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Harold B. West Founder (1892-1954)


Harold B. West was born in Syracuse, New York, in 1892. He began showing his entrepreneurial talent at an early age, establishing his first business venture with a carrying route for the Saturday Evening Post, later acquiring a series of routes all over his hometown and hiring other boys to deliver the periodical. Following high school, Mr. West attended the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, working his way through college as a tutor, and completing the Wharton School of Business four-year program in three years.

During his time at Wharton, Mr. West decided to enter the bread baking business. After graduation, he accepted an internship at a bakery in Washington, DC, where he was approached to enlist during World War I to direct the establishment of what was at the time the world’s largest overseas bakery, producing 800,000 lbs. of bread daily to feed U.S. troops. Leaving the U.S. Army as a captain in 1919, he selected Indianapolis as the site for establishing his own bakery, purchasing the Daugherty Cake Company and using it as the basis for organizing West Baking Company that same year.

By the end of the 1920s, Mr. West had built his enterprise into one of the largest independent bakeries in the county, promoting that angle by splashing the words “Emphatically Independent” across the company’s delivery vehicles. West Baking Company continued to thrive throughout the 1930s, bread being a staple item of most people’s diets, even in times of economic crisis. During World War II, Mr. West was well enough recognized throughout the baking industry to be tapped as a bakery consultant for the U.S. Secretary of War, participating in numerous conferences in Washington, DC and inspecting bakeries at military installations. Additionally, he served as co-chair of the Marion County Defense Bond Committee during the war.

Throughout his career, Mr. West was also involved in a large number of civic activities. He helped to establish the Indianapolis Community Fund (later United Way of Indianapolis), serving twice as its campaign chair and also as its president.  He was also a key member of the original Marion County Juvenile Justice Committee and served as president of the Social Hygiene Association. Additionally, he was a director of the Fletcher Trust Company, and served for four years as a director of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce as well as seven years on the finance committee of that organization. He rounded out his community service as a member of the Indianapolis Hospital Development Association and with service on the boards of the American Bankers’ Association and the Chicago Theological Seminary.

Mr. West was very active in his spiritual life as a member of the First Congregational Church of Indianapolis. A trustee of the church, he also served for many years on its foreign missions committee. Later, he was one of the founding members of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions of the Congregational Church. These important associations led him to note the need for assistance in developing countries, and to establish a fund for the creation of the West Foundation to help provide such aid in his will. After his passing in 1954, the West Foundation was incepted in 1958 as a testament to his dedication to improving the lives of people around the world.

Mr. West was gifted with great foresight and vision, as well as the boundless energy and enthusiasm for all of his interests that caused his friends to label him “the human dynamo.” It is this combination of qualities to which our foundation owes not only its existence but its legacy of assisting beyond the borders of what we see immediately in front of us. Our work is to make every attempt to bring his dream of an equal existence for all to reality.

Hilda K. West (1898-1984)

Hilda-Kirkman-WestHilda K. West (nee Kirkman) was born in Richmond, Indiana in 1898. The daughter of Indiana state senator Roscoe Kirkman, and suffragette and temperance advocate Ginevra Hill Kirkman, she held the position of church organist at Second Lutheran Church in Richmond at age 14, and was valedictorian of the Richmond High School Class of 1915 at 16 years of age. She graduated from Indiana University in 1920 as a member of Delta Gamma Sorority and Mu Phi music sorority as well as being concertmistress of the Indiana University Symphony Orchestra.

Mrs. West moved to Indianapolis that same year.  Trained as both musician and teacher, she immediately began teaching at Emmerich Manual High School on the city’s south side. After meeting Harold West at a garden party, she married him in 1923. Upon beginning their life together, she reminded him that cooking and cleaning were not her fortes; he informed her that they would hire someone to handle these responsibilities as she had important work to complete in the community. This work, alongside raising their two children and maintaining her professional position as concertmistress of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra from 1930-1937, became her life’s mission.

A civic leader in all respects, Mrs. West served on multiple boards of community agencies, including Flanner House (1937-1955), Day Nursery Association (1938-1955), Fletcher Place Community Center (1947-1962), the United Way and its predecessor, the Community Fund (1950-1967), and the Social Health Association (1961-1984). Additionally, she served as a trustee of Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana (1963-1972) and was the first woman board member of the YMCA of Central Indiana. She also served on the board of the YMCA Foundation. Additionally, she chaired the construction committee for First Congregational Church from 1954-1957, and served as director and vice president of her husband’s business, West Baking Company, from 1924-1957.

In 1956, she was presented the B’Nai Brith Community Service Woman of the Year Award, and in 1957 she received the Women’s Community Service Award from the Methodist Church for her work as president of Fletcher Place Community Center. Both awards reflected her work in early race relations, equality of rights and opportunities for all races having been a lifelong passion for Mrs. West. This high level of interest for others of diverse culture and background made her ideal to chair the board of directors for the West Foundation following her husband’s death in 1954. As with all her activities, she was intimately involved in all aspects of the creation and operation of the foundation from its inception in 1958 to her own passing in 1984.

Mrs. West was a formidable woman of enormous intelligence and gravitas with a wide variety of interests and abilities. These qualities, as well as her integrity and strong moral character had great effect on the birth of our organization and continue to leave an indelible impact on the work of the West Foundation today.

Stephen R. West (1931-2010)

steven_westFollowing his childhood in Indianapolis, Mr. West attended Carleton College, graduating cum laude in 1953 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and a minor in government. Following two years of military service as a corporal in the U.S. Army, he attended Harvard University, earning a Master of Business Administration degree in 1957. Upon graduation, Mr. West returned to Indianapolis to assume the positions of Vice President and Treasurer of West Baking, Inc.

In addition to working in his family business, Mr. West had a virtual second career as an elected official, serving on the Indianapolis City-County Council for 24 years, from 1972-1996. From 1972-1992, he held office representing District 6, and later served as an at-large councilor from 1992-1996. Mr. West also was elected vice president and majority leader of the council from 1988-1993. During his years in public office, he held numerous chairs on the council, including committees for Administration, Economic Development, Public Safety and Criminal Justice, and Public Works. Additionally, his council service included roles on the boards of directors for the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee and the National League of Cities.

Mr. West also served on a wide variety of non-profit organizations in his private life. From 1984 – 2010, he was president of The West Foundation, Inc. Additionally, he served as president of both Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association and the Indiana Conference of Congregational Christian Churches. Other civic experience included membership on the boards of trustees for Christian Theological Seminary, The Defiance College, Edyvean Repertory Theatre, Indianapolis Church Federation, Marion County Health and Hospital Corporation, Martin Luther King Multi-Service Center, and Peoples Bank. Mr. West was also a proud member of Rotary International for more than four decades.

He received a number of awards during his lifetime. In recognition of his service to the state of Indiana, Mr. West was awarded the title Sagamore of the Wabash (the State of Indiana’s highest honor) in 2002 and Distinguished Hoosier in 1996 by Governor Frank O’Bannon. Other organizations which have honored him for his contributions to the community included Marion County Alliance of Neighborhoods (MCANA Award), Mercy Foundation (Spirit of Africa Award), Meridan-Kessler Neighborhood Association (Sid Maurer Award), and Wishard Foundation (Indiana Public Health Award).

Mr. West passed away in 2010 at the age of 79. At his memorial service, his lifelong friend Jim Morris (former head of the World Food Programme) said of his service to the community, “Whatever Steve did, it was never about promoting himself, never about ego; it was always about doing the right thing for those he was serving.” We can think of no better means of stating his contributions to the spirit of our philanthropy at the West Foundation.