Brad Hutchinson was only half paying attention as he scrolled through his news feed when a story caught his eye: Some do-gooder somewhere had paid off the outstanding balances of all the cash-strapped families who couldn’t afford the bill for their children’s school lunches.
Well, Hutchinson thought, seems like an easy enough problem to fix. That’d be cool.
So he picked up the phone and made his offer. Turned out, the balances weren’t as high as Hutchinson expected at Lancaster schools – totaling only a few thousand dollars. So he didn’t stop there. When he was finished last year, he’d spent more than $14,000 to pay off every outstanding lunch balance in all four Fairfield County school districts.
“I’d had a good year,” said Hutchinson, whose two primary businesses of the many he owns are Company Wrench, a construction and demolition equipment company, and Taylor Rental, both headquartered in Fairfield County. “I felt these were the people in the middle, people working hard to make ends meet but they just can’t bridge the gap. It was an easy thing for me to do to help.”
He disliked the attention it brought, however. In fact, when a Columbus television station wanted to do a story about the donation, Hutchinson’s employees tricked him into showing up for the interview. Otherwise, he said he never would have agreed.
This is how this self-made, successful businessman goes about his charity work: quietly, one meaningful, often life-changing donation at a time.
When a man who lives in downtown Lancaster needed a new three-wheeled bicycle to get around, Hutchinson bought him one. When a young girl needed a companion animal for her medical condition, he wrote a check for $5,000. When Shaw’s, a beloved local restaurant where he’d eaten dinner—usually prime rib—almost every Friday night, went bankrupt and closed without notice, Hutchinson and his own employees moved all the equipment out even as the building’s landlord was padlocking the doors. Then he spent five figures to cover the final paychecks for all of Shaw’s employees, and refunded all of the down payments that people had paid to secure the restaurant’s banquet room for their upcoming retirement parties or wedding receptions or birthday celebrations.
“If you have a family and you lose your paycheck, everyone goes hungry,” he said. “I certainly wasn’t going to stand by and see these people not get paid.”
The list of good deeds goes on and on, said Amanda Everett, executive director of the revitalization nonprofit, Destination Downtown Lancaster. She’s had a front-row seat to Hutchinson’s many acts of kindness over the years, and points to the goosebumps on her arms as she recounts his good works: the veterans who needed new beds, the children who needed new toys, the dogs who needed new homes, the elderly who just needed a meal.
“People like Brad give me hope for humanity,” Everett said. “He isn’t going around town getting high fives. For every one thing he does that makes the newspaper, there are dozens and dozens more that no one ever knows about.”
Hutchinson, 45, has made a lot of money; his companies are a $100 million enterprise. He shrugs when he says he could vacation anywhere in the world. He could drive BMWs and Porches. He could get Armani to custom make his suits. None of that is his style.
Instead, he wears faded blue jeans and scuffed boots and drives a Toyota. Instead of vacations, he throws parties for his employees. He flies them and their families in from each of his Company Wrench locations in six other states and puts them up for a weekend of family fun. He pays his employees well and offers generous bonuses and retirement accounts. He uses Fridays as mentoring sessions at his own shop, preaching to younger employees about the value of saving early, spending wisely, staying out of trouble.
“The way he grew up, he just wants more for others,” said Shannon Heston, who has worked with him since he started Company Wrench in 1999.
Inspiration: “I feel like if you have more than you need, you should share it. It’s the right thing to do.”
What keeps them engaged: “I like the stuff that everybody else says can’t be done, or be done easily.”
A challenge they may have overcome: From a poor and troubled upbringing, with every card stacked against him, Hutchinson found love from the Miller family who took him in as a teenager and whom he still calls “Mom and Dad.” He used what he saw in his younger years as motivation to work hard share his successes with those less fortunate.
From the beginning, nothing came easy for Hutchinson growing up in Lancaster. His mother was addicted to drugs, his father wasn’t any better off. Even today he has zero connection to any blood relative. Outside of shop class—he is a talented carpenter by trade—he hated school. His first real job was through a program for poor kids, painting fire hydrants and weed-whacking for the city.
Then a friend’s parents took him in as a teenager. He said he owes so much of what he is today to “Mom and Dad Miller.” They underscored for him the things he’d always suspected, but had never really witnessed: Hard work can take you just about anywhere and, if you are fortunate enough, you must help wherever you can.
“If you are a floor sweeper, be the best damn floor sweeper you can be,” Hutchinson said. “And I’ll try to help you do that.”
His biggest community project, though, is more a labor of love. And it is far from in the shadows. He is restoring the 16,000-square-foot, formerly condemned, historically significant Mithoff Hotel building in downtown Lancaster. For more than a decade, no one was willing to step up to help save the nearly 200-year-old building as it literally crumbled before the city’s eyes.
Until Hutchinson, anyway.
He bought the building in 2015 for just $1. Nearly every day since then, he’s personally overseen its transformation and poured $4.1 million of his own money into it without a penny from any other investor. Why?
“This is a legacy building. When I’m gone, if there’s one thing people will remember me for in this town, it’ll be this,” he said as he ran his hand along its still unfinished walls. “I wasn’t willing to let it die.”
Later this fall, the building will be reopened with one private apartment, office space and retail. The entryway will be a museum of sorts, a nod to the Mithoff’s rich heritage.
R. Michael Pettit, the city of Lancaster’s economic development director, said the community knows how lucky it is to have Hutchinson around. He rescues all sorts of buildings from the scrap heap. He bought an old bar and turned it into The Mill Event Center. He bought a sprawling old foundry that is now an indoor recycling center. He bought the run-down American Legion building and it could soon become a boutique hotel. And, most recently, when he decided the pole barn that a motorcycle group used as its clubhouse had become a nuisance to his own neighborhood, he bought that, too.
“Whether he’s helping people with a $100 check for groceries or spending $4 million to save a building,” Pettit said, “Brad Hutchinson is a humble philanthropist of the very best kind.”