Businesses honor hall of famersIf you pair vision with tenacity, you get a rough template for the four men who will be inducted into the Superior Business Hall of Fame on Thursday
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
If you pair vision with tenacity, you get a rough template for the four men who will be inducted into the Superior Business Hall of Fame on Thursday during a Superior Business Awards luncheon. Whether designing ships, selling furniture, developing the first synthetic motor oil or founding a trucking company, they made a lasting impact on Superior’s economy.
“What an extraordinary group of individuals,” said Andy Lisak, executive director of the Development Association. “Each of these men represents an important part of Superior/Douglas County’s economy and heritage.”
The men to be honored are Capt. Alexander McDougall, Harry A. Lurye, William D. Vinje and Albert J. Amatuzio.
At the same time the four will be inducted into the hall of fame, the Large Business of the Year, Small Business of the Year and Emerging Innovative Business of the year will be announced along with the winner of the Superior/Douglas County Business Plan Competition.
While the nation weathers this recession, Superior is celebrating the tenacity of local businesses.
“We’ve had new businesses open; we’ve had buildings purchased at a time when we didn’t expect that to happen,” said Kaye Tenerelli, executive director of the Superior Business Improvement District. “Some are having tough times, no way are they ready to call it quits. They’ll give it their all to make it.”
That perseverance is reflected in the award winners and the hall of fame inductees.
“Feisty” is a good word to describe them, Lisak said.
Lurye was born in Russia and came in Superior in 1900. He earned his living repairing stoves, but in 1909 went into business with Lurye & Sons store on Tower Avenue. Four generations later, Lurye Furniture remains a cornerstone of Superior’s downtown.
“I’m sure when Harry started the business he had no idea we would still be here today,” said his great-grandson, Harold Grossman, owner and president of Lurye Furniture.
But family members have stepped up from each generation to sustain the business and shift with the times. The furniture store has been an anchor on Tower Avenue for 100 years, Tenerelli said.
When Lurye started the business, he sold furniture and provided stove repair in Superior, sometimes going door-to-door for customers. Today, the business reaches out 130 miles to provide quality home fashions.
“Every generation’s looked at the business differently,” Grossman said, but each has made a commitment to the local economy. “Superior is a very affordable place to do business.”
When Amatuzio meets with AMSOIL Inc. dealers in the U.S. or Canada, many just want to get close enough to touch him.
“Al is a rock star,” said Judy Greely, Amatuzio’s executive administrator. Yet the energetic AMSOIL owner doesn’t put himself on a pedestal.
“He remembers his roots,” Greely said. “He goes over to the plant and says ‘Hi.’ They love him.”
Even after flying over the entire U.S. as a military fighter pilot, Amatuzio returned to Superior to formulate and market AMSOIL, the first synthetic motor oil.
“This is my home,” he said.
The first can of AMSOIL 10W-40 appeared on the market in 1972, changing the face of the lubricants market.
“(Amatuzio) could have put his business anywhere,” Lisak said. “But he chose Superior and grew it from a one or two person shop out of a garage to now over 250 employees occupying one of the largest buildings in the city of Superior and his AMSOIL products are sold throughout the world. And every box and every bottle has name Superior, Wisconsin on the bottom.”
Vinje was one of five partners who started Halvor Lines Inc. in 1968. He bought out his partners’ interest in the company in 1977 and moved it to Superior in 1983.
“Bill Vinje was a fantastic guy,” Amatuzio said. The AMSOIL founder remembers renting a 1964 Mack truck from Vinje to haul items in. Vinje showed him how to use the truck before he headed out, and he refused payment from the new businessman.
“I cleaned it up, washed it and brought it back and asked ‘How much do I owe you?’” Amatuzio said. “You know what’ he said? ‘Nothing.’”
The friendship led to a business relationship. All Halvor Lines trucks use AMSOIL, Amatuzio said.
Lori Vinje-Pint, vice president of Halvor Lines, said the family is very proud of their father’s accomplishments.
“To see him honored now with the Hall of Fame induction is deeply gratifying for the entire Vinje and Halvor Lines’ family,” she said. “Having been chosen in this Hall of Fame class along with his very close friend, Al Amatuzio, makes this an even more special honor.”
Vinje was known for being loyal to his drivers, owner operators and customers. He grew Halvor Lines into the largest trucking firm in the Twin Ports, now employing more than 400. His business helped establish Superior as a trucking hub for the Midwest. And, like Lurye, family members have stepped up to carry on his dream.
“The impact that one many has had on this community is pretty significant,” Lisak said.
Capt. Alexander McDougall
McDougall came to the Twin Ports via Scotland and Canada, beginning work on Great Lakes steamers at the age of 16. When he retired from sailing, he designed the “whaleback” barge and began turning out ships at America Steel Barge Company in Superior. The site is now part of Fraser Shipyard. He also was awarded 34 U.S. patents and built the town of Riverside in Duluth and its shipyard, which launched more than 50 ships during World War I.
“As a community we sometimes forget those roots,” said Dave Minor, president and CEO of the Superior/Douglas County Chamber of Commerce. Too often, young people say there are no jobs for them in Superior.
“There’s an awful lot of opportunity; there’s a lot of good, solid businesses,” Minor said. “We just need to continue telling their stories.”
Amatuzio, Lurye, McDougall and Vinje are the Olympic gold medalists of the business community; a role model for future entrepreneurs.
Lisak said it’s important to “hold up these champions of free enterprise so that these kids can one day say I want to be like Alexander McDougall, I want to design the next ship, maybe a high-speed vessel that can operate on the Great Lakes or internationally, or I want to be like Al Amatuzio, develop a product that’s going to revolutionize an industry. I want to be like Bill Vinje and establish a business for my children to take over and build off my success or I want to be like Harry Lurye, I want to have a business that’s been an anchor downtown for generations. It’s really important that we provide that sort of recognition.”
At the same time, it’s important to showcase those who are taking a leap of faith by launching new businesses.
“Whether it’s Scalavi the new restaurant or Alexander McDougall, both of those are key to our community, having the old and the new,” Minor said.
That’s what Thursday’s event is all about.
“I think what we’re celebrating is the past champions of the free market, the current champions of the free market and really the future champions of the free market system all within one awards program,” Lisak said.
Amatuzio may fit into more than one of those categories.
“I could start five different businesses right now that would be successful,” he said, but age is a factor. “I’m not a kid anymore.”
He appreciated the hall of fame recognition, as did Grossman.
“I think it’s very nice this group has gotten together to embrace the founders of our community,” he said.
“I think it’s very good for the community,” Amatuzio said.
The awards luncheon takes place from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Barker’s Island Inn. To register for the luncheon, call the Development Association at (715) 392-4749 or register online at www.superiorchamber.org.