1980 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"I believe you have to develop a curiosity about the environment in which you live in order to see the opportunities most people don’t see."
Born in 1919 in Indianapolis, Beurt SerVaas grew up during the Depression. His father lost his job as a salesman and was unemployed for two years. During this time, his mother worked as a full-time teacher for half-time pay. Young SerVaas pitched in and carried two paper routes, did housework, and helped care for his younger brother and sister.
During his teens, SerVaas edited the high school newspaper, achieved the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts, and won his amateur radio license. At the same time, he pursued both academic and commercial courses in school and helped the family finances by selling oil to garages and truckers. His grades and activities in high school earned him a scholarship to Indiana University Extension Division, where he worked as a janitor to earn his board. Later, he enrolled at the University of Mexico, living with a Mexican family and earning his keep by teaching the children English. He returned to finish at Indiana with degrees in chemistry, history, and Spanish, along with a teaching certificate.
SerVaas began his career building low-cost housing, but his plans were cut short by World War II, which he spent as a naval officer in China for the Secret Intelligence Division of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). After the war, SerVaas took $5,000 in savings and returned to Indianapolis to begin again. Eventually, he purchased and successfully reorganized more than 20 small and medium-sized diversified companies. In 1970, he acquired and became chairman of Curtis Publishing Company, which published more than a dozen magazines, including The Saturday Evening Post. His business empire, SerVaas, Inc., now includes 21 companies that specialize in everything from European foreign trade to pharmaceutical licensing and manufacturing.
As a member and president of the Indianapolis City Council for 37 years, SerVaas is an unabashed booster of the Hoosier capital. He says Indianapolis had been "a dirty old city" that had never really recovered from World War I, let alone World War II. Under his tenure, the city and county were combined to make a more efficient government, with Indianapolis now ranking twelfth in size in the nation.
With an avid interest in health and medicine, SerVaas entered Indiana University Medical School as a part-time student when he was in his 40s. He earned a doctorate in medical science. Interested in preventive medicine, SerVaas says, "I am involved in medical research as well as in the development of new pharmaceuticals and instrumentation aimed at the 21st century practice."
Through a foundation, SerVaas and his wife, Corey, continue to publish The Saturday Evening Post and several children's magazines such as Jack & Jill, Humpty Dumpty, Weekly Reader Magazine, Children's Digest, Child's Life, and Turtle. "Educating our children is so important," he says. "That's why I am so enthused about what the Horatio Alger Association is doing to help deserving youth with their education."