Thursday, March 26, 2020

Lawmakers Respond to COVID-19 Across Metro

by Mary Wilson

The impact of Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is sweeping the nation, and has made its way close to home, as it was discovered that Grandview’s own Representative Joe Runions has been in the hospital after testing positive for the virus. Runions, who serves Missouri’s District 37, is the first state elected official to be hospitalized with COVID-19.

“I feel a duty to share my experience as I begin the long recovery from this illness and urge you to do everything within your power to prevent Missouri’s hospitals and medical staff from becoming overwhelmed during this pandemic,” said Runions in a letter he wrote to Governor Mike Parson on Sunday, March 22, following a phone conversation they had earlier that day.

Runions stated that a top concern of his doctors at St. Joseph Medical Center in Kansas City is the possibility that they will run out of vital supplies, especially personal protective equipment.

“Since I am in isolation, every time a doctor or nurse comes in to check on me, they must put on all manner of gear to protect themselves,” Runions said. “However, stocks of that equipment are rapidly running low, and doctors are deeply concerned about whether those stocks will be replenished fast enough to keep up with demand. Our hospitals need these supplies.”

He has had a first-hand account of how much of these supplies are being used to treat patients with COVID-19, saying that he believes doctors and hospital staff are using 20 sets of supplies on him daily. He urged Governor Parson to speed up the process of getting supplies directly to hospitals across the state.

“My doctors also tell me there still aren’t enough testing kits,” said Runions. “The quicker patients get tested, the quicker they can get the proper treatment. Please, do whatever is necessary to expedite the availability of testing kits. I have no doubt expanded testing will save lives.”

Runions remains hospitalized at St. Joseph’s, and is getting better, but understands that it will be a long recovery. Following news of Runions’ diagnosis, Jackson County Executive Frank White, Jr. released an emergency funding proposal to combat the toll of COVID-19 in the county. White named the proposal in honor of Runions, calling for $10 million in the Representative Joe Runions Act.

The proposed funding is focused on providing essential support to the county’s safety-net health care providers, Truman Medical Centers and the county’s Health Department, as well as first responders and area in-home food delivery agencies. If approved by the County Legislature, the Runions Act would make millions of dollars immediately available to frontline providers to purchase equipment, tests and resources they need to keep the community safe.

“While my team’s work on this plan started prior to hearing the unfortunate news about Rep. Runions’ diagnosis, I thought it was fitting to honor him in this way as soon as I heard Joe’s powerful call to action,” said White. “At a time of what I imagine must be great pain, fear and uncertainty for Joe and his family, he showed not only why he is such a great leader, but also what we are all capable of in these difficult times. From his hospital bed, still fighting this terrible disease, he called on us to step up and do everything we can to ensure that those we rely on to take care of us have the tools and resources they need to wage this war. That is exactly what the Runions Act does and that is exactly what I will continue to do for Joe and everyone else in our community.”

The Runions Act would provide $3 million to Truman Medical Centers to assist the hospital with the purchasing of needed medical equipment, such as ventilators or personal protective equipment, and increase their testing capacity and bed capacity. The Jackson County Health Department would receive $1 million to maximize their partnership with other community health care providers to increase testing, contact tracing and care for uninsured. The Act would also provide $2 million to go toward temporary sheltering and increased hospital capacity in the county.

For area food agencies to provide meal delivery to those who are unable or it is unsafe for them to leave their homes, The Runions Act would provide $1.5 million for agencies to hire unemployed service employees, or utilize restaurants negatively impacted by the virus to assist in the preparation or delivery of food. Finally, $1.5 million will be allotted for first responders, law enforcement and detention facilities to provide personal protective equipment, and additional supplies and staff.

“Without thinking twice, the dedicated providers at Truman Medical Centers jumped into gear to provide quality, compassionate care for our community,” said Charlie Shields, President and CEO of Truman Medical Centers. “We greatly appreciate this financial support from Jackson County. Together, TMC and Jackson County will heal, protect and save lives.”

Effective as of Tuesday, March 24, Jackson County is requiring people to stay at home except for essential needs, in order to ensure the maximum number of people self-isolate in their places of residence. The order is in effect until at least April 24, and may be extended depending on recommendations from public health officials.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Grandview Recognizes Service of Outgoing Board Members

by Mary Wilson

School Board Recognition Month is typically celebrated in February, however, the Grandview School District recognized certain board members for their service during the meeting on Thursday, March 12. Each March, Superintendent Dr. Kenny Rodrequez makes an effort to thank board members as they complete their three-year terms.

