The year 1882 was in the midst of the Gilded Age, an era of prosperity from 1870 – to 1900. …
Dr. Beurt R. SerVaas, A Creature of the Twentieth Century
April 20, 2022
The title of this post is a quote from Dr. Beurt R. SerVass. After 27 years as Indianapolis City Council President, he decided to step down; he said, “I’m a creature of the 20th Century. I think it’s time to turn it over to the young men and women of the 21st Century.” I’m not certain it was time because Dr. Servass was much more than his self-description. Much more.
I’ve written five books and thousands of blogs, but I’ve never been as intimidated to write an article as I am now. The life of Dr. SerVass is like a novel or an action-packed movie. He was an amazing man, and I don’t want to dishonor him.
A Product of Indianapolis
He was born in Indianapolis on May 7th, 1919. At 15, he became an Eagle Scout and was honored as “One of the most distinguished scouts in Indiana over the last 100 years.” He attended Shortridge high school, playing football and working on the school paper. Although he received a scholarship to Indiana University, he didn’t have the funds to live on campus, so he took a job as a janitor at the Indianapolis IU extension while taking a full load of courses. Wanting to master Spanish, he hitchhiked to the University of Mexico in Mexico City from Indianapolis with $35 in his pocket. He returned home and completed his degree at IU. While completing his degree, I read that he was also taking post-grad courses at Purdue. After graduating, he taught chemistry and Spanish at Short Ridge High.
A World War II Hero
When world War II broke out, the OSS (later to become the CIA) recruited Beurt. He commanded 15 men who flew out of India with little more than backpacks and weapons. His team’s task was to disrupt Japanese river supplies. Later while stationed in Formosa (Taiwan), he was sent on what many considered a suicide mission. He went unarmed with only cyanide suicide pills in his pocket to a highly fortified Japanese base to ask for their surrender. He received the Chiang Kai-shek medal of honor for his bravery.
After the war, he lived briefly in New York City, where he met the love of his life Cory Synhorst. They were married in 1950 and raised five children Eric, Joan, Paul, Kristen, and Amy.
In 1949 with $5,600, which he had saved from his military service, he bought a struggling electric plating company. SerVass said, “I did that all over the world. I found out I couldn’t afford to buy a company that was making a profit, because then you had to pay a premium.”
He would eventually own 50 or more companies, including businesses that rebuilt engines, refined rubber, produced cleaning products, and publishing. He bought Bar Keepers Friend because he liked how it polished the metal plating at his electric plating business. In 1971 he purchased the bankrupt Curtis Publishing Company and brought The Saturday Evening Post to Indianapolis from Philadelphia.
It was more than owning a business for Dr. SerVass. It was making things better, building an economy, and saving jobs. He bought struggling Bridgeport Brass in Indianapolis to save more than 1,000 jobs and at the urging of then Mayor Bill Hudnut. He purchased Uniroyal Tire to save 600 jobs.
Dr. SerVass spent 40 years on the Indianapolis City Council, retiring in 2002 after serving as Council president for 27 years. During that time, he was a significant contributor to Unigov, the consolidation of Marion County, and the city of Indianapolis. He helped create green spaces, bringing the NFL Colts to Indy, and he paved the path for Indiana University and Purdue University’s combined campus Downtown. SerVaas told The Indianapolis Star in 2002, “I set about the job of rebuilding the city. I consider myself a builder. I built businesses. I built a family. I built a publishing company. I stayed on (the council) all these years to rebuild the city.”
Daughter Joan was quoted by the Indy Star, “I remember that our vacations were always either visiting a factory or a city government. During our first trip to Florida, our vacation was to Jacksonville because they had a unified city-county government. He was in the midst of checking out how other cities did it.”
In his 60s, he went back to school and earned a Doctorate of Medicine from IU in 1970, not to practice medicine but to understand the science. He later served on several education and medical boards. He chaired the Governor’s Indiana State Commission on Medical Education development of IUPUI and served on the Indiana State Board of Health’s board of directors.
“I believe you have to develop a curiosity about the environment in which you live in order to see the opportunities most people don’t see,” SerVaas, quoted by the Horatio Alger Association. (He was a 1980 Horatio Alger Award winner.)
An Amazing Life
Dr. SerVass lived an amazing life. I read an article recently that stated if you want to be a success, you must concentrate on one thing. I disagreed with the post, and Dr. SerVass is my proof. He was a success in business, government, and family. He was a success at life. So, I must disagree with Dr. SerVass because he wasn’t a mere creature of the 20th century. He was more, he was a man for all times. We need more like him today.
2022 marks the 140th anniversary of Bar Keepers Friend. So, throughout the year, we’ll be sharing posts about the history of Bar Keepers Friend.
If you enjoyed this post you might like, Who Was George William Hoffman the Inventor of Bar Keepers Friend?
About the Author
Randy Clark is a speaker, coach, and author. He publishes a weekly blog at Randy Clark Leadership.com. Randy is passionate about social media, leadership development, and flower gardening. He’s a beer geek, and on weekends (after COVID-19), he can be found fronting the Rock & Roll band Under the Radar. He’s the proud father of two educators; he has four amazing grandchildren and a wife who dedicates her time to helping others. Randy is the author of the Amazon bestseller The New Manager’s Workbook: A crash course in effective management.
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