TERRE HAUTE —
In June 1993, a telephone call gave David J. Wulf a quick lesson in advocating and developing public policy on a national level.
Wulf, who moved to Terre Haute in 1991, becoming vice president of administration at Templeton Coal Co., had made few previous trips to Washington, D.C., but had just gotten back from there when a call came.
“I had been in D.C. on a Monday and it was about 3 p.m. on Tuesday when I got this phone call,” Wulf recalls. It was a lobbyist who had arranged a meeting with President Clinton’s economic adviser.
The lobbyist asked Wulf if he would like to tell Templeton’s story on the 1992 Coal Act.
The federal law imposed a tax on coal companies as far back as 1950 to pay health benefits for retired miners and families 39 years later. The reach-back affected companies like Templeton Coal that did not sign the 1978 or later agreements with the UMWA. Templeton’s last direct mining operation ended in 1954.
“I said, ‘OK, where is the meeting?’” Wulf recalls asking.
“The White House,” the lobbyist replied.
Thinking he would need time to prepare for a meeting at the White House — Wulf had in mind months — he asked when the meeting was to be held. He was a bit stunned at the reply.
“It was 10 or 11 a.m. — the next morning,” Wulf recalled during a recent interview with the Tribune-Star. He then had to scramble to arrange a flight and figure out his talking points.
“The flight arrived about 9:15, so I went right off the flight and into the White House. I really didn’t know where I was going or what I was doing. I was sweating bullets. I was not a federal lobbyist at that time,” he chuckled.
Wulf would soon do just that, though. He became a federal lobbyist for Templeton Coal and continued in that capacity until 1998. “I figured in 1995, I made 35 trips to Washington, D.C.,” he said.
This month, Wulf will take his experience to the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, where he will serve full time as vice president of employment law and labor relations policy. He is also on a similar committee for the National Association of Manufacturers.
Wulf is a two-time winner of the Indiana Chamber’s Volunteer of the Year award for work on its public policy committees. He also chaired the public policy committees for the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce. In the 1980s, he helped found a countywide United Way in Allegan, Mich., later serving as local president of the Allegan Chamber of Commerce.
Wulf, who is now living in Indianapolis, is selling his home in the Collett Park neighborhood on Terre Haute’s northside. He will remain on the Templeton Coal board of directors, returning here at least four times a year.
“I have enjoyed my time with the company for 30 years, but thought, do I want to spend the next 10 years doing this or reach out and look at something else? I have had a lot of fun in politics. It is like playing golf for me, getting paid to do public policy. I really enjoy it,” Wulf said. “I know how to work with people and can stay calm in heated situations. I try to find out what people are looking for, not just go for the total win, but try to get something out of [a situation].”
Wulf said his new role may be of advantage as he establishes relationships with members of the Indiana General Assembly, many of whom are newly elected, as well as Gov.-elect Mike Pence.
“There will be a lot of new committee chairs,” he said, “but it is not like I am going in as a brand new kid. I have done this for a while,” he said.
Wulf said he thinks the General Assembly will work “toward education reform and government reform. I think we will see work toward reducing the inefficiencies of county government.”
“I will be focused on labor and employment law issues, such as unemployment and wage-and-hour issues. One issue on unemployment benefits will be trying to find a more fair way to qualify for benefits,” Wulf said.
Throughout the course of his career, the 55-year-old has seen many sides of labor relations.
Earlier this year, on a cold January morning, Wulf looked through glass doors at the downtown office of the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce to see more than 60 union laborers protesting. The laborers were against the local chamber’s support of enacting a right-to-work law in Indiana.
Wulf had been involved in coordinating strategy to get the bill through the Indiana General Assembly.
“It was an interesting thing. You couldn’t see through the door when you came in,” Wulf said of the protesters. “We knew it would be a big issue for the state, but it wasn’t like the 25,000 that came to the Statehouse at the same time for the prevailing wage issue [in the 1990s]. The most for right-to-work was 5,000 to 6,000 at a time.”
Wulf said trade unions remain strong in Indiana, while industrial unions are not as strong, with smaller membership and fewer industrial jobs.
