Friday Oct 28, 2016
Folks who are philanthropic become that way for a variety of reasons. It could be because they were deeply affected by the pleasure of helping someone else. Perhaps they came from modest means and someone was there to lift them up and give them a much-needed opportunity.
Or, it could be that helping others is virtue that was ingrained as a child. That is how it always was in the Strack family. Both personally and with the family grocery business, the Stracks have always owned the responsibility of building up others, both as individuals and as a larger community.
This philosophy is seamlessly woven into the corporate fabric of Strack and Van Til Supermarkets (SVT), a cornerstone of communities throughout Northwest Indiana and Illinois. Headquartered in Highland, Strack & Van Til, LLC, operates 37 stores and employs more than 6,000 associates under three different store brands: Strack & Van Til, Ultra Foods and Town & Country Markets.
Strong communities begin with individuals
Investing in the communities it serves is part of the corporate mission developed by Ernie Strack and Nick Van Til when they opened the chain’s first store in 1960. Jeff Strack, grandson of Ernie and now president and CEO, continues to fulfill and expand his family’s philanthropic legacy today.
Annually, SVT donates time, money and other resources back to local organizations, with the belief that the best way to do well is to participate. For example, it keeps the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana stocked and its employees volunteer their time there.
Another way SVT gives back is by ensuring the strength of the higher education institutions in its service area. SVT team members are active volunteer leaders at IU Northwest, including serving on the IU Northwest Board of Advisors, the IU Northwest School of Business and Economics Advisory Board, and through their attendance at the IU Northwest Chancellor’s Commission for Community Engagement.
In addition, Strack’s parents established the Strack Family Scholarship in 1997, awarded to a business student with financial need and who is an employee or child of SVT employees. To date, the scholarship has benefitted roughly 50 students.
Asked why the scholarship was created, Strack noted that because the family can afford higher education for its children (neither he nor his sister received any financial assistance during college), it feels an obligation to help those who struggle with paying for school. He understands the struggle many endure as they pursue their educations and has heard this refrain countless times from associates of his stores.
“I frequently hear people say that they worked their way through school by working at Strack and Van Til,” he said. “Or, they say that without the scholarship and the job, they might not have graduated. So in some small way, we helped give that person an opportunity and that’s a great feeling. It makes you want to continue to do what you do and look into ways that we can do more.”
This important work is what he company and family will be recognized for at the Chancellor’s Medallion on Thursday, November 10. Asked about the honor, Strack said, “It feels good to know you have the ability to help out the community where you live and hopefully make it a better place for everyone.”
A local legacy
Strack acknowledges that he was fortunate to grow up in the family, which is largely IU-educated. Both his father and sister are IU graduates, which made choosing IU Northwest an easy decision.
Referring to both his family and the family business, he laughs, “We are Indiana made.”
“There were a few things I always knew growing up,” he said. “I knew I was going to go to IU and get a business degree, and I knew that I was going to work at Strack and Van Til. I’m probably one of the few people who showed up at IU and knew I was going to get a business degree—and never wavered from that—and that I was going to get a job at Strack and Van Til—and I didn’t waver from that either. I’ve always looked forward to getting involved in the grocery industry. It’s a fun and fast-paced and exciting business.”
Strack was raised in Griffith and earned his business degree from IU Bloomington and his master of business administration from Purdue University Calumet.
Asked if he felt he did enough for the community, Strack said, “I don’t think it is enough. We are only as good as Northwest Indiana is and for us to be successful as an organization, we need Northwest Indiana to be successful,” he said. “There are many organizations that play a part in raising the community up. IU Northwest does that by preparing people to take on good jobs in the community and hopefully keep that talent here in the region. Supporting IU Northwest, as well as the other organizations that play a role in bettering the community, is simply the right thing to do.”