Several issues ago in Today’s Machining World, Robert Strauss wrote an in-depth story about Conserve School and its unusual relationship with steel distributing agent, Central Steel and Wire, of Chicago.
James Lowenstine, son of the founder of the company, left this centi-million dollar estate to build an environmentalist’s dream of a prep school in rural Northern Wisconsin.
The Trust which funded the school was endowed with Lowenstine’s stock in Central Steel, a beautifully run company doing $750 million a year in sales. Several board members of Central Steel also sat on the Conserve School’s Trust board.
A clause in the Lowenstine will stated that if Conserve School failed to meet the educational goals Lowenstine had envisioned, the Trust should move the assets to Culver Military Academy, Mr. Lowenstine’s alma mater.
The possibility of attaching itself to a billion dollar corporation was overwhelming and Culver decided to sue Conserve School and its trusties late in 2005.
Both sides were well along in the pretrial discovery process this spring when Culver decided to drop its lawsuit. The judge dismissed the case on May 25th, 2007.
I found this case fascinating for many reasons. Central Steel is the epitome of an old school company in the best sense. The people wear white shirts and don suits and ties. Most of the salesmen come out of Chicago Catholic high schools.
Its reputation for excellent service is impeccable. Some might call the company dull and gray, but it’s brilliant at chopping up steel, delivering on time, and making money. We should all be so boring.
What James Lowenstine did so cleverly is try to preserve the company he loved and build a groundbreaking educational institution on the North Woods ground he adored.
The vast wealth of the trust was such a sweet carrot that it almost became the undoing of the will’s grand plan.
It will be awfully interesting to see how a bunch of steel guys out of Irish Catholic Chicago high schools can steward a tree hugger school in the boonies of Wisconsin with almost unlimited assets behind them. It is a strange brew.