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Gingerich family joins in support of Ivy Tech Kokomo transformation

Brothers Fenton, Ivan Gingerich honored by donation

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Brothers Fenton and Ivan Gingerich – two long-time leaders in automobile sales and service in the Kokomo area – are being memorialized and honored in the naming of a classroom and laboratory in Ivy Tech Kokomo’s new Automotive Center, where students soon will be preparing for careers in the industry.

The Gingerich brothers began working in the auto industry in Kokomo in the 1940s, Fenton for McGonigal Buick and Ivan for Conkle Pontiac. It was an interesting career choice. They grew up in Howard County in an Amish family; their parents lived “Old Order Amish,” a tradition that shuns automobiles, their entire lives. In 1953, Ivan joined Fenton at McGonigal’s, and, 67 years later, he still comes to work every day. Fenton retired in 1986 and passed away in 2002.

Through business transactions over the years, the Gingerich family acquired the McGonigal dealership as well as Kokomo’s Button Motors. Today, Ivan’s children – Rex Gingerich and Lisa Gingerich Hearn – are leading the companies, carrying on a legacy of business success and community service. One of their latest contributions? Support for the expansion of Ivy Tech Kokomo’s new Automotive Center, which includes state-of-the-art classrooms and a new eight-bay automotive laboratory.

“Ivy Tech has been a staple in Kokomo for many, many years,” Rex said during a recent tour of the campus construction project. “We view this project as transformational for our community, so we are very excited to be able to participate.”

Born and raised in Kokomo, the siblings said they were pleased to be able to support a project offering so much benefit to the community where they grew up – and to recognize their forebears through the gift.

“We wanted to honor and memorialize our father, Ivan, and Uncle Fenton,” Rex said. “Although they did not have the opportunity to attend college, they greatly valued education and gave us many opportunities to further our education.”

Rex and Lisa were both active in school and community youth programs as youngsters in Kokomo; both went on to graduate from Purdue University and to continue the tradition of community service here in their hometown. Rex and his family are active members of First Congregational Church and his long list of community involvement includes leadership roles in the Community Foundation of Howard County, the Kokomo YMCA, the Kokomo Purdue 400 Club, Rotary International, the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance, Bridges Outreach, Russiaville Youth Baseball, and the United Way. Lisa has been active in The Boys & Girls Club, Girl Scouts of Central Indiana, and youth soccer.

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Rex Gingerich and Lisa Hearn

“We are extremely grateful that we have the opportunity to be part of this exciting project and believe it greatly enhances the value of our community,” Rex said. “The ‘campus feel,’ with all the enhanced programs being offered, combine for a great opportunity for everyone in Kokomo and its region. Very exciting!”

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Support for this project also works to support local workforce needs. Rex, who serves as CEO of Chariot Management Group (which includes H.E. McGonigal Inc., Button Motors, Twin City Dodge, and G&S Auto Parts) and car dealers across the United States all say the ongoing shortage of qualified automotive technicians is one of the greatest challenges they face. Ivy Tech’s new Automotive Center will serve as home for a partnership with McGonigal/Button to train the next generation of employees.

Ivy Tech Kokomo Chancellor Dean McCurdy sees the Gingerich family support as a prime example of business and industry working with the College to prepare students for good-paying jobs that support their families, meet business needs, and improve the community’s economic environment.

“Ivy Tech’s mission is to serve as an engine of economic development for the State of Indiana,” the chancellor said. “We are incredibly pleased to be working with the Gingerich family and for earning their support of this project that will improve training and upskilling for people throughout the Kokomo Service Area.”

The new Ivy Tech/McGonigal/Button program, being launched this fall, is the first automotive technician apprenticeship program that allows students to start while still in high school.

“This program, which creates a K-14 pathway into good-paying automotive service jobs, is the result of a long partnership between the College and the Gingerich auto dealerships,” said Josh Speer, dean of Ivy Tech Kokomo’s School of Advanced Manufacturing, Engineering, and Applied Science. “With Rex Gingerich sharing the need for qualified auto technicians, we began looking for ways to strengthen the dealerships’ partnership with both the College and the Kokomo Area Career Center (KACC). And so, the concept of a youth apprenticeship was born.”

With internship and apprenticeship opportunities that take students from high school through an associate degree at Ivy Tech, Speer said, participants will earn a living wage and have their educations paid for at the same time, “giving students a path to a bright future in the automotive industry.”

Lisa Hearn said she is “incredibly excited to begin this program with Ivy Tech.”

“I’m a passionate advocate of complementing educational credentials with real work practice,” she said. “I’m pleased we can offer a positive work experience to students in this program.”

For more information on the automotive technician program, contact Speer at 765-252-5551 or . For more information on the campaign to raise a total of $3 million in private donations to complete the campus transformation project, contact Kelly Karickhoff at or call 765-437-6917 or log in to