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Indy political, business leader Beurt SerVaas dies at 94

February 3, 2014

One of the city of Indianapolis’ most influential leaders has died.

Beurt SerVaas passed away Sunday at the age of 94, his daughter Joan SerVaas confirmed.

Beurt SerVass mugBeurt SerVaas

A Republican, SerVaas was elected to the City-County Council in 1962 and served for more than 40 years, including 27 as council president. He was one of the architects with Mayor Richard Lugar of Unigov, Indianapolis’ consolidated city-county government adopted in 1970.

"Indianapolis has lost one of its greatest champions and chief architect of its success," Mayor Greg Ballard said Monday. "Beurt set a gold standard for public service in this city that all current and future leaders should emulate.
 
"Beurt and I spoke often about the city and issues of the day. He never lost his passion for service and zeal for problem solving. The prayers and gratitude of this city are with the SerVaas family. He will be missed."

P.E. MacAllister, a member of the Indianapolis Capital Improvement Board for 17 years and a civic advisor to Lugar, recalled SerVaas as a dedicated community leader who actually coined the term "Unigov."

"He helped build Indianapolis from a dream into an All-American city," MacAllister said. "Nobody knows how many hours this guy put in on our behalf."

Unigov, which combined and streamlined Indianapolis and Marion County governments and services, often is credited with revitalizing Indianapolis. Republicans viewed Unigov as a solution to the urban blight and the growing thicket of independent authorities and commissions that were strangling Indianapolis.

"The city was a dirty, old, industrial city that had never recovered from World War I, never recovered from the Depression, not even World War II," SerVaas told IBJ in the late 1990s. "Nothing had been built in 20 years, young people were leaving and not returning, unemployment was high. In other words, the community was in decline.”

An Indianapolis native, SerVaas graduated from Shortridge High School in 1937. He played football at the school and edited the esteemed "The Daily Echo" school newspaper.

He earned degrees in chemistry, history, and Spanish from Indiana University, as well as a teaching certificate.  He taught at Shortridge High School for a brief time before his plans were cut short by World War II. He spent his time in the war as a naval officer in China for the Secret Intelligence Division of the Office of Strategic Services.

After the war, he returned to Indianapolis and became an entrepreneur, eventually purchasing or creating more than 20 companies. In 1970, he acquired and became chairman of Curtis Publishing Co., which still publishes The Saturday Evening Post.

His business empire, SerVaas Inc., included 21 companies specializing in everything from European foreign trade to pharmaceutical licensing and manufacturing.

SerVaas and his wife, Cory, had five children and 19 grandchildren.

Joan SerVaas said Monday: "My father believed one person could make a difference in life, and his life certainly made a difference. His visionary leadership was evident in so many arenas—business, government, community, education, medicine, … and for our family he made all the difference in the world.”

The funeral service will take place at 3 p.m. Saturday at Second Presbyterian Church, 7700 N. Meridian St. The calling will be at 1 p.m. at the church.

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