Although he was born and raised in Indianapolis, Fulmer fell in love with Elkhart after moving here as a young certified public accountant in the early 1970s after earning a bachelor’s degree and MBA from Indiana University. He was a partner in the Elkhart accounting firm Holdeman, Fulmer and Co. until 1980 when he sold out to McGladrey LLP and then founded Heritage Financial Group, a real estate investment and consumer finance firm that now employs about 250.
Fulmer was part of a group of business leaders called the Elkhart 2010 Coalition that rallied public and private support for downtown redevelopment projects, including the Lerner Theatre renovation, the IUSB Elkhart building and the RiverWalk.
"The downtown was his pride and joy,“ said Sharon Martin, his administrative assistant for nearly 40 years. ”Maybe because this was a smaller town and he could wrap his arms around this community, I think this city just found a place in his heart and he wanted to make it better.“
He located Heritage Financial Group in the former YWCA building at 120 W. Lexington Ave. That renovation typified his dedication to the downtown, said Amish Acres owner Richard Pletcher, who became friends with Fulmer at IU Bloomington.
"His optimism, bold leadership and charisma made him an irresistible force in Elkhart,” Pletcher said. “There was little in Elkhart he didn’t touch.”
"He felt strongly about giving back to his community,” said his son-in-law, Dan Morrison, who is co-CEO of Heritage Financial Group with Brian Smith, Fulmer’s other son-in-law. “That’s one reason we’re here downtown.”
Fulmer is survived by his wife Connie, two daughters, Jan and Lauri, and a son, Daniel. He was diagnosed in 2006 with a rare form of T-cell lymphoma, but went into remission after successful chemotherapy treatment.
"Doctors were amazed he was able to beat that,” Morrison said.
But in 2012 he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and had his esophagus removed at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He suffered pulmonary complications stemming from that surgery and others that followed, and had been on full-time oxygen. Recently, a team of doctors at Med Star Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore tried to provide some relief, but “it didn’t work like we wanted it to,” Morrison said.
"He was an incredible mentor and father-in-law,” Morrison said. “He had a contagious personality and zest for life. He was a great friend to many, and he inspired and encouraged. He was a man of very deep faith and that’s the way he lived his life.”
Fulmer’s lawyer and longtime friend, Jack Cittadine, another Elkhart 2010 Coalition member, called him “effervescent.”
"He was always upbeat,“ Cittadine said. ”He always had a ’can do’ attitude.“
Another old friend, Frank Martin, founder and owner of Elkhart-based Martin Capital Management, said it was a struggle for Fulmer to maintain a smile through the pain from his most recent complications, but he remained positive for the sake of his children and grandchildren.
Martin said Fulmer had "incredible balance in his life.”
"He was a very successful businessman, but that never impacted the type of person he was,” Martin said. “He could’ve lived big, in a big house, with big cars, but he lived very modestly because he had his priorities right.”
Martin said he and Fulmer were always willing to donate to causes they brought to each other.
"He gave so much money away, and did it quietly," Martin said. ”Any cause he thought was legitimate, he gave it his time and money."
Like Martin, Fulmer had been an Eagle Scout and was active in Boy Scouts, along with Kiwanis and the Community Foundation of Elkhart County. He served on numerous boards, including the Elkhart General Hospital board of directors. He played a leading role in two building projects at his church, Trinity United Methodist.
Sharon Martin found it difficult to speak about her longtime boss.
"It’s hard to describe, but he just changed people’s lives,” she said. “He was positive. A brilliant business man. He saw the big picture on everything. He always saw the best in people. People were better because of him.”
Morrison said he expected the funeral to be set for next week. Arrangements were pending with Hartzler-Gutermuth-Inman Funeral Home in Elkhart.