Traverse City Business Legends Hall of Fame-Meet the inductees
This year the TCBN inducts two more Traverse City business legends to join the list we’ve celebrating for eight years now: the list of entrepreneurs who’ve made lifetime contributions to the economic growth of the Grand Traverse area.
In 2013, we introduced the 10-member charter class. This year, we induct the late Arnell Engstrom, longtime Michigan legislator who helped pave the way for Northwestern Michigan College as well as children’s services at Traverse City State Hospital and the National Cherry Festival; and Russell “Butch” Broad, the community leader who transformed a small family-owned excavation company into a major multi-division Michigan contractor that continues to grow while retaining its family roots.
Arnell Engstrom – TC’s ‘Dean’ of the Michigan Legislature
Arnell Engstrom’s life is a walking map through Traverse City’s history. A lifelong resident, he was born as the lumbering era waned, then grew to adulthood as Traverse City was transforming and emerged as a significant leader in shaping regional institutions that thrive today. He is best known as the “dean” of the Michigan Legislature, the longest-serving politician of his era.
Engstrom was born on June 6, 1897, the son of Gustav and Anna Kathrina Hugdahl Engstrom. He and his younger brother, Karl (1899-1921), attended Traverse City schools where Arnell graduated in 1915. He began his business career with the Oval Dish Company followed by First People’s State Bank and the Carver-Heiges Insurance Agency. Engstrom purchased the agency in 1943, which was renamed the Engstrom-Hicks Agency in 1946.
Engstrom embraced the community with involvement in numerous business, educational and civic endeavors. He served as secretary of the Northwest Michigan Fair Board for 45 years and was instrumental in creating the National Cherry Festival. Others included longtime participation and leadership on the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce, Traverse City Commission, Traverse City Industrial Fund and Board of Education as well as the Congregational Church and Masons, B.P.O.E. Elks and Kiwanis Clubs.
Engstrom was one of the original planners, incorporators and a long-standing trustee for Northwestern Michigan College, the state’s first community college, and was instrumental in sponsoring legislation that supported formation of other community colleges throughout Michigan.
Engstrom was most noted for his 28-year tenure in the Michigan House of Representatives, serving the 104th district for 14 consecutive terms beginning with the 61st Legislature in 1941 and continuing until his retirement in 1968. He was first elected in 1940 at age 43. Engstrom served on legislative committees for conservation, Traverse City State Hospital, and social aid and welfare but was most recognized for his long and influential role on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. He served on the committee for 22 years, including 10 as chair. Engstrom was also a leader in the Republican Caucus.
Engstrom brought a strong northern Michigan voice to his legislative work and effectively led efforts that benefited the region as well as the state. In addition to his work for community colleges and Northwestern Michigan College, he advocated for significant building projects and programming at Traverse City State Hospital, including the first children’s mental health services. The school near Building 50 that bears his name was opened in 1969.
A lifelong sportsman, Engstrom was also active in many conservation efforts and was considered a leader in founding the coho salmon industry in Michigan during the 1960’s, including establishment of a hatchery on the Platte River that was essential to the era’s coho salmon stocking program.
Engstrom was widely referred to as the “dean” of the Michigan House of Representatives, enjoying the longest tenure of any elected official from either party or either legislative branch. Shortly after announcing his retirement, Engstrom was praised in the U.S. Congress by fellow Traverse City resident, Senator Robert Griffin.
“Few public figures have earned the respect and affection which Arnell Engstrom enjoys and deserves,” Griffin said. “He represents the finest tradition in public service…(his) departure marks the end of an era.”
Engstrom was married for 50 years to Mareda Heiges Engstrom, who died in 1977. They raised two sons, Louis Engstrom (1920-1966) and Richard Bracken Engstrom (1923-2005).
Russell “Butch” Broad – “People First”
Russell “Butch” Broad believes in hard work, humor, country music and people. And he’s always embraced new opportunities whether that was driving a bulldozer, having a family, learning to farm, playing in a country band or building Team Elmer’s into one the northern Michigan’s largest contractors.
Broad graduated from Traverse City High School in 1966 and began working at Peninsula Asphalt the same year. He left six years later to purchase and operate Boone’s Long Lake Inn along with his brother, George, and two partners. He sold the bar business after four years, returning to Peninsula Asphalt and the construction industry in 1976.
He was supervising a project on South Airport Road when Elmer Schaub drove his Elmer’s Crane and Dozer truck up and asked Broad if he’d like to buy his business. He thought it was a joke, but Schaub wanted to retire. Broad went home and said to his family, “We should look into this.”
In 1977, Broad purchased Elmer’s, the family-owned company Schaub had founded in 1956. Resources included seven employees, four tandems, one loader, three dozers, two cranes, one lowboy and annual earnings of $275,000. Today, Team Elmer’s is an industry leader throughout northern Michigan, operating six divisions (asphalt, excavation, concrete, aggregate, trucking and crane and rigging) from 15 locations and employing 450 skilled professionals.
Broad retired in 2009, selling the company to his three children, Troy Broad, Todd Broad and Tonya Wildfong, who continue growing the business with the same guiding principles their father modeled.
All agreed that Broad’s people skills and attitude were foundational to business success. “He cared about the people,” Troy Broad said. “Whether it was the customer or employee, people matter.”
According to Troy, Butch believed in his crew. “He would often exclaim, ‘We have the best crew in the U.S.A., north of the Florida Keys,’” Todd said. “(My father) believed in surrounding himself with great people. He had great ability to identify talent and place them where they would succeed … and wasn’t afraid to take chances.”
Tonya Broad remembers her father’s belief in people and hard work.
“He was very good at connecting and using humor to lead … he could be very self-deprecating,” she said.
Treating others with respect and in a way you want to be treated was an important life lesson Butch shared with his children along with the guidance to be honest and humble, and to do what you say you are going to do.
“He was also always able to look ahead and ask, ‘What’s next?’ and then expand or develop in that direction,” Tonya said.
High points during Butch’s career included the original Elmer’s purchase, expanding to larger facilities on Cass Road, purchasing a large competitor’s asphalt plant and working with his children for more than 20 years.
Another point of pride was creating a 2,500-acre farm south of Buckley.
“(The farm) was another of his dreams,” Tonya said, “and he was able to live it, raising beef cattle and corn … and learning to make maple syrup. He still makes his own maple syrup to this day.”
Country music is also lifelong passion. Butch has been playing pedal steel guitar for decades, joining his brother, George, in the country band Two Ole’ Broads and Three Buddies. The group regularly performs weekends at the Hayloft in Traverse City. “He often says country music is his golf game,” Tonya said. “It’s relaxing and enjoyable.”
Butch is known for his generosity, professionally and personally. Tonya noted several examples, including donating funds for needed bulletproof vests at the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s department and the 40-year tradition of donating services to set Traverse City’s downtown Christmas tree and Santa’s house. “He is the most giving man I know,” Todd said.
“Dad is the real deal,” Troy said. “He is a genuine friend, one of those rare people that cares more about others than himself.”