A prominent Winamac resident is dead. Sources close to the family confirm that Braun Corporation founder and self-made millionaire Ralph Braun died Friday afternoon. He was 72.
As a child Braun was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy and by age 15 was unable to walk. Braun was confined to a manual wheelchair, which left him exhausted at the end of the day. He was in his early 20s when he started to tinker in his cousin’s farm shop and invented the world’s first electric scooter. Braun dubbed it the Tri-Wheeler, and it quickly gained popularity in the disability community. Braun took orders and built Tri-Wheelers in his parents’ garage under the name Save-A-Step Manufacturing.
Initially Braun rode his tri-wheeler to and from work before retrofitting a postal Jeep with a wheelchair lift. A few years later the arrival of the full-size van led to the creation of the Lift-A-Way wheelchair lift. Business continued to boom, and Braun quit his job and focused his efforts on his new company. Save-A-Step was soon incorporated under the name The Braun Corporation, and the organization enjoyed phenomenal growth through the 1970s and 80s.
The passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act in1990 led to increased demand for Braun’s products, and the retrofitted minivan known as the Entervan quickly became the company’s flagship product. The company continues to produce wheelchair accessible vans and lifts at its Winamac facility. Braun Corporation has 650 employees in Pulaski County and 790 nationwide.
In 2012, President Barack Obama named Ralph Braun a champion of change. Braun is survived by his wife, Melody, five children and several grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.