Barrows named 2019 Distinguished Citizen
By Joseph Slacian
As Bill Barrows sat at his table at the Honeywell Center’s Legacy Hall on Thursday night, Oct. 10, he listened intently as 2018 Distinguished Citizen Larry Curless began reading the details of the 2019 award winner during the Grow Wabash County annual dinner.
“I was scanning the room trying to figure out who it would be,” Barrows told The Paper of Wabash County. “All of a sudden, it all sounded very familiar. When it got to the subject of fastpitch softball, it was more than coincidental.”
Moments later, Curless unveiled to those who had not yet figured it out, that Barrows was the 2019 Distinguished Citizen.
After making his way to the Legacy Hall stage, he was joined by his family, noting “my wife is supposed to be out of town.”
In addition to Barrows being honored as Distinguished Citizen, Oji Intertech was honored as 2019 Business of the Year.
“I am extremely humbled,” Barrows told the 300 people attending the annual dinner. “Never, ever, ever have I ever remotely dreamed or thought about this.
“I don’t know what to say, other than thank you to everyone who had anything to do with this. Wow. All of the things that Larry talked about, I have done. And there’s a lot of other things we don’t want to talk about.
“But I really appreciate this.”
Curless, during his introduction speech, noted that Barrows was born in Peru and moved with his family to Wabash when he was a youngster. After graduating from Wabash High School, he received a degree from Purdue University.
“This individual had many hobbies and diverse interests – which always seemed to be directed toward sports – notably baseball,” Curless continued. “this unknown individual became a sports broadcaster of baseball, basketball and football. As time went on just talking about sports was not enough; involvement was needed. The satisfaction of being actively involved as a coach and administrator of youth sports led him to a true sense of who he was meant to be.”
Barrows also has served on numerous boards and committees, including the Wabash Chamber of Commerce, Wabash Marketplace Inc., the Streetscape Committee, the Wabash Service Board, the Wabash Plan Commission and the YMCA boards.
“He will be revealed by his involvement as a fast-pitch softball player under coach Bob Vanlandingham,” Curless said. “(He) also was Mr. Alumni of Wabash High School in 1999. That same year he was inducted into the Mid-America Baseball hall of Fame and was instrumental in creating the Chris Rood Memorial Baseball Tournament.”
In 2018, Barrows was one of 38 people from Indiana chosen to participate in a fellowship entitled “The Journey,” honoring those who work to service youth. He also worked to help create the Field of Dreams, and he currently serves as an assistant coach to the Wabash Apache baseball team.
Oji President Rick Sereno accepted the Business of the Year on behalf of the company employees present. Also present was Kazuo Irikura, an executive from Oji Intertech’s parent company in Japan made the trip from Japan to attend the evening’s festivities.
Oji, then known as Efton Inc., opened in June 1995 in North Manchester. It changed its name to Oji in 2002 to better related with its parent company. The firm serves the automotive, transportation and industrial packing fields, Grow Wabash County board chair Jason Callahan said in introducing the firm.
“Even though they are part of an enterprise based out of Japan, Oji Intertech Inc. is committed to investing in the communities their employees and families call home,” he said. “Oji believes strengthening North Manchester, Wabash County and Northeast Indiana is not only ethical, but makes good business sense.”
In addition to supporting various organizations and causes as a company, the firm gives each employee two days a year in which they are able to volunteer for those causes close to them.
Sereno said that in preparing his remarks, he reflected on the firm’s 20 years in North Manchester. He highlighted many of the products that the firm helps to produce and noted that automotive parts produced in North Manchester “are shipped around North America and the world on a daily basis.”
“Having said all that, none of that would have been possible without the support of this community,” he continued.
In 1996, he said, company officials met with then Mayor Robert McCallen Jr. to explain what the firm was looking for in a site.
“Before I could complete my sentence, Mayor Robert McCallen jumped across the table, grabbed my hand and said, ‘Son, you have come to the right place,” Sereno reflected. “We chose a plot of ground in North Manchester’s newly developed industrial park. The State of Indiana and the local community made us offers in terms and abatements on the land building and property that we simply could not refuse.”
During the recession, the state and county offered training grants, which the firm used to partner with Purdue University to develop additional skills. In its most recent expansion, the state and county offered more training grants and abatements to help the firm.
However, none of the firm’s success would have been possible without its workforce, Sereno said.
“You don’t often hear it said, but this community and the people who live in it and around it still value work,” he said. “The work ethic, and the general sense of fairness that resides through our local workforce, has allowed us to develop new technologies, to launch new products into new markets, and improve all aspects of our business on a daily basis.”
On stage with Sereno were two Daruma dolls which Japanese citizens have used for centuries to wish good luck, child birth and prosperity. He invited Callahan to color in the left eye on one of the dolls, to wish for continued prosperity for the State of Indiana, Wabash County and Oji Intertech.
The left eye was colored, Sereno explained, because in the Japanese seating arrangements, the left is more important than the right. One eye was only colored to signify opening one’s mind up.
“In closing, I would like to thank our grandparent company, Oji Holdings, and our parent company, Oji Intertech, for their many years of support,” he said in closing. “I would also like to thank Mr. Irikura for being with us here tonight. I would also like to thank all of our current and past employees, the county of Wabash, the State of Indiana, and all of you for coming here tonight to celebrate with us and all the other award winners tonight.
“So, Wabash and Indiana,” he said, lifting up one of the Daruma dolls above his head, “to another 20 years of prosperity.”
In another presentation, Gary Larson, CFO of Ford Meter Box and treasurer of the Grow Wabash County Board of Directors was honored as the 2019 Volunteer of the Year.
To end the evening, three Oji employees led the crowd in a traditional Japanese “tejime” that involved clapping and bringing the gathering to a positive and happy close.