Well, Region residents, we’re on to our next match-up in our bracket style determination of who’s who in the history and culture of Northwest Indiana.
Today puts two Valparaiso residents against one another in a match-up of baseball vs. popcorn. Here’s a rundown of the backgrounds of both Orville Redenbacher and Jeff Samardzija, then make sure you weigh in with your vote at the bottom of the page.
Orville Clarence Redenbacher (1907-1995) is synonymous as the first rockstar in the popcorn industry, putting the Region and Valparaiso in particular on the nation’s map during the 1970’s as part of his cutting-edge marketing campaign on television. The Popcorn Festival was created in 1979 to celebrate the achievements of Redenbacher in the popcorn industry and has been held every year since then in September.
What earns Redenbacher such a high seed in this bracket to determine our Region Hall of Fame is his influence on multiple industries during the advancement of American society during the 20th century in several facets. Originally born in Brazil, IN, Orville displayed his entrepreneurial talents from an early age by selling popcorn out of his car during high school. His work ethic during his studies in high school gained him acceptance into Purdue University’s world-famous School of Agriculture, where he earned his degree in 1928 in agronomy.
Stop and ponder this for a moment.
It makes perfect sense that Orville would be interested in earning a degree in a field like agronomy. However, this marriage of science and consumerism of a product like popcorn represents a theme of the 20th century society of combining these seemingly independent fields. It also sheds light on why Orville Redenbacher had so much success making and selling his popcorn- he understood the science behind it. In 1988, Purdue went as far to award Mr. Redenbacher with an honorary doctorate from the School of Agriculture, recognizing his contributions to science and agriculture.
That youthful exuberance displayed by Redenbacher from such an early age is inspiring, and furthermore, became a foundation for his successful business model which has become a giant in the popcorn industry in contemporary America.
It’s remarkable to think that this is just the first instance where Orville Redenbacher was able to incorporate different parts of the business world to make his product successful.
1951 marks the beginning of Orville’s contributions to Northwest Indiana when he and business partner Charlie Bowman (who was also a graduate of Purdue University) purchased land in Valparaiso to invest in their new company, Chester Hybrids. Chester Hybrids began to develop and test thousands of different hybrid fertilizers for a plethora of different purposes, but the hybrid strain that brought them into the popcorn industry was a seed called ‘Redbow’. 19 years after Redenbacher and Bowman started Chester Seeds, their popcorn hit the market in 1970, and it hit the market with wild success.
Like all of Orville Redenbacher’s accomplishments, the spotlight placed on his brand of popcorn was no accident. An advertising agency suggested that Orville brand his popcorn with his name and keep it consistently associated with his Redbow seed as their popcorn hit the market.
The commercials often associated with Redenbacher and Valparaiso which first appeared on television in 1973 represent one of the finer examples of branding across marketing platforms. Orville’s candid, grandfather-like personality was coupled consistently with those infamous horn-rimmed glasses topped off with a bowtie became the media staple of the popcorn.
And Orville stayed true to the community where his company started, as ‘Valparaiso, Indiana’ became just as much a part of the brand as ‘Orville Redenbacher’ himself.
Television advertisements established Redenbacher’s place in the exploding industry of popcorn so well, the company as it exists today does not separate their product from Orville’s image. Nearly two decades after his passing, Orville is still a fixture on the front of all his popcorn products and even appears at the end of his commercials thanks to advancements in image and video-editing software. It seems rather fitting that such an innovator in the business realm would ultimately be re-invented to keep his brand appealing to a new generation of popcorn-lovers.
Valparaiso began celebrating Orville Redenbacher’s success and influence on the city in 1979 by creating the annual Popcorn Festival. While there are many festivals with a similar fixation on the Hoosier attachment to popcorn, this one traces its roots to both Indiana culture and a Region icon.
From a small town Indiana kid who’s interest in agriculture lead him to Purdue, where he learned the science of developing hybrid fertilizer seeds which produced the company that ultimately put his popcorn and the Region on the national stage, Orville Redenbacher rightfully makes a strong claim to have his face affixed amongst other Northwest Indiana icons on our hypothetical ‘Mount Rushmore of the Region’.
