Evansville Courier & Press - Midwest Roots: 107 -year-old Denver businessman still has memories of Evansville
Midwest Roots: 107-year-old Denver businessman still has memories of Evansville
By Dan Shaw / Courier &Amp;Amp; Press Staff Writer — 464-7519 Or Shawd@Courierpress.Com
How many cowboys would bridle if they knew the modern Western shirt has its roots in so Midwestern a city as Evansville?
But it has. Or so, at least, has its inventor, Jack A. Weil, who was born in Evansville in 1901. More than a century later, Jack Weil is the honorary chief executive officer of Rockmount Ranch Wear, a clothing manufacturer in downtown Denver famous for selling Western shirts with snap buttons. He introduced that innovation and others not long after he founded the company in 1946.
Jack Weil established the look of the modern Western shirt and his products have been sold throughout the world and worn by many celebrities, from Elvis to the stars of the movie "Brokeback Mountain."
Though he found his success far away from Evansville, Jack Weil retains a fondness for the city he considers his home.
"We were always arguing with Fort Wayne about who was the second largest city in the state," he said. "I don't know who ever won."
He grew up in houses on Southeast First Street and Sixth Street and attended school on Mulberry Street. Among the prominent landmarks at the time were deJong's department store, the C&EI train station and Cook's Brewery. None exists now.
Jack Weil said his memories reach back as far as World War I, when men were building barges at the Howell Yards along the Ohio River. Among other things, he can clearly recall the antipathy his family felt toward the Germans, a product as much of their history as of patriotism.
Weil's father grew up in the Alsace region of France, which was invaded during the Franco-Prussian War. Rather than being impressed into the enemy army, he fled to the United States.
Here he established himself in the cattle business, first in Mount Vernon, Ind., and then Evansville.
Years later, a stranger came to the family's house to solicit money in support of the German cause in World War I. Jack Weil's mother grabbed a cattle prod and chased him away.
It was a rare disturbance in an otherwise carefree existence.
"Maybe my memory is such that I have put aside the unpleasant things that happened," he said.
He got in little trouble because he knew that punishment would not be long in coming.
"If I stepped out of line, the policemen would say I'll tell your mother," he said. "That set me straight right then and there. She was a disciplinarian."
Jack Weil and his brother made money by delivering copies of the old Evansville Press newspaper. His mother had them give her a part of whatever they earned as a way to supplement the family's income.
"My brother and I were the kings of the carriers," Jack Weil said. "We had a horse and buggy to deliver our papers and the rest were riding bicycles."
Jack Weil managed to make enough money from that job and others to save some on the side. In the 1920s, he took $1,000 he had placed in the bank and moved to Chicago, becoming a salesman. It was the start of a journey that would take him to Pennsylvania, Tennessee ? where he met the woman he would marry ? and Denver.
Since first leaving Evansville, Jack Weil has rarely come back. Steve Weil, his grandson and the president of Rockmount, said the last return visit was likely made in the 1940s, for the funeral of Jack Weil's father. His parents, brother and brother's wife are all buried in Rose Hill Cemetery.
Despite the long absence, Jack Weil often talks about Evansville.
"He refers to it all the time, whenever people come in here and are from Indiana," Steve Weil said. "He tells lots of people it's remarkable that a guy from Evansville did what he did."
Jack Weil said he chooses to stay away rather than "be disappointed that none of my contemporaries are still around."
In many interviews Jack Weil has been told he possesses an extraordinarily sharp memory for a man who has lived more than a century.
"Who the hell is going to contradict me?" he answers.