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On the Shoulders of Giants

     Just a few years after Carl Greenleaf and other investors took control of the retired C.G. Conn’s musical instrument company, Greenleaf became the first president of the Elkhart Chamber of Commerce in 1919. 

     Many are familiar with Greenleaf Boulevard on the north shore of the St. Joe River as well as the company that is now Conn-Selmer. Greenleaf and Conn were giants.
     That year prohibition had gone into effect. Women’s right to vote was approved in the 19th amendment. Dr. Miles Medical Company was producing nervine and was selling mail order medicine. The nationally-recognized Elkhart Bridge and Iron Company was a major employer under Frank Brumbaugh and, later, Frank J. Miller, Sr. Miles, definitely a giant. Brumbaugh and Miller, also giants.

      Greenleaf purchased the Truth newspaper along with banker and financier A. H. Beardsley – another Elkhart giant. The two also purchased the Elkhart Review newspaper. Both the Greenleaf and Beardsley families benefitted greatly having invested in Dr. Miles’ company. 
     In that founding year of the Elkhart Chamber in 1919, the Elkhart City Municipal building that stands at the corner of West High and South Second streets was built. 
     In 1926 the Chamber was incorporated. And in that year a record-breaking, LeMans-winning race car driver from Canada, John Duff, drove an Elcar in the 14th Indianapolis 500. That super-charged Elcar was built by the Elcar Motor Company, also known as the Elkhart Carriage and Motor Company, owned by brothers William and Dr. George Pratt, who took over after their father Frederick died. Frederick had been making carriages in Elkhart since the 1870s. Marion Street had originally been named Pratt Street, where the first Pratt buggy was made. More giants of Elkhart, of community, of commerce.

     During the dust bowl depression of the 1930s, Elkhart established itself as the RV Capital of the World. House trailers were featured at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. Entrepreneurs in Elkhart ran with that idea. The RV Capital title was secured on the backs of manufacturers like Skyline-Coach, founded by Julius Decio in 1951. Skyline, a long-time member of the Chamber, was lifted to new heights when 26-year old Art Decio became the company’s CEO in 1956. Decio, another giant.

     Then, in 1969 the Apollo missions led to a lunar landing. Richard Nixon was president. American troops began to withdraw from the war in Vietnam. And The Brady Bunch was first broadcast on TV. That’s the year that the Elkhart Chamber of Commerce became the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce. Elkhart High School freshmen would also be the last class to graduate from that school - the class of ‘72. Elkhart and the surrounding communities were growing. 
     The Chamber moved next to the ELCO Theater - now the Lerner Theatre - in 1989. It’s in the building built by one of the early giants of retail on Elkhart’s Main Street, Curtis Furniture.

     So, here we are in 2015, 95 years after the inaugural Chamber. This organization looks ahead, standing on the shoulders of the giants who formed it, who guided it, and who passed it on - generation after generation. Running it is not a science. However, the premise remains constant. The Chamber is here to pull businesses together: to keep its members educated in light of regulations, current topics, and professional development; to advocate at the local and state and even national levels amid proposed and current legislation and tax law that affect its members, Greater Elkhart area businesses; and to elevate its members with networking opportunities, referrals, and recogition.

      The Greater Elkhart Chamber will move into the future educating, advocating and elevating its members, continuing a tradition founded on the shoulders of giants.

     This year, local leaders of business who sit on the Board of Directors are guiding the organization... See who they are...

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