August 1932 was a bustling month. The Washington quarter was released to the American public; the manufacturing of Mars or, as they are known stateside, Milky Way bars, began in England; and the Summer Olympics wrapped up in Los Angeles with the United States dominating the medal count.
Pittsburg Tank & Tower Group’s own Don Johnston was also born – on Aug. 17, 1932 ‑ to Jesse Lee “Operator” and Mary Elizabeth Johnston in Henderson, Kentucky.
Friday, Aug. 17, 2018, marks a bittersweet day for the extended PTTG family. The day would have been the 86th birthday of the late Don Johnston, who passed away at his home on Jan. 2.
Don lived a rich and full life centered around his family, both his biological kin and his work family. He began learning the tank trade by accompanying his father to job sites as an adolescent. After graduating from Holy Name of Jesus Catholic High School and serving in the Army, Don spent his adult life in the tank industry. He would eventually teach the trade to his six children, two of whom, Ben and Johnny, serve as PTTG’s president, and manager of surface preparations and coatings, respectively.
He opened his first business in 1957 – Globe Industrial Contractors in his hometown of Henderson, Kentucky. The small office operated out of his living room for a few years before Don saw fit to expand by enclosing his carport. He purchased land in 1965 and moved the office into the Butler Building on Fifth Street. Globe supplied structural steel and roof joists to several local businesses that are still standing, including The Goodwill Store and Meuth Carpet buildings.
By the 1970s, Don became friends with John and Donna McClelland, who owned a business called Pittsburg Tank & Tower Company that Globe worked with as a subcontractor. The Kansas, Pittsburg-based company had been founded in 1919 and specialized in tank maintenance. Donna McClelland sold the business to Don in 1983. Don merged Pittsburg with Globe, deciding to keep the former company’s name. He did, however, move Pittsburg from Kansas to Henderson, Kentucky where it has remained ever since.
Pittsburg was already an established force in the maintenance field, but soon built a reputation for tank manufacturing and fabrication after the business expanded in 1984. Having outgrown its Pennell Street facility, the company broke ground on a new $7 million fabrication plant and office on a 20-acre site in Henderson Corporate Park in April 2000. A 7,500 square foot expansion opened almost 16 years later. By 2003, Allstate Tower Company was brought into the fold.
Under Don’s watchful eye, Pittsburg grew into a company that was regularly ranked in Engineering News Records top 20 lists and Steel Erection Contractors and the Top 600 Specialty Contractors in the United States.
Don’s life and work opened the door for many others to build careers and live out their dreams.
“Don Johnston was a driven, innovative entrepreneur who cared deeply about those who ran the race alongside him,” said Dylan Phelps, PTTG’s chief wellness officer. “His biological family came first. He built his life and businesses around them, and he was kind enough to adopt hundreds of others into his fold throughout his career.”
Don successfully built and ran multiple corporations, but his most rewarding venture was building meaningful relationships with his employees, whom he considered extended family.
“The evidence of that could be seen almost any day of the week as friends and present and past employees would visit him and share laughs and memories,” Dylan said. “He was the catalyst that created the Pittsburg Tank & Tower Group of companies. Even more, he was the patriarch that nurtured the PTTG family.”
Don always liked to celebrate special occasions, like his birthday, in style with his family and friends. On what would be his final birthday on Aug. 17, 2017, PTTG hosted a 1930s themed party for Don to mark the occasion. He was presented with his very own Time Magazine “Man of the Year” cover, made up with his image.
Employees were asked to wear purple – Don’s favorite color – to mark what would have been his 86th birthday. People whose favorite color is purple are said to be charismatic. They also tend to be compassionate, understanding, supportive, and the type of people that others turn to for help, according to the website Empower Yourself with Color Psychology. As Don’s obituary stated, he loved people and was always one to give them a second chance.
PTTG plans to unveil a steel bridge that honors Don’s legacy and contributions to the community. The bridge was donated to the Friends of the Audubon to be placed in John James Audubon State Park. Earlier this summer, employees spent several hours digging piers for the new bridge, which will connect walking trails in the park. Money to secure the opportunity to build the bridge was raised through PTTG employees’ generous donations.