The 10th class of the Times of Northwest Indiana Business and Industry Hall of Fame includes a billionaire who changed the way people invest in mutual funds, a pair of catalysts who have sought to revitalize downtown Hammond, a tech leader who protects NASA's information technology assets, a CEO who built a bank into a regional powerhouse with more than $3 billion in assets, a pioneering agritourism destination and arguably Northwest Indiana's leading voice for economic development.

They join prestigious company. Previous inductees include late billionaire Dean White, Munster booster Don Powers and Peoples Bank Executive Chairman David Bochnowski.

The class of 2017 included Morningstar Founder and Executive Chairman Joseph Mansueto, It's Just Seredipity owner Karen Maravilla, longtime El Taco Real manager Raymundo Garcia, Cimcor Founder and President/CEO Robert E. Johnson III and Horizon Bank CEO Craig Dwight.

Fair Oaks Farms was named Enterprise of the Year and NIPSCO Director of Economic Development Don Babcock was honored as Partner in Progress.

Mansueto, a Region native who graduated from Munster High School and has since donated $1 million to teachers there, appeared by video before the packed house in Avalon Manor in Hobart Tuesday.

"It was an ideal setting for kids to grow up in," he said.

"The steel mills certainly give the Region a lot of its character, instilling a strong work ethic. People are friendly and save their money. The values instilled in me is if you apply yourself and work hard, great things can happen."

Maravilla, Downtown Hammond Council president who's trying to lure more people there with events like Arts on the Avenue, said her approach to life has been shaped by the poem, "The Dash."

"The dash is the time between the year you were born and the year you died," she said. "So, think about this long and hard./Are there things you'd like to change?/For you never know how much time is left/that can be rearranged. So, when your eulogy is being read,/ with your life's actions to rehash ... /would you be proud of the things they say/about how you spent your dash?"

Garcia, who's long run the popular El Taco Real restaurant in downtown Hammond, encouraged business leaders in the audience to give positive affirmation the way the Times Media Co. has with its Hall of Fame.

"I saw a bit online where the comedian Jerry Seinfeld was talking about how all these awards shows are useless, self-serving and stupid. Well, I beg to differ," he said. "An attaboy or attagirl is a valid motivational gesture."

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Dwight praised his employees at Horizon Bank, saying "we all know it's not one person who contributes to a successful business operation." He stressed the importance of family and talked about how he overcame initial skepticism about whether he was qualified to lead a publicly traded bank.

"The last 19 years has been an incredible ride," he said. "To go from $360 million to $3.2 billion in 19 years is phenomenal. The first year we made less than $1 million. Now we make $3 million a month. We were located in two counties; now we're located in 29 counties. I think it's really cool that a little bank from Michigan City, Indiana, with employees from Northwest Indiana was able to become a regional player."

Johnson, whose clients include the U.S. Air Force and the Milwaukee Brewers, said it was hard for him to understand how doing what he was passionate about and loved led him to share a podium with such esteemed business luminaries.

"Put in computer terms, it does not compute," he said. "This honor, this recognition today, only serves to strengthen my commitment, my dedication to Northwest Indiana and Cimcor, a commitment that extends far beyond the walls of our offices and into the communities, both locally and regionally. I will remain steadfast in my wish to have Cimcor being an internationally recognized leader."

Fair Oaks CEO Gary Corbett talked about how the agritourist farm in Jasper and Newton counties would continue to build on its success by adding new facilities, including a hotel that should open next year and a John Deere equipment exhibit.

"We're excited about the future," he said. "We'd like to grow and grow. The best is yet to come."

Babcock, who Times publisher Chris White described as "Mr. Region" and "Northwest Indiana's biggest cheerleader for economic development," urged the audience in an emotional speech to work to make Northwest Indiana a better place. He said Northwest Indiana can continue to lure large manufacturing facilities and attract people with lakefront hotels, restaurants and parks.

Lawmakers are increasingly starting to share a vision about how to grow the Region, and South Shore Line projects will bring progress, Babcock said.

"As we get bolder and hopefully wiser and more driven for a better future for Northwest Indiana, there's always going to be naysayers," Babcock said.

"There are going to be people who don't want something in their backyard or their community. They're afraid of change. Those naysayers have some points that need to be incorporated in our plans ... but we're not stopping. So when those naysayers bring their sledgehammers and their pitchforks and their venom and their negative political agendas, just leave them on the side. Just leave them on the side.

"Stay with the yeasayers. Stay with the brave hearts. Stay with the people who believe Northwest Indiana's best days are ahead of us, and that our collective energies can make it so."


Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.