Mary Fendrich Hulman

Mary Fendrich Hulman (March 13, 1905 - April 10, 1998) was the wife of the late Indiana industrialist Anton "Tony" Hulman, Jr. and matriarch of the Hulman-George family which today controls Hulman & Co., the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy Racing League.

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Early life

Born in Evansville, Indiana, Mary was the daughter of prominent Fendrich Cigar Company president John H. Fendrich (1867–1952) and Nettie Buttriss Fendrich (1875–1975). The Fendrich family was among Evansville's most prominent Catholic families, so Mary attended Catholic schools.

Marriage and family

Mary met Tony Hulman in the early 1920s; by most accounts, the rather headstrong young lady wasn't terribly impressed by Hulman. Not one to be deterred, however, Hulman eventually won her over, and on October 6, 1926 the couple were wed in a lavish ceremony in Evansville.

The couple settled in Terre Haute, Indiana following their honeymoon in Europe. Tony Hulman became sales manager of Hulman & Co., while Mary set up housekeeping in their stately new home in the city's fashionable Farrington's Grove neighborhood. On December 26, 1934, the couple's only surviving child, Mary (better known today as Mari Hulman George), was born.

While she is the Hulmans' only surviving child, Mari was not the couple's first. A daughter, whom they had also named Mary, was born in Evansville in 1930, but this child died shortly after her birth. Details of the cause of the newborn's death are sketchy at best some 75 years later, but what little information is available seems to indicate that the child suffered from an enlarged liver.

A sporting life

Like her husband, Mary Hulman was quite sports-minded. An avid golfer, she fit in well with her husband, who also enjoyed the occasional round on the links. Somewhat surprisingly for a woman of her social standing, she also enjoyed shooting skeet competitively, and was considered an excellent shot.

When Tony purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1945, Mary wondered if he had made a wise purchase, but as a supportive wife, she concurred with Tony's decision and chose to play an active role each year at the race. Drivers and fans alike absolutely loved her.

In the early 1970s, the Hulmans would, as noted patrons of sports in the Terre Haute area, donate land and a "challenge grant" of $2.5M (25% of the estimated construction cost) for the construction of Indiana State University's Hulman Center arena and the city of Terre Haute's public Hulman Links golf course.

Philanthropy

While husband Tony carried on with his many business interests, Mary became a major contributor to art museums and schools; the Sheldon Swope Art Museum in Terre Haute and the Indianapolis Museum of Art were high on her list, along with Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and other institutions of higher learning.

Later life

When Tony Hulman died on October 27, 1977, many wondered what role Mary would choose for herself. With such a large empire to oversee, the possibilities were many, but some felt that she would turn over day to day control to others. But that wasn't Mary's way. Picking up the reins with both hands, she became the chairman of both the Speedway and Hulman & Co., which surprised some observers. At the 1978 Indianapolis 500, she even took over Tony's traditional role, delivering for the first time the famous call of "Gentlemen, start your engines!" She would continue to give the command (with few exceptions, when daughter Mari delivered it) through 1996.

By the mid-1980s, the family's many properties and businesses that Tony had accumulated, plus some acquired in the years following his death, had made Mary Fendrich Hulman a very wealthy woman. In 1986, Forbes Magazine named her to the list of the 400 wealthiest Americans, worth nearly $180 million at that time. With her vast financial wealth, Mary continued her long-standing tradition of giving generously to her favorite institutions and charities in her later years.

As her health declined in the 1990s, Mary gradually relinquished her roles within the family business to her daughter and grandchildren and finally moved from the family's longtime Terre Haute home to Marquette Manor Retirement Community in Indianapolis where she could receive the health care that she needed.

Passing

Mary Fendrich Hulman died from complications due to emphysema on April 10, 1998 at the age of 93. Following her funeral in the same church where Tony Hulman's funeral was held just over 20 years earlier, she was buried by his side in Terre Haute's Calvary Cemetery.

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