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STORY INDEX

Introduction

Population of Indiana's northeast counties
grew by 81 percent this century

Tracking railroads:
Since 1900, number of local lines reduced from five to two

Longtime area auto dealers have 'seen it all'

Amish continue long-held traditions
- except on safety issues

Cars accelerate lives of Noble County residents

The price of cars: How much did it cost to drive one off the lot?

Electric Interurban connected area to Fort Wayne, beyond

LaGrange residents rally to save historic brick streets

U.S. 6, Ind. 3: Kendallville's routes to growth

Agriculture ever-changing, advancing in Noble County

Comparisons: How far did the dollar stretch?

Growing onions, peppermint made 'scents' in early 1900s

The Gaby farm:
Family-owned and celebrating over 150 years

A changing culture impacts 4-H

County fair continues to be a big social event

Thriving through the times: Downtown Kendallville adapts to a century of changes

Dekko's philanthropy remains a 'valuable resource'

Rinkel family still at the wheel of Greenfield Hills

Commerce nothing new to Shipshewana: Town thrives as one of fastest-growing tourist areas in state

Making do during the Great Depression: Retired hatchery owner recalls tough times, bright moments

Mill a 'Star' business in Ligonier: Firm has been grinding wheat into flour for 113 years

Elmer E. McCray had a major impact on Kendallville

Richard R. Cole has long legacy

Female executive has seen many changes in workforce

Working women: From assisting war effort to competing in global markets

Wolcottville a center of commerce, industry in 1800s

Mongoquinong area was early LaGrange County commercial center

'The cheapest hired hand we ever had.' Electricity made life brighter, easier down on the farm

Monument company's history set in stone

Historic Corn School dates back to 1906

Dekko's philanthropy remains a 'valuable resource'

By JOE POTTER
The News-Sun

KENDALLVILLE - The successful business and philanthropic career of the late Chester E. "Chet" Dekko continues to benefit residents Kendallville, Noble County and many other communities in Indiana and Iowa.

Dekko, who was fondly known as "Kendallville's most valuable resource," was the founder of the Dekko Foundation and the co-founder of Group Dekko International.

He left an indelible mark on the Kendallville and Noble County area and also in other communities that bred his success.

Dekko, who was born in Ada, Minn., in 1925, and who died Sept. 25, 1992, in Kendallville, was the son of Norwegian immigrants.

Dekko attended the University of Minnesota and was an active member of the Naval V12 Reserve Program.

He earned bachelor's degrees in mechanical engineering and naval science technology and a master's degree in business.

His first job assignment after graduating was with Aluminum Company of America, where he served as a sales engineer. Later, he was transferred to the Fort Wayne area, where he worked as a salesman for a small firm. While there, he became acquainted with Lyall Morrill, now deceased.

Dekko and Morrill left their jobs on June 24, 1953, and Dekko invested all he had and the two men formed Lyall Electric, Inc., based in Albion.

During the first few years of the company, Morrill worked as the sales representative and Dekko as the manufacturing manager. Lyall Electric developed ready-made wiring harnesses for commercial refrigeration manufacturers that dramatically reduced costs to those companies.

Previously, those appliances had to be wired by hand.

Lyall Electric experienced extraordinary growth and eventually became Noble County's largest employer.

The name of the business was changed to Group Dekko International (GDI) in October 1988 after Dekko borrowed millions of dollars and bought out the widow of his partner in December 1987 and became president and principal owner.

He then began to offer ownership interests in the separate divisions to top management of GDI to help ensure the company would not be bought out by a major conglomerate.

GDI, which is based in Kendall-ville, consists of 11 operating companies and is a major supplier of wiring products to the office furniture, appliance and automotive industries.

The products the privately-held company manufactures are used in everything from off-road vehicles to office furniture and in-home appliances.

GDI currently employs more than 3,200 workers in its more than 50 manufacturing facilities in Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Texas, Alabama and Mexico.

Dekko semi-retired in 1990, but remained as chairman of the board.

In 1981, Dekko established the Dekko Foundation, which has a mission statement of "Fostering economic freedom through education."

The foundation has contributed more than $32 million to communities within its geographic limits as of August 1998.

The foundation's focus is on educational programs or projects in the communities that have GDI plants or where Dekko had a presence prior to his death.

Some of the foundation's objectives are the empowerment of young people to serve their community and school; the development of partnerships with early childhood programs; the recognition and honoring of teachers of outstanding quality; and the recognition and honoring of employees of public school corporation who want to make a difference in the way students learn.

Some area organizations that recently received financial grants from the Dekko Foundation include:

· East Noble School Corp., $334,000 for educational programs and technology.

· Prairie Heights Community Schools, $155,000 for technology.

· Kendallville Public Library, $118,945 for capital projects, a storytelling festival and operating funds.

· Kendallville Park and Recreation Department, $106,000 for capital projects and preschool programs.

· The Cole Center Family YMCA in Kendallville, $100,000 for an operating endowment.

· The LaGrange County Parks Department, $26,000 for renovations to Dallas Lake Lodge.

· LaGrange 4-H Club Association, $13,850 towards the cost of a youth building.

· The First Church of God of LaGrange, $12,073 for the church's child care center.

Most of the programs the foundation supports are located within Noble, LaGrange, DeKalb, Steuben, Kosciusko or Whitley counties and it has assisted several area high schools, local public libraries and public service organizations.

However, the foundation also supports programs in Clarke, Decatur, Lucas, Ringgold and Union counties in Iowa, Limestone County, Ala., and Lincoln and Giles counties in Tennessee.

In 1991, Dekko established the Freedom Academy, a private, not-for-profit continuing education program supported by the Dekko Foundation.

Between 2,500 and 3,000 students per year take classes through the Freedom Academy, which is based in Kendallville and serves students in Noble, LaGrange, DeKalb, Whitley, Kosciusko and Steuben counties and adjacent areas.

The Freedom Academy maintains an effective partnership with manufacturing, retail and service industries in its continuing effort to provide its students opportunities for public classes and private, on-site training for business and industry.

The Freedom Academy offers apprenticeships, seminars and programs in management, leadership, safety and health, business, technology, real estate, languages, community service, quality assurance, medical care, personal computers, employee empowerment, human resource management and team building.