My Story- Rainer Hummel
Rainer Hummel is relaxed in his office amid the rustic setting of the historic Hummel Properties building in St. Davids.
While he views himself as a very low key guy, it is safe to say that he leaves an impact on all who he is involved with whether in business or community. He literally lights up when referencing his children, grandchildren and family. He reflects with pride on his German Mennonite heritage and his community involvement that led him to create the Hummel Family Endowment Fund in 2017. This was created through the Niagara-on-the-Lake Fund under the structure of the Niagara Community Foundation.
Rainer was born in Uruguay but has lived in Niagara-on-the-Lake since he was 3 years old. While this establishes him as a long time Town resident he has often been viewed as a “newcomer”.
His German Mennonite roots are deeply imbedded within him. He feels he learned much through the harsh reality of his ancestor’s struggles in Russia and Germany which eventually led them to become refugees headed to South America in hope of a good life. His face and tone becomes serious as he reflects on their many challenges and tough lives. He knows that those who survived did so through working very hard, never giving up and the ultimate goal of a successful future for their family and future generations. The German Mennonites were and are still known for their co-operative efforts among their community.
On his Mother’s side his family roots originated in Gedansk, East Prussia. Following WWII East Prussia was partitioned between the Soviet Union and Poland according to the Potsdam Conference. East Northern Prussia was divided between the Soviet Republics of Russia and Lithuania with Southern East Prussia placed under Polish administration. The families work revolved around farming. They ended up in Germany fleeing from the Russians.
His Father’s side was Russian (German speaking) from south Caucasus, Helenendorf. Famine and instability had followed in the wake of the Napoleonic War. Meanwhile, Russia hoped to spread the legendary German work ethic amongst the peasants in its newly conquered colonies. Settlers in Helenendorf, (now Xanlar), planted crops and vineyards. In 1826, before development had got far, the town was burnt down by the Persians. Nonetheless, the resilient population rebuilt what rapidly grew to be the nucleus of Azerbaijan's 'Concordia' wine business. His great grandfather owned a winery/distillery in Concordia Russia but lost it when the Russians/Bolsheviks took it. He along with other family members were executed in WWII.
Eventually the continuous turmoil left his Grandmother as a refugee fleeing both the Russians and Germans. In 1951 the Americans and British were left to resettle the refugees by shipping them to countries who would have offered to take them. The German Mennonites stayed grouped together and were sent to Uruguay. Here they were given plots of land from a 1500 hectare parcel. They worked together as a co-operative which was old school Mennonite. They had a stable but poor life where his family did not see a future for them. Rainer had an uncle who lived in Canada who was established in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The uncle sponsored Rainer’s family to come and join them at their small home on Townline Road. His parents and older brother left South America to live with the uncle on Nov. 14th, 1963 when Rainer was 3 years of age. In their small shared home there were now 4 adults and 4 children. His family then rented an apartment on Lorraine Street, Virgil and eventually purchased their first home on a 7 acre farm on Line 1.
Rainer attended Virgil Public School and Niagara District Secondary School but often found himself away from school helping out on the farm and by 14 working construction. He gained his strong work ethic working alongside his Mother on the farm. He couldn’t keep up with her and always felt that she was the hardest worker he ever knew. In these early years, Rainer remembers being very shy and early signs of independence appeared as he couldn’t stand being told what to do.
He worked for Wiens Electric between the ages of 14-20. Over the years through this work, he had become a foreman and had done some work with BELL. Thinking he was not going to get anywhere, he quit and enrolled as a mature student at Brock University in Economics in 1981. He loved it but did not have the money to continue studying as he was living on nothing. That year the government introduced a Student Venture Capital Programme where you could get an interest free loan of $3000.00 payable in 3 months. He went to an assigned interview with Mr. Gosen of Gosen Insurance to apply for the loan. He received the money and proceeded to buy a trenching machine and a truck and borrowed a trailer. He worked long days on construction managing to get work through his BELL connection and paid back the original loan in the allotted time. He developed a strong work ethic but he couldn’t balance work and school. He left Brock but had completed a year of Business Administration taking Economics, Marketing and Geography.
By the age of 25, he had approximately 15-18 employees but felt he needed a “real” job. He thought that he should maybe work for someone other than himself and pursued employment at General Motors. After seeing/experiencing the application process and structure of a large corporation, he realized it was not for him. Working for someone else was not a fit for him. He continued to work on his construction company with feelings of struggling and constant wondering about success. He kept reinvesting his earnings, building on each success. He was uncertain that success would always be there and feels that this underlying theme came from growing up poor. It took him a long time to realize that he did have the foundation of a successful business but was fixated on reinvesting. He would question his success-- not accepting or realizing that he already had it.
