Fred Fehsenfeld went to Purdue University at 17- majored in mechanical engineering, joined the swim team and had his first flying experience with the Purdue Glider Club. But in the middle of World War II, on his eighteenth birthday, Fred enlisted in the US Army Air Corps. He was assigned to the 354th Pioneer Mustang Fighter Group in France, a famous fighter group of P51 Mustangs and P47 Thunderbolts. Fred flew 89 missions in Europe and was awarded the Air Medal with three silver clusters and a silver star. He also led his 353rd fighter squadron on the last official flight in the European Theater of Operations, barrel -rolling over an Austrian prisoner of war camp to let his fellow pilots know that the war in Europe had ended. He later served in the Indiana Air National Guard.
Throughout his entire life, he was a true American patriot. Fred loved to tackle challenges that had national implications. Fred’s passion for brainstorming ways to improve the American economy, led to the development of Critical Commerce Corridors. Tony Kriech, leader of the Heritage Research Group, stated, ” One of Fred’s brilliant ideas was the concept of separating car and truck lanes on our interstate highways to save lives, reduce pollution and congestion. Fred did this, not for himself but because of the societal and economic benefits that would come to the United States, which he loved so much.” This initiative would improve the future of American infrastructure for generations to come. Governor Eric Holcomb said, “Fred was a rare visionary leader, a revolutionary builder, who had a giant heart for our state and nation. His lifetime of service and philanthropy will continue to impact the lives of Hoosiers for the next 200 years”. In 2017, Governor Holcomb recognized Fred for his many contributions to the State of Indiana and named Interstate 865 the “Fred M. Fehsenfeld Sr. Highway”.
Fred M. Fehsenfeld was born in Indianapolis on October 10, 1924. He was the third son of Ruth and John Fehsenfeld. His home was active, he and his three brothers loved sports and music, his mother played the piano for silent movies and the family favorite tune was “Flight of the Bumblebee”. Fred graduated from Shortridge High School, earned a mechanical engineering degree from Purdue and also received an honorary doctorate in Civil Engineering from Purdue.
In 1946 he married his college sweetheart Mildred (Midge) Cornelius and they had seven children. Fred began his career at Rock Island Refining as a Process Engineer. A few years later, he was asked by his dad, to join the original family business, Crystal Flash Petroleum, a company that operated gas stations and sold home heating oil. As his family grew, it was a necessity to grow the family business. Always a creative problem solver, when the opportunity to enter the asphalt business arose, Fred went to the library (no google back then) and taught himself how to manufacture asphalt! He constructed an asphalt facility in 1960 and it’s still operating today.
Fred was an incredible relationship builder, treated his employees as partners and was able to draw some incredibly talented people to the Heritage Group who became life long members of the extended Fehsenfeld family. With his entrepreneurial spirit, he led the transformation of the original company, Crystal Flash Petroleum, from 100 employees, operating gas stations and home heating oil sales in Indiana and Michigan into what has evolved as The Heritage Group. The Heritage Group currently employs 6500 people around the world, with operations across North America, Europe and China, in the core industries of Environmental and Remediation, Specialty Chemicals and Fuel Products, and Construction and Materials.
He was a committed member of his community, a member of Junto for over fifty years, a loyal supporter of his alma mater Purdue and past Chairman of The Asphalt Institute.
Above all, Fred loved family, especially a lively debate with children and grandchildren on world issues, education, politics and who would win the Old Oaken Bucket Game. Competitive bets on fishing, euchre and golf were all part of the family fun, so it was no surprise when he made a hole in one with two of his sons at Bearslide Golf Club.
He was a devoted, loving husband to his wife of 57 years, Midge Fehsenfeld, who passed away in 2003 and to his surviving wife, Barbara Fehsenfeld, of 15 years, who made his old age enjoyable and full of adventure. Fred was preceded in death by his two children, Jan (John) Dillow and Mike (Robin) Fehsenfeld. He was a wonderful brother, father, grandfather and great-grandfather who will be much missed by family. Survivors include his brother, Mac (Nancy) Fehsenfeld, his five children: Jo (Nick) Rutigliano; Fred (Suzie) Fehsenfeld Jr.; Jim (Becky) Fehsenfeld; Frank (Judy) Fehsenfeld; Judee Fehsenfeld and twenty grandchildren: Shannon (Sean) Burns; John (Erica) Dillow; Melissa (Jeff) Laborsky; Mike Rutigliano; Amy (Jim) Schumacher; Sara (Greg) Morris; Katie (Geoff) Dillon; Fred (Trey) Fehsenfeld III; Courtney Fehsenfeld; Megan (Shawn) Peterson, Ashlee (Ben) Hardy; Naomi (Doug) Cowling; Frank (Carissa) Fehsenfeld Jr. ; Matt, Lisa and Jeff Fehsenfeld; Will Jaimet; Ali, Tia and Skyler Winkler and twenty-four great grandchildren.
Fred had a wonderful sense of humor and made an impression on all who knew him. A Celebration of Life will be held on Saturday, December 8th from 3:00 – 7:00 p.m. at The Center, 6320 Intech Blvd. Indianapolis. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to: The Purdue Foundation, 403 West Wood Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907, In memory of Fred M. Fehsenfeld Sr. Engineering Scholarship Fund or Riley Children’s Hospital, 30 S. Meridian Street, Indianapolis, Indiana 46204, In memory of Fred M. Fehsenfeld Sr.
Fred never gave up on anything: in business, with his family, or our country’s future. And he liked to have the last word. It seems fitting to end with Fred’s own words that he asked to be inscribed on his tombstone: “I TRIED”.
To leave of memory of Fred go to www.leppertmortuary.com
Leppert Mortuary Nora Chapel assisting with arrangements.
The Purdue Foundation - Fred M. Fehsenfeld Sr. Engineering Scholarship Fund403 West Wood Street, West Lafayette, Indiana 47907
Riley Children's Hospital30 South Meridian Street, Indianapolis, IN 46204