Ever since I heard the news of Craig Fulmer’s passing, I’ve struggled to think of a way to honor someone who meant so much to this community and to me personally. What would do justice for a man who, along with his wife Connie, devoted countless hours and resources to literally dozens of cultural, religious and social service organizations? A man who built a growing business and chose to expand in the heart of the community instead of other areas that might have been more conducive? Obviously, there is no sufficient way.
As his longtime assistant Sharon Martin mentioned in a recent article, Craig held a special place in his heart for downtown Elkhart. While so many good things have come to pass recently, Craig and Connie were two of the original pioneers to truly Live, Work and Play in downtown Elkhart. They not only restored a downtown icon in the YWCA building to house their growing company, they made it their home. While I’m sure there were many quizzical looks from their friends when they announced they were selling their home and moving to West Lexington Avenue, they knew what they wanted, and they lead the way to show what kind of quality of life could be offered in downtown Elkhart’s urban environment.
Craig was one of the founding members of the Elkhart Centre, which eventually became Downtown Elkhart Inc. Regardless of the need — whether it was making phone calls to raise funds for the Jazz Fest when times were tough, calling the 2010 Coalition together to address a problem property in the downtown, or making the difficult management decision when it would’ve been easier to stay the course — Craig was the lynchpin of every single important project in the heart of our community.
He always had a dual purpose in his business dealings involving the downtown. Projects clearly had to make sense from a business standpoint, but he also took the community benefit into consideration as well. In 2004, when Heritage purchased the former Bermann’s Sporting Goods building, it was 18,000 square feet of trouble. Heritage was growing and in need of additional space, but there certainly were additional locations that might have made sense to consider from a purely financial perspective. Obviously they chose to expand downtown and added a population of 250 employees to benefit the neighborhood. They also renovated the upper floors into six market-rate apartment units that remain filled to this day.
I went through that building before Heritage bought it, and I will say without question that there was no other entity that had the wherewithal to pull it off and the commitment to downtown that the building required.
This was pre-Lerner and pre-SoMa downtown Elkhart. It was a much different situation than we enjoy today.
Today the 100 block of South Main is pretty much 100 percent leased with nearly 20 market-rate apartments. In 2004 there were exactly zero upper-scale apartments and a vacancy rate of more than 50 percent in the commercial space. While it had to work on some level from a business standpoint, clearly this was as much a labor of love for his downtown as it was a dollars-and-cents decision.
Craig lived life fully and was intent on showing his love to all whom he came across. This started with his family, but it didn’t stop there. He also loved his community and demonstrated this with acts big and small. For me, this sometimes included Craig using his network to raise funds for a project or, at other times, simply saying “I’m proud of you.” This affirmation meant more to me than anything else he could have done or said.
I’m truly saddened that I will no longer be able to walk up those steps to his office and receive his counsel on whatever challenge I may face. I will deeply miss my friend. At the same time, I feel we can all honor his legacy by serving our family, friends, church and community to the absolute best of our ability.
Thank you, Craig, and may you be blessed to the measure that you’ve blessed us all.
Dan Boecher is executive director of Downtown Elkhart Inc. He can be reached through the DEI website