Rushville Republican

April 23, 2013

Ward: Durbins put the “service” in “customer service”

Bill Ward
Rushville Republican

RUSHVILLE — I recently received a very nice letter from Ruth Lynne Durbin Walsh. She wrote in regards to an article I had written about the Durbin Hotel, and her parents. She told me a lot about the Rushville landmark and the Durbin family. It was indeed as if all who worked there were extended Durbins and were treated as such. Everyone I ever came into contact with at the hotel or restaurant was so friendly it was amazing.

She told me her father and mother came to Rushville in 1924 around the same time my father did. Originally, they leased then purchased the hotel and started a family that would in time leave a huge footprint on the hotel industry nationwide.

Bob Durbin became Executive Vice-President of Sheraton hotels. He and his family live in Indianapolis today. Mary Lee Ball, a sister, stayed in Rushville and became a teacher (as many of us remember). Jim, the oldest, became President of Dell Webb hotels then Marriott hotels and was there over 25 years. Jim now lives in Florida. Don and Dave stayed around with the hotel with their parents adding banquet, restaurant and catering aspect of the business. Eventually, they built the first of the Marriott hotels in Indianapolis and ran that after the local hotel was sold. Don died of cancer a few years ago but David and his family still live in Indianapolis. John went to Cummins Engine, eventually buying the west coast distributorship. He now lives in the Seattle area.

Ruth Lynne became a teacher, as did Mary Lee, which, as she pointed out, is not far off of the hospitality business. It certainly does require a certain people skill in both professions. She told me that most of the recipes used in the hotel were from her mother and her father’s sister, Ange Winter. And I cannot think of anything they served that was not delicious and unforgettable. Mary Durbin devised a menu system for the hotel that was on an 18 day cycle designed to take advantage of the freshest local produce. The Durbins attempted to buy as much as possible locally; wish someone would do that today.

One thing she told me about was the thing I remember the most, the Christmas party always held Christmas Eve and with Santa always in attendance. Santa was indeed, as Ruth Lynne said, magical to me and my children. I guess he managed to check in with Vance Waggoner or Bill Smith to be sure of any new happenings in your family. That in itself was a devilish thing to have to do. How did he know who was or was not going to be there? Probably reservations were required and that would explain a lot. I don’t remember if they were, but probably they were. And I had forgotten that they always had a birthday cake there and everyone sang Happy Birthday to Jesus, a fitting thing too. It was a pleasure to note that even the Durbin children were as enthused as were mine when it came time for this party.

Ruth Lynne had nothing but good things to say about Rushville and its people. And I am sure a lot of that came because of the Durbins and their attitude, and then feeling as if everyone in town was extended family. Rushville and Rush County has, during my lifetime, been a place of friendly and good people; hopefully it will remain that way for a long time in the future. I know the five years I spent in San Diego were fun, but nowhere near as friendly as those other years spent in Rushville and Milroy. Over the years, I have heard from others who have left for one reason or another and all still have a soft spot in their hearts for Rushville and Rush County. The Carl and Betty Niessen family have, in the past, also contacted me with much the same attitude as Ruth Lynne and me. Carl was the plant manager of International Furniture for several years. He and my parents were good friends and did a lot together.

Carl and his family would go with us on vacations as well as social functions around town. I remember going to Lake Douglas one year and Butch one of the sons had managed to get hurt somehow and everyone was concerned about it except Butch. Carl also got my brother Gene involved with International Furniture, giving him a job after World War II. Eventually, Gene became plant manager in Bryan, Texas, then Rushville, followed by Vice President of Manufacturing for International’s new owners, Schnadig Corporation. He later became President of Schnadig. Gene also was with Schwigert Furniture in Wisconsin, then Service Industries, and eventually Sealy of Virginia and Maryland.

Carl and Betty, Bob Scott and his family, Jim Callane, Chappy Chapman, Dwight VanOsdol and his family, Glenn and Leona Ruddel, all were friends and all were and are still a part of my life. My cousin Bill Caldwell and his son and daughter as well as his wife were close to us too. I remember Bill selling dad my first and only bicycle, a Schwinn that I had until I turned 16 and got to drive. I feel honored to have the opportunity to have known individuals like all of the above and I know we all were lucky to have lived in Rush County.

Mary and Leo Durbin had 42 grandchildren and more than double that number of great-grandchildren. Several still are active in hotel or hospitality related fields and, like Mary and Ruth, many are teachers. Mary and Leo were and can still be proud of their family and many friends.