Mary Fendrich Hulman
was the wife of the late Indiana industrialist Anton "Tony" Hulman, Jr.
Anton "Tony" Hulman, Jr. was a businessman from Terre Haute, Indiana who rescued the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1945 and made the Indianapolis 500 popular....
and matriarch of the Hulman-George family which today controls Hulman & Co., the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, located in Speedway, Indiana in the United States, is the home of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race and the Brickyard 400....
and the Indy Racing League.
Born in Evansville, Indiana
Evansville is the third-largest city in the U.S. state of Indiana and the largest city in Southern Indiana. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 117,429. It is the county seat of Vanderburgh County and the regional hub for both Southwestern Indiana and the...
, 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
Terre Haute is a city and the county seat of Vigo County, Indiana, United States, near the state's western border with Illinois. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 60,785 and its metropolitan area had a population of 170,943. The city is the county seat of Vigo County and...
following their honeymoon in Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...
. 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
Mari Hulman George, born Mary Antonia Hulman on December 26, 1934, in Terre Haute, Indiana, is the daughter of the late Anton "Tony" Hulman and Mary Fendrich Hulman, prominent Indiana philanthropists and business owners...
), 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
Indiana State University is a public university located in Terre Haute, Indiana, United States.The Princeton Review has named Indiana State as one of the "Best in the Midwest" seven years running, and the College of Education's Graduate Program was recently named as a 'Top 100' by U.S...
Hulman Center is a 10,200-seat multi-purpose arena in Terre Haute, Indiana, USA. Initially named the Hulman Civic-University Center, the facility opened on December 14, 1973. Funded by donations and bond issues after an initial $2.5 million challenge gift from philanthropist Tony Hulman and the...
arena and the city of Terre Haute's public Hulman Links golf course.
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
The Indianapolis Museum of Art is an encyclopedic art museum located in Indianapolis, Indiana, United States. The museum, which underwent a $74 million expansion in 2005, is located on a campus on the near northwest area outside downtown Indianapolis, northwest of Crown Hill Cemetery.The...
were high on her list, along with Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is a Roman Catholic, four-year liberal arts women's college located northwest of Terre Haute, Indiana, between the Wabash River and the Illinois state line. There is also a small village of the same name located nearby...
and other institutions of higher learning.
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
The Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, also known as the Indianapolis 500, the 500 Miles at Indianapolis, the Indy 500 or The 500, is an American automobile race, held annually, typically on the last weekend in May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana...
, 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.
Mary Fendrich Hulman died from complications due to emphysema
Emphysema is a long-term, progressive disease of the lungs that primarily causes shortness of breath. In people with emphysema, the tissues necessary to support the physical shape and function of the lungs are destroyed. It is included in a group of diseases called chronic obstructive pulmonary...
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.