Traverse City Business Hall of Fame

Traverse City Business Hall of Fame

Honoring TC's past and present movers and shakers

By Gayle Neu

Ever since Hannah, Lay & Co. purchased an "inefficient saw mill" from Captain Harry Boardman at the mouth of the Boardman River in 1851 and built a steam-powered mill, Traverse City has been shaped, influenced or grown in some way by an enterprising business leader.

The annual Business Hall of Fame enshrines the most influential and notable movers and shakers who have helped build Traverse City throughout the decades.

Last year, we introduced the charter class. This year, with help from the Traverse City History Center, we induct two new members: the late and incomparable Bryan Crough, whose vision, wit and sense of collaboration helped create the downtown we know today, and the late John Parsons, who revolutionized manufacturing by changing the control of machines and industrial processes to an exact science.

Much of the information was obtained from Grand Traverse Legends – three volumes of history books at the History Center that were written by Robert E. Wilson, a 1954 graduate of Traverse City Central High School.

John Parsons

The Innovator

Manufacturer, inventor and Traverse City business owner John Parsons, in cooperation with Frank Stulen, pioneered the system of numerical control, paving the way for computer-aided manufacturing and robotics.

"John Parsons gave numeric control to the world. Not only did he change the world of manufacturing, but he helped weave the fabric of Traverse City's strong manufacturing community that still exists here today." – W. Dodd Russell, president, Skilled Manufacturing Inc.

John Parsons grew up in the manufacturing world and worked at several plants, including his father's, Parsons Manufacturing in Detroit. The Detroit native was driven to make factory work more accurate and less time consuming.

Health issues kept him from serving during World War II, so Parsons bid on a landmines defense project and won. When the plant was subsequently awarded a contract to manufacture bomb casings, he decided to build a new plant in Traverse City in 1942

The contract was cancelled that same year, so Parsons began designing and making rotor blades for the company, working with Russian-American inventor Igor Sikorsky, whose rotor configuration is used in most helicopters produced today. The Traverse City plant became the world's largest designer, producer, and overhauler of helicopter rotor blades.

In the 1940s, the U.S. Air Force hired Parsons to create more precise parts templates. His technique replaced hand calculations and measurements with computer-controlled calculations, which sped up the manual process and made calculations more precise. His invention led to the development of computer numerical control. He pioneered adhesive bonding in metal aircraft structure and went on to build the first all-composite airplane.

Later, Parsons Manufacturing built the gigantic fuel lines for NASA's Saturn booster that took astronauts toward the moon.Though intrigued by metal and machinery, Parsons was a community man, providing land for workers to grow vegetables during the war. For revolutionizing manufacturing, he received the National Medal of Technology from President Ronald Reagan in 1985 and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio in 1993. He died at age 93 in 2007.

Bryan Crough

The Believer

"Bryan Crough led the efforts to not only save downtown Traverse City, but to transform it into the dynamic heart of our region through his tireless efforts, relentless leadership, creativity and balanced perspective." – Marsha Smith, executive director, Rotary Charities

Bryan Crough came to Traverse City 1980 without a job after vacationing here two years prior. He was soon hired to lead the Old Town Playhouse as its executive director and recast it as a viable nonprofit. He became interested in city politics – particularly when he heard the city attorney and mayor were fighting to stop the state from tearing down the former Traverse City State Hospital – and was elected twice to the city commission, eventually serving as mayor.

In 1990, with the declining city facing the construction of the Grand Traverse Mall, Crough was tapped to lead the Downtown Development Authority. He threw himself into the task of bringing people back to a downtown that had lost (and would lose) anchor retailers JC Penny, Stage/Milliken, and Ben Franklin

As the DDA's executive director, Crough advocated for countless cultural projects and improvements, including Friday Night Live, which debuted in 1991, as well as the City Opera House, the History Center, and the State Theatre. Under his watch, the city's two downtown parking decks were constructed and a handful of key developments brought new life to downtown, including Radio Center, River's Edge and 101 Park Street.

J. Perry Hannah

The Father of Traverse City

"His leadership and vision during the first 50 years of Traverse City's existence have left an indelible imprint on the modern community and its people." – Robert Wilson, author, Grand Traverse Legends

Henry Campbell

The Utilities Man

Henry Campbell had the gumption to believe he could open the "largest and most elaborate hotel north of Grand Rapids." However, his most significant contribution was bringing a waterworks system and electricity to the downtown area.

A. Tracy Lay

Founder of the Village

He was Perry Hannah's business partner, but Albert Tracy Lay did something perhaps even more significant: He laid out the 1852 plat map for the town of Traverse City, thus becoming the "founder" of the village.

Frank Hamilton

The Ambassador

Frank Hamilton could be described as a reluctant Traverse City visitor who ended up becoming one of its most successful merchants and greatest ambassadors.

R. Howard Whiting

The Poor Man's Banker

He ended up a wealthy businessman who left his namesake on a beloved hotel in downtown Traverse City, but Howard Whiting will always be remembered for his generosity and enabling others to start their own farms and businesses.

Tom Deering

The Butcher (Turned Entrepreneur)

Local meat cutter Tom Deering took a financial risk in the 1940s, opening a small market in Traverse City. His 11th Street store would become a seven-store enterprise, employing hundreds of area residents.

Gerald Oleson Sr.

The Philanthropist

A humble grocer, land owner, buffalo farmer and millionaire, Gerald Oleson established the Northwestern Michigan College barbecue fundraiser and continues to give back to the community posthumously through a foundation he started with his wife, Frances.

Les Biederman

Broadcasting Pioneer

"Biederman was like nature, someone once observed, in that he sowed ideas like nature sows seeds. Many of these never took root, but many did." – Former Traverse City Record-Eagle City Editor Ken Parker, 1991.

Peter Chris Dendrinos

The Born Leader

A former all-state football player, Dendrinos launched a pie business that became the city's largest employer and the top provider of pies to the U.S. food service industry.

Ray Minervini

The Visionary

"Ray Minervini has changed the landscape of Traverse City and the notion of redeveloping and being stewards of historic properties forever." -Doug Luciani, president and CEO of the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce.