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Jim Pettit's natural yen to lead left its mark on the Elkhart community

Jim Pettit wanted to be a leader in whatever he got involved with. Despite an unsuccessful run for mayor of Elkhart in 2007, the 67-year-old left his mark on the city through service on the Elkhart City Council, as chairman of the city's Sesquicentennial in 2008 and as a businessman and long-time banker.

Posted on June 16, 2010 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on June 16, 2010 at 6:31 p.m.

ELKHART -- Jim Pettit wanted to be a leader in whatever he got involved with.

Despite an unsuccessful run for mayor of Elkhart in 2007, the 67-year-old left his mark on the city through service on the Elkhart City Council, as chairman of the city's Sesquicentennial in 2008 and as a businessman and long-timer banker.

"When Jimmy got into something, he got deeply involved," said Tom Dusthimer, close friend and Pettit's former employer at First National Bank.

Dusthimer called Pettit a "doer." He was president of his condo association; president of the Elkhart City Council; a member of the Elkhart General Hospital Finance Committee; and he served at Elcona Country Club, Dusthimer said.

"He left an imprint wherever he went," Dusthimer said. "Everybody remembers Jim."

Tom Shoff was a 14-year-old police cadet when he first came in contact with Pettit, who served as the bicycle court judge. He said Pettit would typically make young bike offenders write essays on safety. "Then one day, a woman walked out of Zeisel's department store and was run down by a young cyclist. The shopper suffered a broken leg," Shoff said. "When the kid appeared before Jim in bicycle court, Jim sentenced the youth to 'life' without his bicycle. You should have seen the look on the kid's face. From that day forward, Jim was known as Jim 'the hanging judge' Pettit."

Pettit also was a businessman, having worked for Dusthimer as senior vice president in charge of all of the branches at First National from 1965 to 1990. "He loved First National Bank," Dusthimer said. "Jimmy is a class act any way you turn. He loved people. He loved to have a good time. He never met a stranger."

But his family -- wife Sue, children Jeff and Jill and four grandchildren -- was first. Work was his second love, Dusthimer said. "I've never met a man who worked harder than Jim Pettit."

Shoff said Pettit did business with a handshake, something you don't find in banking any more. "I still do business on a handshake; what Jim taught me has worked well for me," Shoff said.

In 1991, Pettit started JP Industries and its several divisions: JP Engraving, Keline Manufacturing Co. Inc., A-One Corporate Apparel and A-One Signs & Graphics. He also served on the board of directors of Horizons West Association, the Elkhart County Fight Crime Fund, the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, the Elkhart County Humane Society and was a member of the Elkhart Board of Aviation Commissioners.

Pettit served one term on the Elkhart City Council, including stints as its president and chairman of the finance committee. Fellow Republican Mary Olson said he loved his work on the council, especially debating ordinances.

She said Pettit was especially proud of his work as chairman of the city's Sesquicentennial Celebration in 2008. He was the perfect choice because of his organizational skills and his passion for the city, Olson said. "What a wonderful tribute to have done something that has touched so many lives," she said.

Pettit also was proud that he returned more than $20,000 of the money the city allocated for the celebration.

"One thing I knew without question was that he loved this community, sincerely cared for this community," Olson said.

FLOTILLA HONOR

Jim Pettit was a member of the Upper St. Joseph River Flotilla Committee. He was selected to be honorary commodore for this year's event, scheduled for 12:30 p.m. July 3.

The committee decided Monday night to name Pettit posthumously the 2010 flotilla commodore. The commodore is an area resident who has distinguished himself through service to the community.

The committee also named a new award after the long-time volunteer and community servant.

The Jim Pettit Award will be given to the most patriotically decorated boat in the flotilla. The recipient will receive $150 and a City of Elkhart flag.




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