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Family business became a career for Lisa Bridges

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Lisa Bridges holds a photo of her parents, Sue and Robert Wortman, which will hang in the newly-remodeled lobby at Fountaintown Gas in Morristown.
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Lisa Bridges, granddaughter of the founder of Fountaintown Gas, has worked at the utility since she was “old enough to have a dust rag shoved in my hand.”

By NICHOLE SCOTT - nscott@shelbynews.com

Lisa (Wortman) Bridges has always known the business of Fountaintown Gas Co., Inc., a natural gas utility company in Morristown.

“We are a family business. It started with my grandfather (Lyall Wortman) and great-grandfather (John Thomas Wortman), and then my dad (Robert Wortman) took it over and so I’ve grown up in the business from the time I was old enough to have a dust rag shoved in my hand and me cooking dinner for mom when she got home from work. You grow up that way and it’s your family business,” she said.

Fountaintown Gas was started in 1967 when Bridges was 8 years old. The family had the J.R. Wortman Company first and then Fountaintown Gas was started as a separate business.

“We lived right next door to it (Wortman) and my Barbies were under Dad’s desk and I’d play in his office while Mom and Dad were at work,” Bridges explained. “When we started the gas company, I was the meter reader from the time I was in sixth grade until I graduated high school. Mom did the billing, Dad and my brother did the installations and I read the meters. I had to the last Saturday of every month, no choice. That was just what we did.

“I went to Taylor University and, actually, I got a degree in psychology and Christian education and didn’t really think I was going to come back here and work,” she said.

Bridges got married, had children and went through a divorce.

“At the same time I got divorced, my mom was having a lot of health issues. My dad said just come take her job and it worked for me because I could still be room mom at school and take my kids to school, come to work, go pick them up and for 10 years I was a single mom with three kids. Being able to have that flexibility with a family business, that was just great.”

Bridges has been doing the accounts payable, payroll and the accounting side of the business ever since. She has gone from part-time to full-time as her kids have grown.

It hasn’t always been easy for Fountaintown Gas. Bridges said her responsibilities at the company increased with the deaths of her mother, Sue Ann Wortman, and brother, Jay Wortman, who passed away within six months of each other.

“We rebalanced and for a long time, people were too scattered to be here, so I made sure someone was here to keep the business going,” she said.

“Now, my dad is pretty much retired, but he’s in here every day and has coffee and visits and catches up. It’s my nephew (Jason Wortman), my youngest son (Jordan Andis) and my daughter’s husband (Andy Longwell). We’re all the ownership now.”

The utility provides natural gas in seven Indiana counties, mostly small communities including Gwynneville, Marietta, Flat Rock and others, providing an important resource.

“Originally, the company was started to keep Morristown alive and the other small towns. I think a lot of it is when they built interstates, that pretty much changed everything. I can remember when (Interstate) 74 was new. It was a big deal to go to Shelbyville and drive on that strip of 74. That took a lot of the traffic away from U.S. 52 and it re-centered the business community when the interstates came in.

“The fact that we had natural gas and the railroad line here was still active – my dad and some of the other town leaders jumped on that bandwagon and built the industrial park and supplied the gas and solicited businesses saying we’ve got what you need. That kept us from dying,” she explained. “That’s what we’ve tried to do in all the communities we’re in. Industries can come in and give those towns a way to stay on the map.”

Over the years her father went to the company’s service areas to personally make relationships. Those relationships endure because the company conducts safety training with all first responders in the areas it serves.

Thinking about being involved with the family business and Morristown makes Bridges proud and teary-eyed. In addition to Fountaintown Gas, Bridges and her husband, Stephen Bridges, own rental homes in the area. They are also very involved with Morristown United Methodist Church.

“My youngest son works here. He graduated from the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He works here as operations manager. My daughter (Ashley Andis Longwell) is a stay-at-home mom and her husband (Andy Longwell) works here as our superintendent of operations. He’s the one out on the jobs. He’s in charge of the field operations,” she said. “They live here in town. They have three kids and we’re involved following everything they do.

“Ashley and Andy are in charge of the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts in Morristown. Our family has always been involved in scouts. My great-grandfather was the first Scoutmaster in Shelby County, got the charter from Teddy Roosevelt. In our family, scouting’s a big deal so I’m real proud of them for keeping it going,” Bridges said.

She is also looking forward to her son, Kyle Andis, and his wife moving back to Indiana from Sweden. The two are expecting their first child.

Bridges also serves on the board of the Blue River Community Foundation, a position she really enjoys.

“We try to give back because we grew up that way,” she said. “When my grandpa died a lot of people were good to my dad and helped us stay in business. It’s just been the way we were brought up. You help other people and you give back and you do everything you can.

“We’re just Morristown people. Everything kinda revolves around right here.”