Wulf said he had coffee with R. Todd Thatcher, president of the IBEW Local 725 in Terre Haute, about three weeks after that protest in front of the Terre Haute chamber office.
“That is labor relations. You might battle one day, but you can be cordial and work with each other the next,” Wulf said.
He still meets with Thatcher to “pick his brain a little bit. Obviously, we are not on the same line of thinking on a lot of things, but you still want to know and find out areas you can work together. Obviously, the trade unions provide a big service with their vocational training,” Wulf said. “So there are areas where the chamber and the unions can work together.”
Wulf said he also has been on the losing side of labor issues.
In 2009, the issue of “responsible bidder” came before the Terre Haute City Council. That city ordinance sought to provide guidance for selection of contractors. “A provision required that apprentices had to go through union apprentenceship programs, which in effect bars non-union companies from applying for the contracts,” Wulf said.
The Terre Haute Chamber took a stance against it, but lost in a 5-4 vote of council members.
“I came out of the room and talked to union leadership. We can agree to disagree and work where we can work together,” Wulf said.
Family life altered
Wulf’s family ties, both at work and in his home life, have played an integral role in his life.
On April 15, 1993, his wife, Kim, fell ill while visiting relatives in Knoxville, Tenn. Wulf took an emergency flight and arrived one hour before she died. Their children were ages 1, 3 and 5.
He hired a live-in nanny, allowing him to make day trips to the nation’s capital and return in the evening. Wulf had been Presbyterian, while his wife, whom he married in 1982, was Catholic.
“I made the decision the night she passed away” to convert to Catholicism, Wulf said. “It was obvious to me. I was raising three kids Catholic and I was almost there anyway in my faith,” he said.
“Family is my anchor. That is the thing that I am most proud of, the most important accomplishment is my kids, getting through that,” he said. “I could not have made it without my parents, my in-laws and support from that end.”
His work for Templeton Coal also allowed him flexibility. “The company has been great. They know I will be there the hours to get the job done. [Raising a family] would have been a tough gig in another setting,” Wulf said.
His eldest daughter, Jennifer, is a graduate of Notre Dame, having majored in journalism and now working in marketing research in New York City. Son Brian, who will graduate next year from Purdue University, is in the U.S. Naval Reserves and is studying aeronautical engineering technology. Caitlin, youngest among the kids, is a senior at Indiana University, majoring in psychology.
In 2005, Wulf met up with a former high school friend, Marylou, at his 30th high school reunion. They had spoken about 11 years earlier after he had written her a letter. He and Marylou rode a school bus together to elementary school and Wulf admitted he had a crush on her later in high school, but he never acted on it.
The two sparked a connection, dated and married in January 2008. Marylou is a psychiatric clinical nurse specialist at Methodist Hospital.
Wulf’s family life is also tied to his business life at Templeton Coal Co.
He earned a degree in business from Ball State University in 1979, and in 1986, he earned an MBA from Western Michigan University. He also has certification as senior professional in human resources.
Wulf worked from 1979 to 1982 at Delco Electronics in Kokomo, where he supervised fabrication of semiconductor chips used for engine controls. He joined a Templeton Coal-owned company, TruHeat in Allegan, Mich., in 1982.
He held that job until 1991, when he moved to Terre Haute to join Templeton Coal Co. Wulf’s great-grandfather started the company in 1920, after coming to America from Scotland. His great-great-uncle, Phil Penna, a co-founder of Templeton Coal, was also the second international president of the United Mine Workers.
His grandfather, Joe Anstead, had been executive vice president of Templeton Coal into the 1970s, and his father, Frank Wulf, served on Templeton Coal’s board of directors.
Templeton Coal, a privately held company, develops contiguous tracks of coal reserves and leases those to mining companies. It holds subsidiary companies Glas-Col in Terre Haute; Dicksons Inc. in Seymour (which provides Christian bookstore gift items); Plumb Supply Co. in Des Moines, Iowa; and TruHeat in Michigan, which makes tubular heating elements.
Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@