In Goshen in the early 20th century, a young farmer named Henry H. Cripe spent his time between chores dreaming about business ventures and inventions.
By the 1920s, Henry started his own construction company, one that laid the foundation for The Jefferson Theater, now the Goshen Theater. Within a few years, Henry and his sons, Earnest and Forrest, started a lightning rod installation business out of their barn.
Inventor that he was, Henry concocted a concept of an arrow-like contraption that prevented ground cables from shifting as the ground froze and thawed, solving a problem that other lightning protection companies had struggled with for years. Soon, the Cripes were manufacturing and installing lightning protection systems for farms and homes across northern Indiana and southern Michigan.
The Cripes’ products were well-made and innovative, and business was booming. Not surprisingly, other local lightning protection businesses took notice. In 1929, the Cripes were approached by a local company with a lucrative business proposition: They wanted to buy the business. The Cripes, not wanting to sell, offered an outrageously high price under the expectation they would turn down the offer. The sticker cost? $30,000 – equivalent to roughly half a million today. To their great surprise, the company accepted. In a fateful twist, the transaction occurred 30 days before the great stock market crash that sparked the Great Depression.
In 1934, Henry’s son Earnest had established a completely independent (thus the name) lightning protection and installation company, Independent Protection Co. Today, Independent Protection Co. continues to manufacture lightning protection equipment in Goshen. It’s one of less than 10 manufacturers in the country, selling products across the nation and world. The office on Main Street is located directly across the alley from Henry Cripe’s original farmhouse, where he first began fabricating lightning equipment nearly 100 years ago.
A legacy of entrepreneurship
The Cripe family has retained a sense of gratitude for their good luck and the skills of their forefathers, but it has not been by luck or by chance that the Cripes have grown their business to the size it is today.
“I don’t think you can be a family-owned business and not be an entrepreneur,” said Rob Cripe, Vice President of Independent Protection Co., and Henry Cripe’s great-grandson. “If you’re not thinking on your feet, your business is going to shrink and die. We’re constantly reinventing ourselves and developing new products. The entrepreneurial spirit lives quite heavily in the Cripe family. I say that humbly.”
Reinventing themselves is putting it lightly. In the 1960s, Independent Protection Co. launched a brand new division of the company: manufacturing and installing pop-up liftable truck cap equipment. The idea was, yet again, sparked by Cripe family ingenuity. Henry Cripe’s son, Earnest, suffered from a weak heart and traveled around the plant in a golf cart. He needed a way to transport his golf cart; so, out of necessity, he developed an easily operated pop-up liftable top mechanism. He called it a “turtle top”– thus, the beginning of Turtle Top manufacturing in 1962.
“The lightning protection business continues to be steady,” said Bob Cripe, Chief Executive Officer of Independent Protection Co., and Henry Cripe’s grandson.“The bus and transportation business is really what has helped us grow to what we are today.”
A business built on the “golden rule”
For the Cripe family, building the business has never been about personal recognition. Instead, they’ve established the company on a basic spiritual principle: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
“Deeper than our corporate mission statement is our spiritual mission statement,” said Rob. “Dad has always taught me throughout the years to treat others as you would like to be treated. When we make decisions at work, that’s what we try to accomplish.”
They do that in the way they treat their employees from day to day. In turn, those employees are loyal to the business.
“We have employees who have been here 40 or 50 years,” said Bob.
Cripes also set aside 10 percent of the corporation’s annual income to donate to the private Cripe Family Foundation, which awards college scholarships to employees’ children.
In addition to giving back to their employees, the Cripes believe in giving back to their community.
“The community has been supportive in every aspect of our business,” said Bob. “So we support the community, too.”
Employees have participated in a number of service projects over the years, including a day dedicated to serving at the construction of Tommy’s Kids Castle, dedicated for fallen Goshen police officer Thomas Goodwin. The Cripes have served on a number of boards and volunteer organizations over the years, including the Bashor Home, the Elkhart County Community Foundation, Indiana University Health Goshen, Elkhart County 4H Fair Auction, and more.
For this family, leaving a legacy of giving back is about seeing their city thrive. After all, it’s home.
“Goshen has always been a safe place and an exciting place to live,” said Bob. “Whatever we’ve done over the years, the people here have always been supportive.”