John Tippmann’s family tree is more like a forest. Last Memorial Day, more than 1,000 people attended a family reunion in Fort Wayne, Indiana. “Yes,” he confirmed, “All family.”
His family has played a big role in his success as a businessman and in why he wants to share his earnings.
As the seventh of 16 children, he grew up in a family in constant motion. But his parents anchored the swirling household well, instilling values and faith as they maintained order and kept up with laundry and bills.
One of the immutable principles in the family: Each child receives a Catholic education.
“Between clothing, food and books, we couldn’t afford all the tuition,” Tippmann said. “But our Catholic grade school and high school allowed us all to attend.”
That generosity stayed with him, as did the gifts his parents brought to the family: sacrifice, gratitude and a love for the Church.
He recalls a story that describes his mother, Mary. “As a girl, all she wanted was to marry a good Catholic and raise a family. She promised God that if she met a husband, she would give up candy — one of her favorite things — for life.” The day she married Lawrence in 1932, she did just that.
“It was a huge sacrifice,” said Tippmann. “She would buy us candy, especially for Halloween, Easter and Christmas, but didn’t eat any herself. She was so grateful for a wonderful husband.”
Did the perpetual Lent last? “For 30 years,” he answered. “Then one day, she said, ‘I’ve done my part,’ ate a candy bar and went back to sweets.”
Tippmann comes from entrepreneurial roots. His great-grandfather had one of the first mechanical refrigeration systems for his two breweries in Pennsylvania. His grandfather moved to Gary, Indiana, to establish a refrigeration and plumbing business. His father, Lawrence, was a refrigeration engineer and started his own company in Fort Wayne in 1945, right next door to their house. All 16 children worked for the company at some point.
“We learned the ethics of business, the mechanics of refrigeration and the art of sales,” Tippmann said.
Eventually the children moved in their own directions, many starting businesses. “We have lots of patents in our family, including ones for an ice making machine, cooking devices, and paint ball guns.”
Tippmann’s own business ventures started in 1968 with Tippmann Refrigeration Construction and has grown to today’s Tippmann Group with three subsidiaries: Interstate Warehousing that operates refrigerated distribution warehouses, Tippmann Construction that builds cold storage facilities, and Tippmann Properties that manages commercial and industrial real estate. The Tippmann Group has more than 1,000 employees nationwide.
As the business grew, he could financially support projects important to him. His first funding went to the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend to set up a fund to help Catholic families pay tuition.
In 1989 he started the Mary Cross Tippmann Foundation, named for his mother, to continue with causes close to his heart.
He had already been donating personally to Catholic Extension since 1992, but in 1999 he started giving through the foundation, whose goals line up perfectly with Catholic Extension’s mission.
“Every church has a leaky roof,” he laughed. “But for parishes that can’t afford a new one, the roof just keeps leaking. Catholic Extension helps all those small parishes that can’t make it on their own.”
He likes that Extension supports Catholic education in rural areas. “Catholic schools are often in even worse shape than the churches. Students can’t pay. I know all about that from my youth.”
In addition, he prays for more seminarians and supports their education through Catholic Extension.
Tippmann said that in our affluent and secular country it is easy to forget about God. He has made great efforts to keep the faith alive in his family with his wife, Jackie, and their six children, 48 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren, all practicing Catholics. He leads by example and is not afraid to say, “This is what God expects of you.”