The Journal Gazette
Sunday, January 12, 2020 1:00 am

Achievers tell their stories

Project started by retiree to let success inspire

TERRI RICHARDSON | The Journal Gazette

Several years ago, Bruce Buck decided he wanted to film area community leaders telling their life stories and how they managed to become successful.

It wasn't for an organization or particular company. Buck, retired from consulting, just wanted to record the stories of these leaders before they are no longer with us.

He calls them Indiana Super Achievers and has been pursuing the project for about a year, calling up people he considers movers and shakers and asking them about challenges they had to overcome, their life growing up, their mistakes, successes, what they've learned and advice they want to share.

So far he has filmed nearly 30. And the cost to produce it all comes from his own pocket.

The 66-year-old Fort Wayne man says he will continue to do it until he runs out of money.

“I'm in debt doing this,” he says with a laugh. “It's one thing I can do before I kick the bucket that will last.”

But it's not really about the money, he says. Buck sees it as a gift to the community as well as the Achievers' families. “When you believe in something, it makes a difference.”

Buck is the facilitator of the program, but he hires out a crew for filming and uses students from local colleges, such as Indiana Tech, University of Saint Francis and Purdue University Fort Wayne, to conduct the interviews. He films about three or four a month.

He posts the stories on the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center's website, and Indiana Super Achievers has been turned into a local PBS series that airs at 8 p.m. Mondays on channel 39-4. The stories also can be seen at the Indiana Super Achievers website,

He is hoping that people, especially students, will find something in the life stories that they can use in their own lives. Buck has sent web links to the stories to Indiana colleges, chambers of commerce, other organizations, and high and trade schoolsto use in their classrooms.

Buck is hoping he can get sponsors for the project so he can continue to tell Hoosier stories.

“Everybody should do this for their family,” he says of recording life stories. “There are so many people out there that are achieving.”

Dawn Rosemond, a partner at Barnes and Thornburg who serves as the law firm's director of diversity, professional development and inclusion, says she was “grateful” to be chosen for the project.

“It's not a bad title to be associated with,” she says of the Super Achievers. “I'm humbled. You kind of sit back and think, 'How did I make this list?' I respect every last one of them.”

Rosemond says that often, people tend to discount and forget how far they've come.

“When you tell your story, it makes you pause,” she says. “I remember that Dawn, that Dawn that walked through the doors” of the law firm in 1996.

The 48-year-old Fort Wayne native knew she wanted to be a lawyer most of her life, and while she went to law school outside Fort Wayne, she ultimately came back to the city where she was born and raised.

Rosemond says everyone's career journey is full of ebbs and flows. She wants to give back to the community, and part of that is telling her story.

“Often we think, 'I'm the only one that is going through this,'” she says. These stories will help others pull through whatever they are going through, she says.

“We have amazing people right here. You should know them,” she says. “I love that they tapped into heroes. Period. And they all happen to be from around these parts.”

Many of the leaders interviewed are from the Fort Wayne community – including Barbara Baekgaard and Patricia Miller, founders of Vera Bradley; Chuck Surack, founder of Sweetwater Sound; Keith Busse, co-founder of Fort Wayne-based Steel Dynamics Inc.; Cathy Brand-Beere, founder of Debrand Fine Chocolate; and Sister Elise Kriss, president of University of Saint Francis.

But Buck has expanded the project to include successful Hoosiers from all over the state, including South Bend, Valparaiso, Decatur and Warsaw.

When Jay Leonard, owner of Preferred Automotive Group in Fort Wayne, tells his story, his main reasons are to show “how much work and effort it takes to get to where I am today. It seems like it happened so fast, but it didn't,” he says. The second is to remind him of “how fortunate I really am.”

“It's a selfish reason to take me back to a place I don't ever want to go back to again,” he says. “It was a real struggle.”

That journey started when the woman he loved turned down his marriage proposal. Her reason – Leonard worked too much.

At the time, Leonard was a young man working for Kelley Automotive and was making six figures. But his girlfriend wanted someone like her father who, although he worked hard, made it home for dinner every night.

So Leonard decided to quit his job, open his own car lot and go from not worrying about money to instead paying himself $500 a week – all so he could marry the woman he loved.

But as they say, love won out, and Leonard eventually saw his business grow. He has owned Preferred Automotive 30 years and has three stores in Fort Wayne. And he still makes it home every night to have dinner with his wife, Ann.

The 58-year-old wants to give young people that same entrepreneurial spirit and give them some guidance. He often talks to students about his career journey and has for years. Leonard has had adults with children who heard his story when they were students come up to him and say, “I will never forget your story, or how you got started,” he says.

Leonard does wonder what would have happened if he had accepted his wife's initial answer of no, or if she had said yes.

“I would still be working for somebody else,” he says. “Every thing happens for a reason. I am a firm believer in that.”

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