You’d be hard pressed to find a Region rat more on the rise in today’s world than Valparaiso’s own Jeff Samardzija. The Chicago Cubs’ starting pitcher was born and raised in Northwest Indiana and burst onto the national spotlight as a wide receiver for Norte Dame in 2006. Samardzjia’s athletic talents in multiple sports generated notoriety throughout the state of Indiana throughout Samardzjia’s prep career at Valparaiso High School.
Northwest Indiana residents have had the privilege of watching Jeff Samardzija’s career rapidly develop with his success in college football and professional baseball. During his high school career, a seemingly-endless line of opponents who found themselves on the wrong end of Samardzija’s talent developed in Northwest Indiana. ‘The Shark’, as he is now affectionately nicknamed, also turned heads in football and baseball pundits all over Indiana by being named to All-State teams in both sports.
After accepting an athletic scholarship to Norte Dame, Samardzija quickly developed into a big-time contributor to the school’s baseball team as a freshman, leading the team is earned-run average and limiting his opponents to an anemic .209 batting average. Professional baseball scouts were quick to praise Samardzija’s pitching style, particularly his strong velocity (he can get his fastball up to 99 MPH) and his ability to effectively throw 7 pitches. Today most players focus on honing two or three pitches, and if you watch Jeff pitch today you’ll likely see him throw four or five different pitches during a game rather than 7, just having that kind of ability as a pitcher speaks volumes to much of a difference-maker he is as a pitcher.
The national stage became acquainted with Jeff’s play on the football field in 2006. For the two seasons of football prior to his emergence, The Shark played sparingly for the Fighting Irish up until his breakout game in the 2005 Insight Bowl against Oregon State. After earning a starting spot on the wide receiver corps the following season, touchdown catches in 8 consecutive games, a Norte Dame record, catapulted the two-way standout into the media spotlight. And Samardzija continued to perform for the team the remainder of the season, ending up with 77 catches for 1,215 yards and 15 touchdowns. Those numbers currently stand as Norte Dame’s all-time single season record for yards receiving and touchdowns caught. His follow up those numbers in the 2007 football season cemented his name on the storied Norte Dame record books as well. After tacking on another 78 catches, 1,017 yards, and 12 touchdowns that year, Samardzija established the new team record for career yards receiving at 2,593. He was also named to the Football Writers Association’s All-American team that year.
Following two successful football seasons, Jeff Samardzija made the surprising announcement in 2007 that he would sign a 5 year contract to pitch with the Chicago Cubs rather than pursue an NFL career. The Cubs had drafted Samardzija in the 5th round of the most recent MLB draft and offered him a contract worth just under $17 million dollars. That’s a tough effort to pass up, and these days with growing concerns over the diminished quality of life for footballs players after retirement, not much incentive was needed to accept a lucrative contract like the one the Cubs’ put in front of Jeff.
After a quick rise through the minor leagues, Samardzija debuted with the Cubs in the major leagues in 2008 as a relief pitcher. He faced some adversity adjusting to the big leagues like any young player, but has eventually flourished as a starting pitcher since he was put in that role full-time in 2012. His performance has been stellar enough that he was named the Cubs’ opening day starter this season, a role usually delegated to a team’s best starting pitcher each year. The choice to play baseball has benefitted both the hometown favorites- the Cubs’ and Samardzija.
Jeff Samardzija represents one of the last successful models of the two-way athlete. Collegiate sports still feature these athletically-gifted individuals at lower levels of competition, but Jeff was doing it at one of the premier universities in the United States at Norte Dame. The fact that whether he should have played professional football is even argued is a testament how truly outstanding Samardzija is.
Most fans of the Northsiders would tend to agree that the sky is the limit for Samardzija’s career, which suggests that a 7 seed in our tournament could quickly become a colossal mistake in the future on our part here at 219.com. Regardless, we’re doing these rankings in the present, not the future, and your votes are all that’s needed to make it right.
As always, feel free to share you comments below or tweet at us @219_com and using the hashtag #RegionHoF .