Four board members have reached a service milestone in Grandview this year, including Member Chuck Cornforth, who completed his first three-year term; Member Paul Alexander, who completed his third three-year term; Treasurer Barbara Polette, who also completed her third three-year term; and Board President Leonard Greene, who completed his fourth three-year term in 2018. Each received a service pin from district administration.

Rodrequez also recognized Alexander and Polette, who are retiring from their service on the Board of Education this April. Both received a cupcake and a certificate detailing their specific attributes and qualities brought to the board.

“Paul is a selfless volunteer on behalf of Grandview schools,” said Rodrequez. “He cares about exposing students to engineering careers and has a humble, helpful servant’s heart. He is optimistic, he listens earnestly before taking action, and was an office holder on the board for six of his nine years of service. He is deeply dedicated to his family and community.

“Barbara is a supporter of early childhood education,” added Rodrequez. “She has a heart for kids, and has earned 115 MSBA (Missouri School Board Association) Certified Board Member credits. She has been involved in a lot of things at our state level and continues to be dedicated. Her life has been devoted to helping others, and she achieved Master Board of Education Certification in her first term.”

Their fellow board members indicated that they have been mentors and offered guidance to more rookie elected officials. Board Secretary Kathy Meyers, who is also a former board member, also thanked each for their service.

“I want to thank both of you for dedicating nearly a decade of your lives to board service,” said Meyers. “I especially want to point out, to you, Barbara, that your devotion to continuous learning is rare and impressive. To get your Master Certification in your first term is outstanding, but even more than that, to get 115 MSBA continuing education credits in nine years is a bar I’m not sure will be reached in quite some time.

“And Paul, I want to say I have always appreciated that you always seem to be in the same mood,” added Meyers. “Your calm demeanor is a real benefit to this board. I could almost always count on Paul being at every meeting. For that, you have made my job much easier, and it is a testament to your dedication to this district.”

Meyers said to both Alexander and Polette that they’ll likely miss their board service, and the connections and being in “the know.” Although, she added, they will probably appreciate the free time they’ll have going forward.

“We’ve been around for a while, folks,” said Board President Greene. “I thank you both from the bottom of my heart. We’re like family up here. The one thing I’ve noticed over the years, and I’ve said this before and I’ll continue to say it going forward, everything we’ve done has been about the kids. You two have dedicated your time, money and efforts to ensure that we move forward for our kids.”

As Alexander and Polette step down, new members Don Kessinger and Damon Greene will be sworn in during the April meeting. Vice President Monica Terry will also be sworn in to serve her second term at that time.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Peterson Manufacturing Celebrates Milestone Anniversary

by Mary Wilson

The Armacost family was in the car business. As Don Armacost Jr. says, his grandfather opened his first car dealership in 1923 in Cincinnati, and after opportunity struck in Indianapolis in 1926, he moved and became the sponsor of three Indy drivers, whose cars were marked Armacost Special. He then was offered a position in Kansas City as a master dealer, which entailed every car in the metro’s 16 counties going through him.

“Dad grew up in that business,” said Armacost Jr. “So did his younger brother. It got to the point where Dad realized that that car dealership, at 14th and Baltimore, wasn’t going to provide all of them with the lifestyle they wanted.”

Armacost’s grandfather, he said, who could care less about cars and was just in it for making money, was always looking for businesses. In 1956, he had a little company called Peterson Manufacturing come across his desk, located in a dump at 14th and Chestnut in Kansas City. Armacost Sr. asked his father if he could look at it. Started in 1945 by Wilbur Peterson, who had two businesses at the time, Peterson Manufacturing made several things including bicycle pumps and, eventually, vehicle lighting.

“Dad bought the company with a loan from Crosby Kemper,” said Armacost. “I started working there in the summer of 1957, at 14 years old, sweeping floors, straightening stock, and such. Because of my age, I couldn’t be on the payroll. So, I was ‘miscellaneous expenses.’ I got 75-cents an hour. Which was enough to keep gas in my motorcycle.

“It’s amazing that he took a leap of faith. He didn’t know anything about the industry,” Armacost added about his father. “He was a very brilliant guy. A smart learner.”