Rainer sees success as a personal perception that usually differs as others see it or interpret it. To him success was not a single component of luck. He believes that luck begins when many tiny things come together. These tiny things set the stage for things to go right and will resurface when you don’t always expect them to come together or even expect them to contribute to success. They could bring you reprieve or break you. These many little things create the environment for luck to happen with no specific time frame defined.
Hummel Properties was created in 1984 which involves developing land projects in and around the region. A major land development came with the purchase of Jones Beach in St. Catharines where he created the residential Newport Quay. His first project in NOTL was the addition of apartments in the Greaves Jam building on Queen Street in 1989. Throughout the years, Rainer worked on various commercial and residential developments in NOTL and St. Catharines. He was responsible for building the first apartment complex in Virgil and adapting the old Solander Case/winery/newspaper office building for reuse as a two storey restaurant (currently The Old Winery Restaurant).
He is humble about his contributions to the community which includes restoring heritage properties for new use.
He was based in St. Davids in 1986/87 across from Niagara Trailers in the former Empire Store Fixtures building. He then purchased the St. Davids Co-op Building in May 2008 where both Telcon and Hummel Properties were based. His current office is across the street in the original Lowrey Cannery building—which was built in 1905 by the Lowrey Family. The factory was home to Canadian Canners, then Delmonte/Kraft and eventually being purchased and closed by CanGro Foods in 2008.
Originally Rainer’s relationship with the Town was tumultuous feeling like an outsider although he had lived in NOTL since the age of 3.
In giving back to the community, Rainer first became inspired and involved with the Virgil Businessmen’s Association (VBA). He witnessed first-hand the amazing energy and focus that the VBA business people had for philanthropy. They did way more than anyone really knew. They did whatever was needed whether it was with their own time and effort or those of their employees and materials they could supply. He witnessed first-hand with people like Harry Penner, that nothing was too much to ask for. His relationship with the Town shifted from confrontational to a balanced mutual respect.
He loves the history of the Town which he believes is the intrinsic thing that makes NOTL so unique. He loved learning in the early days about history and architecture from local architect Don Chapman, whom he admires and credits with success in many areas of his career development. As he learned more about the Town, he became more inspired and more active. In 2008 at the Chamber of Commerce Spirit of Niagara Awards, he won the Christopher Newton Award in recognition for his extraordinary vision in business and in 2019 was named Citizen of the Year.
He got involved with the Chamber of Commerce and after serving on various committees, he served a four year term as Chamber President.
He did give back to the community through his own awareness but always felt that others gave more.
Hummel Properties is pleased to be an active sponsor of NOTL events. He is a major sponsor with Niagara College’s Annual Seafood Gala supporting bursaries and scholarships; youth sports for small kids and teens (soccer, hockey); and the Steve Ludzik Foundation in support of Parkinson’s Disease. His admiration for the creativity of the Shaw Theater has encouraged him to join the Board of Governors and become a financial contributor to the family and children’s program. Hummel Properties has also made contributions to treatment rooms at the Bethesda Home for troubled children.
The driver behind Rainer starting the Hummel Family Fund is his children and grandchildren. “We have to do more as a family. We need to show that our family, children and grandchildren, have contributed to our community. The kids are able to take care of themselves so they need to know how important it is to help others.”
Rainer has an older daughter Raiana who is an established and successful business woman and mother of his three grandchildren. He has two younger children Lexa and Axel. He wants his children/grandchildren to understand the responsibility of giving back to community as he felt at 30 he was late in doing this. Initially, he had a focused view on building himself while he wants his children to have a broader view of giving back to the community earlier in life.
Through the Hummel Family Fund his intentions are to assist young people entering the skilled trades (plumbers, electricians etc.). At one time these skilled trades were considered a career but now seem perceived as less than that of the higher educational pursuits and academic degrees. He wants to encourage and help young people to open doors to get into the skilled trades through scholarships to Niagara College and wherever else applicable.
He selected the Niagara Community Foundation to manage and direct his donation due to their ability to invest his initial capital and use the interest to be directed to his specific area of interest for future generations.
While Rainer has accomplished much over the years he is looking forward to continuing to assist with different initiatives. This includes the Splash Pads. The first one was built at the Virgil Splash Pad and he is looking forward to future ones as the need and interest arises.
Rainer would like to be remembered through the eyes of his family and his children/grandchildren that he was a Dad who didn’t quit, lived life in a positive way, worked hard and contributed to his community. He would like them to not be passive but to show up and to do positive things.
His very strong German Mennonite heritage rooted in his ancestor’s strength and resilience has inspired Rainer to stay focussed and work hard on his ability to succeed. He is always thinking of “the next project” and building on his past projects. More importantly he wants to set a great example for his family on the different ways to give back to your community.
Story as told to Debi Pratt in 2019