SHEFFIELD | When Eugene Sukup started his grain bin and farm manufacturing company in 1963, there were three employees.
By 2008, that company had grown to more than 400 employees and served organizations worldwide.
Sukup, 89, of Sheffield, died Thursday at Mercy Medical Center–North Iowa in Mason City. He was a local business icon who was heavily involved in the community and kept his business in Sheffield despite its tremendous success.
"Eugene will be remembered by his family and many friends, colleagues, and members of the agriculture community as a leader, innovator, and exceptionally caring and generous person," Sukup Manufacturing said in a statement Thursday.
Funeral services are 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at Trinity Lutheran Church, 16 12th Ave. N.E., Hampton, with the Rev. Karl Ballhagen presiding. Visitation is 3 to 8 p.m. Monday at the church.
Sukup and his wife, Mary, founded Sukup Manufacturing in 1963 in a welding shop in Sheffield. His first patent was for grain stirring equipment to keep corn from spoiling in a bin.
Sukup now holds 85 patents and has sales in all 50 states and more than 80 countries. It employs more than 600 people and has global distribution locations in Denmark and Ukraine.
After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Sukup Manufacturing partnered with Globe Compassion Network, a humanitarian relief organization, to transform old metal grain bins into Safe T homes, earthquake-proof and hurricane-proof housing distributed to countries worldwide. Since the partnership began, hundreds of Safe T Homes have been delivered.
It’s that innovation and compassion that has garnered Sukup — and the family-owned business — accolades within the past decade.
In 2006, Sukup was inducted into the Iowa Inventors Hall of Fame by the Iowa Intellectual Property Law Association. In 2011, he, and his wife, Mary, were inducted into the Iowa Business Hall of Fame, and in 2012, Sukup was awarded the Iowa Farm Bureau Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award. In 2017, Sukup was honored with the Innovation in Agriculture Manufacturing award.
In 2011, his company helped fund the second phase of Iowa State University's Biorenewables Complex. Charles Sukup, one of Eugene's sons and president of Sukup Manufacturing, said at the time the company was happy to support a program that researches solutions for clean water, food and renewable energy for people worldwide.
One of Sukup's greatest challenges was surviving a federal estate tax scare that he believes would have put the company out of business. At that time, the company had about 500 workers.
"You take a little town like Sheffield that has 1,000 people in it and then you've got 500 people looking for work?" Sukup told the Globe Gazette in June 2010. "It's going to be a terrible blow if the company would fold."
But his company is still in operation.
Last month, Sukup partnered with Mercy Medical Center to create a clinic on-site, in order to combat rising healthcare costs.
In a 2016 interview when he won the Cyrus Hall McCormick Jerome Increase Case Gold Medal Award from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, he displayed his humility and gratitude for his fellow employees.
"They had been farming, they knew how to fix things and had creative ideas and put their whole heart into it," Sukup said in 2016. "I think that’s been the secret to our success here."
And in 2013, Sukup donated $1 million to a Mercy Medical Center cardio lab.
"These are all things important to our family," he said. "We are all lucky to have the advanced services that Mercy provides, and the Sukup family is proud to be a part of this project."
In 2008, Sukup sat down with a Globe Gazette reporter to discuss his business, how national and local economies affect it and the responsibility for caring for hundreds of employees.
His advice for anyone looking to start their own business was simple.
"Love what you're doing — and pray a lot," Sukup said.