Fulton — When the Itawamba County Development Council (ICDC) recently honored Larry Homan as Business Person of the Year, guest speaker and local attorney Tom Childs praised him as a “man of faith who puts his faith into action.”
“In life, there are three kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened. Larry Homan makes things happen,” said ICDC president B.J. Canup.
Homan, one of Fulton’s civic and business leaders, is CEO of Homan Industries, the umbrella company for Tri-State Lumber Company, Homan Forest Products of Fulton, Homan Forest Products of Alabama, American Cellulose, Homan Wood Products and Homan Transportation. He also chairs the Homan Foundation and Mississippian Railway Cooperative.
“The ICDC board of directors chose to honor Larry Homan as the Business Person of the Year because of the service he exhibits for his community,” said ICDC executive director Carol Ferris. “Larry gives monetarily to his community, but more importantly, he gives of his time. There are so many projects in this community in which Larry participates, but you’d never know it. Larry works very quietly in the background and gives the credit to others involved. He truly has a spirit of service, and that service has been shown in the work he has done in Itawamba County.”
Born in Lee County February 23, 1943, to blue-collar workers, Homan’s dad was a farmer by day and studied pipefitting at night. When Homan was in the third grade, the family moved to South Carolina, where his dad secured a job as a pipefitter for a nuclear facility. Homan’s dad followed construction jobs across the country, including stops in West Virginia and Colorado, before the family returned to Mississippi.
Instead of heading to college directly after high school, Homan took an unusual detour. He worked on a tugboat on the intercoastal waterway alongside some colorful characters.
“We had a captain with a third-grade education, and a first mate who was a truck driver running from the law for a manslaughter charge from a wreck,” recalled Homan. “Another guy, his ambitions weren’t too great. They weren’t bad people. I just knew I didn’t want to travel down the same road. One day I woke up thinking, ‘What the heck am I doing here and where am I going? I’m on a boat to nowhere.’ So when we came through New Orleans, I got off and went to Mississippi State (MSU) and started school in the fall of 1963. That was a good move.”
From education to business
Homan earned a bachelor’s degree in education from MSU and completed his practice teaching at West Point. However, instead of pursuing a teaching career, he took a job as manager of Tri-State Lumber Company, which was established in January, just a few months before he graduated from college. A year later, he bought half interest in the plant for $6,000. In 1985, he acquired the rest of the stock. “That was my business training,” he said with a chuckle. “It turned out I had a natural knack for it.”
Homan is especially proud of his involvement with Mississippian Railway Cooperative, built in the 1920s to haul timber product south to Amory, where it connected to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, one of the nation’s large Class I railroads.
“In the early 1980s, the railroad was sold to a rail car leasing company in Pennsylvania,” he said. “Their intent was never to operate the railroad as a shipper. They immediately put a $550 surcharge for the 24 miles from Fulton to Amory. It stopped the traffic all right, and Itawamba County nearly lost its railroad. They didn’t maintain the track, and the company eventually went out of business. Community leaders got together and formed a co-op, with some help from Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the State of Mississippi. Now the ICDC owns the railroad, and the shippers lease and operate it.”
Homan has been president of the Mississippian Railway Cooperative since the deal was made in 1986. A decade later, the railway won the Golden Boxcar Award for the nation’s best-operated small line railroad.
“Everybody sacrificed to make this happen,” he said. “It was not a Larry Homan success story.”
The ICDC also recognized Homan for his leadership in the community, church and family. He serves as a board member of the Itawamba Community College Foundation, district chairman for fundraising events for the Boy Scouts of America, founding member of the Fulton Rotary Club, a Mason and Shriner and past president and board member of the Fulton Country Club.
Homan is also a member of the board of trustees for Fulton United Methodist Church. “I was brought up going to church and having faith in God,” he said. “When you grow older, you realize how important it is to have that safe harbor in your life. I don’t think you can separate your personal faith from your business life. If you have faith, it’s 24/7 and influences everything you do. I like people who witness by deed and not by word. If you have that inner strength, you don’t have to tell people every 15 minutes. It’ll show.”
Homan has chaired the Mississippi Manufacturers Association, served as a board member for Momentum Mississippi and a member of the Mississippi Forestry Association, North America Wholesale Lumber Association, Southern Pine Inspection Bureau and American Wood Preservers Association.
Homan and his wife of 37 years, Laura, and their two sons, Drew, who works in the family business, and Clay, head golf coach at MSU, Drew’s wife, Stephanie, and two granddaughters, Caroline, 11, and Laura, nine, often retreat to a vacation home in Colorado, often with Homan piloting his Beechcraft King Air.
“My family has always supported everything I do, and that’s a big part of what little success I’ve had,” said Homan.
He may be found duck hunting in season, but the most fun Homan has is when he is putting together “a good ol’ business deal.”
“I’ve been so blessed to get to do so many things I wanted to do,” said Homan. “You never get finished. There’s always another hill to climb. I don’t have any regrets about anything. If I ever retired, I’d probably go into some sort of real estate development. That would be ideal.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.