MERRILLVILLE | Achievement took center stage at the Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza on Friday when five local business legends were enshrined in the Northwest Indiana Business and Industry Hall of Fame.
The Times Media Co. and its BusINess Magazine sponsored the annual awards ceremony, which recognizes accomplished business people for their leadership, community involvement and determination.
The 2014 Hall of Fame class included Thomas Katsahnias, former general manager and chief operating officer of Inland Steel in East Chicago; Jim McGill, former owner of McGill Manufacturing Co. in Valparaiso; Fred Halpern, a co-owner of Albert's Diamond Jewelers in Schererville and Hobart; Adela Ortega, owner of Professional Locomotive Services in East Chicago; and O'Merrial Butchee, entrepreneur, author and director of Ivy Tech's Gerald I. Lamkin Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center. Butchee received the inaugural public service award.
"Everybody wants to know how you started out," Halpern said. "I inherited a store with two employees. I had to tell them to wait to cash your check a little later. I had to tell the water guy, 'Please don't turn off my water,' and the electrical guy, 'Please don't turn off my electricity.' I told them I will pay you eventually, and obviously those bills got paid because I'm here now. I lived at home with my family for five years and never took a penny out of the store.
"It wasn't easy is the point I'm trying to make. Everybody has to get paid before you do because you have to have credibility," he said. "After you take care of your help and bills and you have any money left, buy some more inventory."
Hundreds of people applauded the inductees Friday at the Radisson Hotel Celebrity Ballroom, where Gov. Mike Pence gave the keynote address.
"The Times Business and Industry Hall of Fame is filled with brilliant and distinguished people," Katsahnias said, after thanking his late wife for making him the person he is. "It's an honor to be put in such company. I probably don't deserve it, but I'm not going to give it back."
Katsahnias credited his Greek immigrant parents for teaching him the value of hard work, faith, personal responsibility, perseverance and education. He said such values guided him well through a long and varied career that included running Ancilla Health Systems and being chairman of the board of Calumet College of St. Joseph.
Ortega credited her colleagues and family for helping her build up her locomotive manufacturing company, which employs 28 workers in East Chicago. She only had two employees — a mechanic and an electrician — when she founded the business 18 years ago.
"The next time I come back here, I want to have 1,002 jobs, then 3,000 jobs the time after that," she said. "I would like to hire people who enjoy what they're doing, and continue down the path of growth."
McGill inherited his company and grew it to the point where it employed 1,500 workers before it was sold to Emerson Power Transmission for $50 million in 1990.
"My granddad who started the company made me responsible for who I was," he said. "He said, 'Never forget you're a McGill. Give back to your community as much as you get from it.'"
Butchee, who has done consulting work for McDonalds, Johnson Controls and Northwest Mutual Life Insurance, said no one makes it on his or her own. She said she was able to accomplish so much during her career because of all the help she has gotten along the way.
"As we continue to think about who we are, we have to realize we didn't make it on our own," she said. "Somebody was carrying you."