BELLVILLE -- Jim Gorman spent most of his life as an industrialist.
As president of the Gorman-Rupp Co., he oversaw the worldwide manufacturing and sales of the company’s pump systems from his Mansfield and Bellville plants -- and plants around the world.
In 2019, Gorman stepped down from the company’s board of directors after 73 years.
But early in his life, Jim played a much different role. He was an Army Air Corps pilot during World War II, serving in New Guinea, where he flew 70 combat missions.
“There wasn’t any place to spend money in New Guinea, so I started sending my paychecks home,” Gorman said.
“Finally, I wrote my dad and said, for goodness’ sake, instead of putting this money in the bank, buy me something. And he did. He bought me a farm on Route 97 between Lexington and Bellville," Gorman said.
When Gorman returned home from the war in 1945, he began overseeing that venture.
“The ground there is particularly suited to grow potatoes. The farmland was underlain with gravel, so it drains properly. You can’t have seeds and potatoes sitting in water for long periods of time.”
Gorman spent several years harvesting potatoes. He said the Kroger Company was one of his key customers.
“They bought all our potatoes every year,” he said.
Things were good, until progress got in the way of production.
“The State of Ohio and United States government decided to build Interstate 71 through the middle of it. So, that kind of eliminated the growing of potatoes," Gorman said.
While potato production stopped, the farm remained in the family. Gorman didn’t realize it at the time, but the former potato farm is well positioned to help harvest young talent.
When the YMCA of North Central Ohio began looking early last year for the right location to build a sports complex and third branch, Gorman quickly remembered the communities that have supported the long-standing pump business.
“The YMCA came to us, and we said, well, in addition to the city of Bellville being so nice to us, the whole community has been very supportive of the Gorman-Rupp Company. The Y needed the acreage and we had it, so we decided to donate it to them.
“It was time to give back a little and say, thank you,” Gorman said.
Gorman, who will be 99 in April, said he’s pleased that through the paychecks sent back home during the war, he was able to acquire the land that the YMCA will use to support area children and their families, and create positive economic growth across Richland County.
“I think you’re going to see the Village of Bellville explode,” he said, with a chuckle. “Having this in your backyard is going to greatly benefit the children.
“The way I look at it, it goes from growing potatoes to growing young people.”
The YMCA of North Central Ohio announced last September it will create a sports complex on the land donated by Gorman.
The sports complex will become the Y’s third branch, featuring a fitness center, arcade, indoor soccer, volleyball, basketball and pickle ball, as well as at least seven outdoor soccer fields, indoor walking track, and an outdoor walking trail.
Planners said the sports complex will host multi-state soccer tournaments as well as become a special sports training facility for north central Ohio children.
It will also bring in more than $8 million a year in retail sales and sales taxes for Richland County, said YMCA CEO Cristen Gilbert.
Construction by Adena is expected to begin late this year with the YMCA hoping the new sports complex will be open by early 2025. A funding program is underway, Gilbert said.
The YMCA is seeking public and private donations for this $22 million investment in the community. Progress announcements will be made periodically this year.