A Tradition of Excellence
Writer / Janelle Morrison
Long-time residents of Zionsville may recognize the Longest family as a familiar name. Three generations of the Longest clan have called Zionsville home and continue to do so while raising the next generation of Longest children near their original homestead.
James (Jim) Longest sat down with me to share his family story, his family’s award-winning business and the work that they do with the town and his eight-year history as a member and past-president of the Zionsville Community School Board. “Growing up we lived in Union Township, in Saddle Brook, where we lived for many years in a log house,” Longest said. “From there we moved into Sugarbush here in town. Today, the whole family lives here.”
Longest recalled when he was acquiring his driver’s license there were not any stoplights, just the four-way blinker that was located on S.R. 334 and Zionsville Road. He has watched his community grow and expand over the decades. The direction of the town’s growth is one of the reasons why he and his wife, Amie, have chosen to stay in this community and raise their 4-year old daughter, Julia.
Longest graduated from Zionsville High School in 1986 with a little over 170 students in his graduating class. Zionsville was considerably rural at that time. Longest, who had begun working for his family’s engineering firm at age 14, attended Purdue University and completed their civil engineering program.
“I started at Beam, Longest and Neff, my family’s company, when I was 14” Longest said. “My grandfather, Hubert Longest started the company which is now a third-generation firm. “My father, Hubert Longest Jr. bought him out in the 1970s. My brother Tom, also a Zionsville resident, and I began working for our dad as teenagers and then we took over the firm in 1998. I can recall, when we started out we made prints in the print room. We didn’t have copiers that would collate so when putting together specification books, that were hundreds of pages thick, we would have to go around the conference table and assemble them, one page at a time.”
From the print room and towards the end of his high school career, Longest started doing design work. “That is when I developed a passion for engineering,” said Loongest. “I attended Purdue for their engineering program and was introduced to all of the different disciplines. I moved back to Zionsville right after college and lived with my parents long enough to save up for a down payment on a house and then purchased a house in Hunt Club Village. I had joined the Zionsville Police Department as a reserve deputy and worked in dispatch for two to three years. I had always planned on moving back, and after Amie and I got married we knew that if we were going to raise a family, this is where we wanted to do it. Zionsville is just a great place to grow up. Initially, I wanted to be here because of the nostalgia of having grown up here, but we choose to stay here because we think that the community is heading in the right direction. Having the quaintness of the village that I think that the town council has worked to protect and maintain is a key factor. That and the sense of community that is evident here in addition to having the reinvestment of their properties made by the business owners in Zionsville all play an integral role in making this community attractive.”
Interesting fact about Jim is that he joined the Zionsville Community School Board years before he had a child in the school system, and even prior to being married to his wife.
“A little over eight years ago, I joined the school board,” Longest said. “In 2005, they had just issued over $100 million in bonds for new construction projects and I thought that the board could use the expertise from my background in administrating those funds in constructing those projects.”
Longest has continued to dutifully serve the school board and is also a past-president. According to Longest, the board’s two biggest issues for 2015 will be educating the state legislators on the school funding formula, why that formula is broken and why it does not work for Zionsville, as well as a number of other high performing school districts. The other issue is teacher contract negotiations.
“I think that the board and the administration have been working diligently with the teachers association over the last several years,” Longest said, offering his insight into that process. “The law changes in what can be included in the contract and what needs to be excluded, have thrown the whole process in disarray so we have been working very closely to develop trust between the different groups. I think that will be the paramount importance going into the 2015 negotiations.”
Regarding the school funding crisis, Longest emphasized the importance of the board and administration’s efforts to educate the public and taxpayers on the issues. “I am hopeful that the education that we are doing at this time through the Fix It Coalition, in meeting with the Chambers of Commerce, the economic development organizations, will go a long ways towards explaining the problem. There have been a lot of misconceptions, even as recent a few weeks ago, where a public post stated that we had to lay off teachers because we built the athletic complex. Those are two completely separate issues.
“I feel that we need to continue our efforts in educating the community on how the funding formula works and what those dollars can be used for. We are currently, rallying the residents and business owners, who would be voting on a potential future referendum, to help us educate the state legislatures on this specific issue. If we are unsuccessful at fixing the formula and have to move towards another referendum to maintain our schools’ current programs, then we want the community to be thoroughly educated. Recently, Gov. Pence indicated in a speech that he wanted to fund excellence and certainly the Zionsville Community School Corporation is a poster child for K-12 excellence.”
[Editor’s Note: If you want to know more about the funding crises see the story in our January Zionsville Community Newsletter ]
In addition to serving his community through the school board, Longest serves his local and state communities on both personal and professional levels. Longest and his wife are heavily involved with the Zionsville Education Foundation, Midwest Academy and Habitat for Humanity. Longest’s firm, BLN, contributes to a litany of organizations and services throughout Indiana and donate services when needed. For example, when Habitat for Humanity is looking at a site and they have to do some environmental work to clear the property, BLN will clear that hurdle and donate the necessary services. BLN is also a sponsor of the Zionsville Fireman’s Ball and Pancake Breakfast. Longest is active with the Zionsville Redevelopment Commission, Parks and Road Impact Fee Review Board, just to name a few locally. BLN is involved with the Ruth Lily Health Foundation and a score of other service and nonprofit entities.
Longest expressed that next to family, community and education are incredibly important to him. “Our daughter attends the universal preschool at Pleasant View Elementary, which is part of the Zionsville school system,” Longest concluded. “We love the program, the schools and this community. There is nothing more important than education. I want to preserve what I love about this community and leave it better than I found it.”