Hulman family legacy will be forever linked to Terre Haute
Monday morning's dramatic announcement that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway had been sold to veteran racing icon Roger Penske was stunning. But it should not have been surprising.
The Hulman family, with deep roots in Terre Haute, had begun divesting itself of its numerous business and property holdings in recent years. It was a sign of the times. Mari Hulman George, the daughter of Anton "Tony" Hulman Jr. and Mary Fendrich Hulman, died last year. Mari's children, while involved in the family business in various ways, had struggled to find a solid footing with which to advance the family's interests.
Hulman & Co., owner of the speedway in Indianapolis and Clabber Girl in Terre Haute, was the foundation of those business interests. It was an enterprise with a rich history going back to the German immigrant family that first came to this city in the 1800s.
While Hulman & Co. had been involved with a variety of businesses in its history, it catapulted into international prominence 74 years ago when Tony Hulman Jr. purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The facility had deteriorated, but Hulman revitalized it and turned it into one of the most recognizable and reputable sporting venues in the world.
The resurgence of the Indianapolis 500 in the late 20th century was one of the biggest success stories in sports. Tony Hulman Jr. was the person responsible for that. His vision and energy in building the speedway into a worldwide destination will long be known as among Hulman & Co.'s most remarkable achievements.
In Terre Haute, however, Hulman & Co.'s impact is profound and lasting, even though many of its holdings have either gone away or are now owned by other entities. Its primary local business, Clabber Girl, was sold to B&G Foods earlier this year. Before that, it had divested itself of interests in local media organizations, including the Tribune-Star and WTHI-TV and radio. The company owned and operated the iconic hotel, the Terre Haute House, at the corner of Seventh and Wabash before closing and later selling the building.
Penske's purchase of IMS and Hulman & Co. doesn't include all of the Hulman family holdings. The family will retain ownership of local real estate, including the building at the corner of Ninth and Wabash, as well as mineral rights. But it will do so under a new name yet to be determined.
The Hulman family's impact on the community through its businesses was great, as was its philanthropic activity. The family was generous in its giving, and that may well be its most profound and lasting legacy.
Despite its withdrawal from many of the interests that propelled the family to prominence, the Hulman family will remain synonymous with Terre Haute and its colorful history.