Dekko's philanthropy remains
a 'valuable resource'
By JOE POTTER
- 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
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
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
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
In 1981, Dekko established the Dekko Foundation, which has
a mission statement of "Fostering economic freedom through
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
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.