People nationwide know husband and wife business partners Carl and Lorrie Lisek for their roles in promoting alternative fuel and vehicle use and as environmental consultants.
What many don't know is how the childhood sweethearts took a mid-life leap of faith, created their own business and came to lead two large Clean Cities programs for the U.S. Department of Energy.
"To be an entrepreneur, we felt like there was never a good time to quit our jobs," Carl says. "Now, we feel like we should have done it sooner. I wish we hadn't waited until we were both in our 40s."
Their story began in 1977 with a chance meeting at the now-defunct Munster Lanes bowling alley.
"I used to bowl a lot," Carl says. "Her Mom was sick and I played in a mixed league. She was there keeping her Dad company."
"I used to joke, 'Why didn't Dad take me to a country club?'" Lorrie laughs.
Carl was 16 and a student at Thornton Fractional South High School in Lansing. Lorrie (then Warmelink) was a 15-year-old Lake Central High School student.
"I had to beg my parents to let me go out with him because he just got his license and I was only 15," Lorrie says
Her father, a mill worker, eventually said yes.
"She was the only girl I ever dated," Carl says.
Carl also came from a blue-collar background, with his father working at the oil refinery in Whiting. He was the first in his family to attend college, first at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond and later at Governor's State University in University Park, Illinois.
The Liseks married on Sept. 17, 1983 after Carl's college graduation. They have two sons, Ryan, 25, and Kyle, 21. Carl spent 20 years working in the environmental industry as a general manager for environmental remediation companies.
"We were married with young kids at home and I was traveling a lot," Carl says. Lorrie worked in the banking industry and had a successful Mary Kay consulting business, which she has maintained for 25 years.
"I won my free cars and all that," she explains. "I got a lot of business training that way."
In the early 2000s, the couple thought it was time for a change.
"We knew we always wanted our own business, we just didn't know what to do," Lorrie says.
"We wanted to be part of preventing the contamination and pollution instead of coming in afterward and cleaning it up," Carl says. In 2003, the couple founded Legacy Environmental Services, an environmental consulting firm housed at the Purdue Technology Center in Crown Point.
"We decided to call it Legacy because we wanted to leave a legacy for our children," Lorrie says. They are co-owners, with Lorrie serving as president and Carl as vice-president.
Carl lovingly calls Lorrie "the boss."
Legacy's largest project to date was an energy audit for the state of Indiana for 18 communities. While working with their Legacy clients, the Liseks became board members of South Shore Clean Cities, a government/industry partnership focused on reducing petroleum consumption in the transportation sector.
In 2006, the South Shore Clean Cities coordinator had to step down due to health issues and the board asked Carl and Lorrie if they would serve as interim co-coordinators. They accepted, making them the first husband and wife team leading a coalition in the nation.
At the time, South Shore Clean Cities covered just Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties and there were two other coalitions in the state, Evansville and Indianapolis.
"The Evansville one folded, so we asked for 20 counties," Carl says.
They soon got their wish, but the expansion wasn't over yet. In May 2011, Lorrie became coordinator for Clean Cities Wisconsin, with oversight for the entire state.
"When we tell people we have Wisconsin, too, they always think it is so far away," Lorrie says. "I can be to Milwaukee faster than I can be to Indy and still be in the same time zone."
Carl now handles South Shore Clean Cities solo as coordinator.
Working with fleets is having the biggest impact, they say. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy recognized South Shore Clean Cities for achieving the greatest reduction in petroleum consumption in the nation.
"We work with different fleets because applications with fleets use more fuel," Carl says. "People get on board because they want to save money, primarily and secondly, to help the environment."
"As you get the fleets involved, the infrastructure will come and make it much more appealing to consumers, too," Lorrie says.
Now, 36 years after that chance encounter at the bowling alley, those teenagers are 52 and 51. The Liseks are preparing to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in September.
"She was my first love and my only love," Carl says. "It's been like a story book. It really has."
Carl says working with his spouse is great, but "it's hard to turn off work sometimes."
"Our passion is our work and we're almost empty-nesters, so it seems like when we have a conversation, something's always in there about work," Lorrie says.
They both say the rewards are worth it.
"I think we've had a blessed life," Carl says. "I feel like we've accomplished what we set out to achieve both personally and professionally."