Calling Today: Fort Wayne Remembers Pizza Hut Owner Dick Freeland

By Emma Koch - 21Alive
By Jeff Neumeyer

October 21, 2013 Updated Oct 28, 2013 at 2:46 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (21Alive) -- Leaving a lasting legacy in business, politics and in touching the lives of people across Northeast Indiana.

Pizza Hut giant Dick Freeland passed away this week-end.

He achieved tremendous success from humble beginnings.

Freeland started out with one store and not a lot of money in the bank back in 1972.

But that was certainly not the end of the story.

Dick Freeland died at his home in Southwest Allen County on Sunday.

The ironworker by trade took out a loan and started his first Pizza Hut on East State near Coliseum Boulevard.

Today, Pizza Hut of Fort Wayne owns 48 Pizza Huts and 4 Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants in Indiana and Ohio.

In the midst of his fight against cancer earlier this year, he received the prestigious "Sagamore of the Wabash" award, signifying his dedication to public service.

Local businessman Don McArdle knew Freeland for 40 years.

He says he began with a drive to take care of customers and employees alike.

" (He) translated it into how you run 50 some restaurants, (and that) is a major management accomplishment. I've often thought that the Pizza Hut success here in Northeast Indiana should have been converted into a case study for business schools," said McArdle, who ran his own manufacturing operation in Fort Wayne for years.

He wasn't real high profile about it, but Freeland was a big player in local, state and national politics too.

He put money behind candidates, almost always conservative ones, and he also supported causes that he was passionate about.

He was also instrumental in founding The Chapel, a church attended by several thousand congregants in Aboite Township.

The Memorial service for Freeland will be held Tuesday, October 29th at The Chapel at 11:30 a.m. with a calling scheduled for Monday, October 28th from 2-8 p.m.

A native of Nevada, Mo., he was born March 16, 1937, to the Rev. Fred and Helen Freeland. In 1957 he married Deanna Walters, who survives, and they had three children – Kim (Alan) Cook, Terri Derheimer (deceased) and Todd (Angie) Freeland.

In 1995, Freeland traveled to Poland to advise the Pizza Hut team on improving their operations. He later became a partner in the Pizza Hut and KFC business in Poland and the Czech Republic.

He enjoyed hunting, fishing, traveling and breeding Arabian horses.

Ducks Unlimited named him Conservationist of the Year.

He served on numerous boards of directors, including Steel Dynamics Incorporated.

Freeland was preceded in death by his daughter, Terri Derheimer, in 2009; his brother John, who died at age 10; and his half-brother, Fred Freeland Jr. In addition to his wife and children, survivors include his half-sister, Eleanor Mathis, of Broken Arrow, Okla; grandchildren Tyler Freeland, Dillon Freeland, Deanna Derheimer, Lindsay (Darin) Falk, Tiffany (Mike) Rego and Austin Freeland; and one great-grandchild, Connor Falk.

Governor Pence issued the following statement regarding the passing of Dick Freeland, to whom the Governor awarded his first Sagamore of the Wabash on February 7, 2013.

"Today, Indiana lost an extraordinary Hoosier in the passing of Dick Freeland of Fort Wayne. Dick Freeland lived the American dream. A loving family man, successful entrepreneur and businessman, Dick Freeland used his success to lift up his community, his state and his nation through generous philanthropy to countless worthy causes. His leadership and example will be deeply missed. His contributions to the city of Fort Wayne and to the State of Indiana will be remembered always, and Karen and I send our deepest condolences and prayers for comfort to his beloved wife Deanna, his family and all those who mourn the passing of this good and great man.”

The Allen County Board of Commissioners today issued the following statement:

“Allen County has lost an incredible leader, visionary and entrepreneur. Dick Freeland was a tireless champion for growth, opportunity and prosperity in our county. He had a unique ability to identify opportunities and spark collaborations that will continue to improve our community. We will miss Dick’s leadership and friendship. We are deeply saddened but will always be grateful for his service and his many contributions to our community.”

U.S. Congressman Marlin Stutzman issued the following statement today regarding the passing of Dick Freeland.

“Dick Freeland showed that lasting achievement is built on character and integrity. Our community has lost a generous philanthropist, a successful businessman, and an outstanding Hoosier. By living out Hoosier values, Dick Freeland made Fort Wayne and Indiana a better place. Christy and I are deeply saddened and our prayers are with his wife Deanna and his family.”

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