"Been there, done that," is an understatement for this man. He has done so many things, met so many people and one so many places that would impress and interest any listener beyond the norm. He's classy and confident; adroit and accomplished. Many already know the name, so let's take a look behind it at the life of Bill Wellman, a Valpo Life That Matters.
Wellman was born in La Porte and moved to various towns such as Kouts and Lowell before his family settled in Valparaiso. His father played baseball for a living and helped to build and coach various teams at that time.
"My father told me and my brother that if you stick with baseball, you'll never go wrong," Wellman said.
Wellman grew up with his mother, father and older brother in an apartment above the club tavern that his family owned on Washington Street. He got his first job as what he called a go-fer. He would fetch lunch for customers at the tavern or run errands and such and collect tips from that.
At the age of 17 Wellman joined the Marine Corps.This is where he formed his deep-rooted respect for the famous patriotic tune, "Taps". After he came home, Wellman joined the large amount of soldiers that decided to go to college with the help of the G.I Bill. He attended VU for a spell and IU. After deciding that college wasn't the route that he wished to take, Wellman came back to Valpo and helped his father run an upscale bar called the Corral with a western saloon type feel.
"On opening night my father rode a horse down main street about 10 times and up onto the curb and into the bar," Wellman reminisced. "At that time we had no idea what liability insurance was. Nobody talked about insurance. The bar was where Bon Femme restaurant is now."
After 10 years in that location, the bar was moved to a different location by Highway 30 and a bowling alley and a dining room. They called the place Wellman's. It was a buffet that still had a western atmosphere.
Interesting side story: Wellman went down to a conference in Tennessee where his family owned a Holiday Inn. He took with him a gift for the owner of the hotel chain, Charles Kemmons Wilson. Now, Wilson was a popcorn lover. Wellman knew that and chose his gift accordingly -a bucket of popcorn kernels. Wellman told him that the popcorn came from a guy he knew back in Indiana and he wanted Wilson to try it. After two days at the conference, Wilson called Wellman and raved about the popcorn being the best he ever tasted. When he asked who this came from, Wellman replied, "Orville Redenbacher."
So Wilson began selling Redenbacher's popcorn in Holiday Inns all over the country. Interesting nugget of information, don't you think?
Back on track, Wellman became a business mogul and delved into different business ventures. He opened a theater called the Bridge VU Dinner Theatre, he was the President of the Indiana Restaurant Association in 1965, he was the general manager at Lighthouse Restaurant in Cedar Lake, he helped in the creation of the famous restaurant The Court in Valparaiso and he helped in the design, implementation and opening of the Holiday Star Theater -what we know today as the Star Plaza Theater- in Merrillville, IN, among other ventures.
Wellman met Dean White, owner of Whiteco Industries at the Bridge VU Dinner Theatre. White had an idea that he wanted to build a big theater in Northwest Indiana that would really bring tourism to the area. So Wellman stopped what he was doing at the time, which was his work at The Court, and went to work for White to help create one of most prosperous businesses in the region.
During his time running the Bridge VU Dinner Theatre, Wellman employed entertainment in the form of acting students from Valparaiso University (hence the name Bridge VU). It was a successful endeavor and many of the actors and actresses from that theater went on to have very successful careers later in life. After a few years, Wellman decided to bring in talent of a larger caliber. He had performers like Phyllis Diller, Dolly Parton, Victor Borge, The Oak Ridge Boys, Duke Ellington, Rose Marie and many others. He did the same thing at the Star Plaza when he was the general manager, bringing in notable talent like Bill Cosby, Perry Como, Bob Hope, and Valentino Liberace.
"We planned it from the ground up, used a local architect, and I used some of the people that I had working for me at the Bridge VU," Wellman said. "We opened on a Sunday night and our first act was 4 Girls 4 with Rosemary Clooney. I remember standing in the balcony watching them rehearse and I heard Margaret Whiting say to Rosemary Clooney, ‘The acoustics are beautiful.' And what a thrill that was for me, because acoustics are tough."
After about three years, Wellman got promoted to another position at Whiteco Industries. Wellman now works part-time as a lobbyist for Whiteco Industries, takes part in the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, and works here and there at the Lighthouse Restaurant.
When I asked him if there was any advice that he wanted to offer to those looking to better themselves, Wellman answered simply, "I think having the right personality that helps you get along with people is the key to making just about anything happen."
There are so many other things that Wellman has done in his life that I wanted to put in here, but then the article would be the length of a good novel. Speaking of good novels, Wellman is a published author. You can read about all that he has done in his life in his book "It's Made to Sell, Not to Drink." He said that if it wasn't for his wife that he may not have written the book . I recommend doing that because this man is so full of stories and experiences that missing out on what he has to say would be a loss to any reader. So go forth and find out more about Bill Wellman, the Valpo Life That Matters!