Endowment honors history that binds Heckmans and MU

O. Paul Heckman (left) and Sara Studebaker ’34 Heckman

A few blocks of College Avenue in North Manchester connect the Heckman Bindery and Manchester University, but history binds them, too.

An endowment gift from the late Sara Studebaker ’34 Heckman honors that history by supporting the Funderburg Library, which has hired the bindery for years to refurbish many of its books and bind periodicals into durable volumes.

“I think it was because of her experiences with Manchester College, the family’s experiences, the Church of the Brethren,” says Sara’s daughter, Kay Hervey, of her mother’s gift. “She cared about Manchester, and Manchester University is important to North Manchester. She cared about books and learning.”

Manchester has used The O. Paul and Sara Heckman Endowment Fund to purchase books and journals to support student research. Recently, the endowment has provided online journals for students in the Pharmacy Program.

Around 1930, Paul Heckman and some friends learned to repair old books to earn a little extra money. They worked in the basement of Paul’s family’s home at 906 N. Sycamore St. When their interests went in other directions, Paul’s parents, Vernon and Mary, took up the work. Vernon thought it was something he could do as a backup in case he lost his job. Jobs, for those who had them, were often insecure during the Great Depression. Mary became involved, too, and the two of them continued their day jobs and bound books at night. 

Book binding soon outgrew their basement and they squeezed into other rooms of their home and garage. Paul became interested again and played a large part in the business. Gradually, other workers came on board. In 1935, they constructed a small building in their back yard for more space. Before long they purchased the property next door, using the existing house for an office. 

Sara Studebaker was a Manchester graduate teaching elementary school when she met and married Paul Heckman. Paul and Sara raised Kay and her older brother, Steve, on Miami Street, a few blocks from Vernon, Mary and the bindery. Vernon ran the company until his passing in 1955, and Paul assumed the leadership.

In 1956, the bindery began its growth into a larger building on farmland adjacent to their property. This building expanded through multiple additions until it became what is today the home of the bindery. Steve was made president in 1972 and, just a year later, Paul died unexpectedly at age 61. When Steve retired, his son Jim ran the company until 2006 when it merged with ICI Bindery to form the HF Group. Jim Heckman remains a company vice president, continuing the Heckman family legacy.

Over the years, Heckman Bindery has been a fixture of the North Manchester economy, employing nearly 500 full-time employees in the mid-1960s. Heckman served libraries, schools, colleges, universities, churches and other customers by binding periodicals, and rebinding books of literature, textbooks, hymnals, Bibles and newspapers into hard- or soft-cover volumes. Heckman’s largest single product line was the binding of multiple magazines into large volumes, used in college and university libraries for research.

With schools largely out of session, summer was the busiest time of year for the bindery and its labor-intensive work. Each year, the bindery added 100 summer employees, typically high school and college students who needed summer work. Many students worked there multiple summers.

Company-employee relations were strong. Heckman had a strong reputation among its customers and expected excellent work from its employees. In turn, the company treated its workers with dignity and respect.

To document the company’s history, Steve Heckman recently published a book, Heckman Bindery – The First 75 Years.

“I would not want to be located in any other place in the world than North Manchester,” Steve reports in his book. “We have such a strong work ethic, and we have such a good character of our people in this community. I grew up here and I’m glad I did.”

Kay is glad she grew up in North Manchester, too. She has fond childhood memories of the neighborhood, playing on the Manchester College campus and along the river next to the football field. A graduate of DePauw University, she enjoyed a career working with visually impaired people until her retirement.

After Paul’s death, Sara Heckman moved to Florida and ran a motel the couple had purchased together. She started that career at age 65 and ran the motel until she was 93. “I think that’s pretty impressive,” says Kay. “I think it was good for her, not having dad, to make a life for herself without him.”

Thanks to Sara’s forethought and generosity, an endowment permanently links the Heckmans with Manchester University.

“Mother wouldn’t have had a gift to give Manchester if it weren’t for the bindery,” says Kay. “The bindery and Manchester University seem related.”