FOCUS 2018: Hamilton Hunter Builders continues family tradition of ownership and craftsmanship
Hamilton Hunter Builders has evolved from a real estate business to a home builder to a general contractor focusing on commercial construction, but it’s stayed a family business for 80 years.
Holly Hunter, 50, now is the third-generation owner of the company, buying it from her father in 2006. The company, which retains its family feel, has played a major role in building many Fort Wayne buildings and attractions, such as the Citilink bus transfer station at Calhoun and Baker streets and much of Headwaters Park.
It’s small “World Headquarters” building at 915 S. Lafayette St. also has been making passing drivers chuckle for years.
Hamilton W. Hunter founded the business in 1938 as a real estate sales and appraisal business, said his son, Hamilton Hunter Jr., 93, of Fort Wayne. After World War II ended in 1945, Hunter’s father began buying some homes from builders and then reselling them.
Hunter, who served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, joined his father in the business in 1951 after returning from the war and graduating from Purdue University with a civil engineering degree.
The younger Hunter bought the business when his father decided in 1962 to move to Florida. He initially continued his father’s practice of selling real estate but then also began building homes.
The company built 40 to 50 homes a year until 1980, when he decided to focus solely on commercial building projects.
Sometime along the way, he got the idea to put “World Headquarters” on the business’ sign as a joke. Now, if they take down those words, people think they’re closing, Holly Hunter said.
Her father and mother, Joy, brought up their four children around the business. Holly, who was the youngest, had graduated with a degree in business from Ball State University in Muncie and then pursued her dream of living and working on the West Coast.
Holly, who was working in the technology industry, hadn’t thought of moving back to Fort Wayne, she said, until her father told her he was developing a plan to retire.
“I didn’t want to see the business leave the family,” said Holly, who joined Hamilton Hunter Builders in 1998 and now is president and owner.
Holly’s husband, Jeff Trier, initially worked for another local company when they moved back here. She soon realized she needed more help, so he joined the office in 2000 as vice president.
Trier focuses on project management and safety, while she concentrates on sales, marketing, administrative needs and some project management.
Her father and mother still come to the office almost every day, where he helps with accounts payable and she sends out checks to pay company bills.
Holly and Trier’s children, a daughter, 14, and son, 10, also have grown up around the business, going there most days after school ends at nearby St. Paul Lutheran School, she said. Her daughter has worked for her, she said, but “it remains to be seen” if the next generation will want to join the business as adults.
“I want them to pursue whatever they want to do in life,” she said.
Despite having only 10 employees, Hamilton Hunter Builders can tackle major construction projects because they have a strong relationship with a number of subcontractors, said Holly Hunter, who was the first and only woman president and board member in the more than 100-year history of the Building Contractors Association of Northeast Indiana.
Her company focuses heavily on building government construction projects, such as parks, schools and libraries, she said.
“I’d like to be doing more private (business) work,” she added.
The company is noted for its masonry and specialty masonry projects, she said. Those include the large, Jefferson Boulevard entrance to Parkview Field and the brick addition to North Side High School, she said.
Hunter also is very proud of the platinum-level standard the company earned for its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified village construction for the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center near Albion.
While the construction industry is a tough industry and problems often have to be dealt with immediately, it’s a rewarding career, too, she said.
“Every project is different,” Hunter said. “You really are always learning, even if you have done something before.”
Helping people build things also is a service industry, and, “I like working with people,” including her parents, she said.
“I like being a business owner,” she added. “There are a lot of responsibilities that come with it and a lot of challenges. But I like being in control of my future.”
HAMILTON HUNTER BUILDERS
Commercial construction general contractor
ADDRESS: 915 S. Lafayette St.
OWNER: Holly Hunter, president
COMPLETED COMPANY PROJECTS
Here are a few of the construction projects completed by Hamilton Hunter Builders:
• Citilink bus transfer station, Calhoun and Baker streets
• About 75 percent of the construction at Headwaters Park, Clinton and Superior streets
• Masonry work for the Jefferson Boulevard main entrance to Parkview Field
• Building and structural concrete for the downtown branch of the Allen County Public Library
• Masonry work for expansion at North Side High School
• The nature centers at Fox Island and Metea county parks
• Libraries in Waterloo and Ligonier
• Moved the old train depot in Waterloo to its current location for Amtrak service
• Village at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center near Albion, a LEED-certified project
• National Weather Service office near Syracuse