, including leadership positions, in multiple organizations. He sat on the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association board where he served as president, the Indiana State Alumni Association board where he also served as president and the Indiana Furniture Board where he was a board member for 26 years and chairman of the board for eight years. Additionally, he was a founding board member of the Dubois County Community Foundation and served on the Jasper Country Club Real Estate Board and the Jasper Action Committee. He was also a founding stock holder and board member of Freedom Bank.

During his tenure at Aristokraft/MasterBrand Cabinets Inc., Verkamp was supportive of Junior Achievement. He directed the company to financially support Junior Achievement in Dubois County and supported employees who volunteered their time to JA during work hours.

He is a longtime member of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Jasper and currently resides in Jasper.

Seger, former CEO and president of Wabash Valley produce, is being inducted as the historical laureate.

By age 10, Seger was working on the family farm year-round and went to school eight months out of the year in order to help with the crops full time during the summer. This laid the groundwork for what today is one of the nation’s top-five egg processing companies that exceeds approximately seven million eggs per day and the nation’s fourth largest turkey processor by volume (15 million turkeys annually).

Following graduation from the Indiana University School of Business in 1947, Seger returned to Dubois County. He joined his father at the Dubois Co-Op and his interest in meat production began. With little capital, he started to raise fryers and broilers. He bought the chicks from a hatchery and supplied the feed, while contracting with farmers for a fee to supply the land, buildings and labor. To further utilize his feed mill capacity, he started raising pullets and soon became interested in the egg production business. Managing layers in a confined environment to achieve maximum efficiency resulted in experimentation with lighting, feed formulation, breed selection, ventilation and labor efficiency. While Seger worked through all of these day-to-day problems, he did not fully realize the extent to which he helped revolutionize the meat-production industry.

Those beginnings have transformed today into Wabash Valley Produce and Farbest Foods in Indiana, Brown Produce in Illinois and Ballas Egg Products in Ohio. Combined, these entities employ more than 2,000 people and contract with more than 225 local family farms.

Seger’s goal was for his business to remain a family one. This has come to pass over the years as seven members of the second generation and five members of the third generation have entered the businesses.

Seger proved himself to be a hard-charging entrepreneur with a vision to take a small country elevator to a multi-state enterprise, supplying egg and turkey products to multi-national corporations. Seger, who died in 2003, left a legacy of family and business, which he and his family have grown into an enterprise, supplying quality food products throughout the world.

“[Gilbert] Verkamp and Jerry Seger are the kinds of role models we need for our young people,” Blome said, “and for the area’s future business leaders.”

There were six nominations for active laureate and five for historical laureate, said Kathy Herndon, member of JA’s Dubois County advisory board and chairwoman of the 25-member selection committee. They met to go through the biographies and discuss the nominees before voting by secret ballot.

“It was a very difficult process for the committee,” she said.

The JA Dubois County Business Hall of Fame honors members of the Dubois County business community who exhibit strong vision, innovation, inspiring leadership and who are visionaries within their respective industries. A crystal eagle symbolizing the spirit of free enterprise is presented to each laureate. A monument with a citation and image of each laureate will also be displayed at the Dubois County Museum.

JA’s Evansville region has a business hall of fame, but Dubois County is the only county in that region to have its own. That speaks to the strong sense of business and entrepreneurship here, said Marcia Forston, president and CEO of Junior Achievement of Southwestern Indiana.

“There is a rich history here, and an overwhelming sense of entrepreneurship here,” she said. “That is fascinating and that has shaped the economic development and growth of this county, for sure.

“You have grown this entrepreneurship mindset here. Not every place has that. But you have really fostered it here,” she said.

After May’s induction ceremony, Verkamp and Seger will be added to the Dubois County Hall of Fame exhibit at the Dubois County Museum. In the future, there will be a grand opening for the exhibit, Herndon said. The exhibit includes all the former laureates and whey they were inducted: Jasper Engines and Transmissions CEO and Chairman Doug Bawel and the late Robert Menke Sr., founder of OFS, in 2019; German American Bancorp Chairman and CEO Mark Schroeder and the late Stanley Krempp, founder of United Cabinet, later named Aristokraft, in 2018; OFS Brands President and CEO Hank Menke and the late Gervase Schwenk, former CFO of Jasper Engines and Transmissions, in 2017; Best Home Furnishings founder Clem Lange and the late Alvin Ruxer, founder of Ruxer Ford and Jasper Engines and Transmissions, in 2016; and Robert Ruckriegel, chairman of Jasper-based SERVUS! and the late Arnold Habig, founder of Kimball International, in 2015.

The induction ceremony will be open to the public; information about purchasing tickets will be announced later.




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