Peterson Manufacturing, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, came out with the first color catalog in the lighting industry, and for three-quarters of a century, has remained a leader in lighting innovation, technology, and service internationally.

When the Armacosts took over, Peterson didn’t have a chair for anyone to sit on, and made employees pay a dime a cup for their coffee. As business grew, Armacost Sr. decided he needed to get out of, what Armacost Jr. refers to as, the hole-in-the-wall.

“Mr. Peterson went crazy when he heard that my father put chairs in there for everybody,” said Armacost. “And then we provided coffee. He actually came down and stood on our shipping dock and gave my father a hard time, calling him a big shot. Dad looked at him and said, ‘Mr. Peterson, you don’t seem to understand that I own this business now, and if you don’t leave right now, I will physically throw you off the shipping dock.’”

A new facility was built in 1960 in the Swope Park Industrial District, surrounded by the Little Blue River. A dock-high building, the first year Peterson Manufacturing was in operation there, it flooded within a foot of the business. It got so bad that only three people remained, including Armacost Sr. and the business owner from across the street, whose building was ground level and had flooded.

“The guy from across the street put his head on my dad’s shoulder and said, ‘Don, I’m ruined,” said Armacost. “My dad looked at him and said, ‘Ewing, I think you’ll be just fine.’ As in Ewing Kauffman.”

The company outgrew the facility and expanded, adding another 30,000 square feet, in 1965. By the late 1960s, Peterson Manufacturing was again out of space with no room to expand further. They were looking at building a 100,000 square-foot facility with an additional 12,000 square-foot of office space in Kansas, a right-to-work state. Clipper Manufacturing Company, located at 4200 E 135th Street in Grandview, was for sale and empty. At that time, the building was 225,000 square feet with 45 acres of ground space surrounding it.

“I remember walking in it with my dad, and when you see a building that big that’s empty, we just kind of said that it was way too much,” said Armacost. “So, we made an offer of exactly what we thought we were going to pay in Kansas, and I’ll be darned if they didn’t take it.”

In 1970, the office staff moved over, and the back part of the building, 90,000 square feet worth, was leased out, along with all the offices on the east side of the main entrance. In 1971, just prior to the rest of the move, Peterson Manufacturing was looking for someone with shipping experience, and hired Steve Sharp to join the team.

“This was so not going to be my career. I wasn’t going to do this,” said Sharp. This July, he will celebrate his 49th year with the company.

Sharp, who now serves as Director of Inventory, along with a handful of other employees, loaded 18 pallets with product to take to the new facility in Grandview in December of 1971.

“I came into the back doors, and though I had seen the building before, had not been in it,” said Sharp. “I put these pallets all back-to-back, and I thought, ‘this is insane.’ I knew it wasn’t going to work. It’s monstrous and we’ll never fill it up.”

Armacost said that, for years, 24 acres of the property was for sale. Luckily, though, that never sold, because Peterson Manufacturing would go through more growth over the next several decades. In 1987, Peterson doubled the space and, according to Sharp, stayed that way for a little while. In the early 1990s, Mission Plastics and Vector Tool and Engineering, which were part of the ownership’s group of companies, moved to the property in Grandview.

The Armacost car collection started with a 1947 Studebaker. Armacost Jr.’s first collectible car was a 1953 Studebaker, bought used from someone in Nashville, TN. From there, the collection grew, and grew. The restoration shop was built, and eventually they outgrew that.

“They couldn’t restore any more cars because they couldn’t get around the ones that were stored in there,” said Armacost Jr.’s daughter, Kristen Goodson, now the company’s Vice President of Product Management.

Armacost’s younger brother, David, convinced their dad that they needed to build a museum for the cars. The Armacost Car Museum opened in 1992.

“Plus, we needed the space,” said Armacost. “We took all the sixties-era chairs and furniture from Dad’s old office that were then scattered around the building, every bit of it, and put it in the office in there.”

Unfortunately, Armacost Sr. had a stroke, and after recovering from that, never had the time to devote to enjoying the museum and what was built as his office inside. He did, however, have some friends out to tour the museum on a few occasions, before his passing in 2000.

Peterson Manufacturing, along with the other companies it owns, now has around 600,000 square feet under roof in Grandview. Tunnels, completed in 2005, connect each building, so that business can take place between them rain or shine.

In 1956, when the Armacosts took over the operation of Peterson Manufacturing, they employed just under 50 workers. Today, Peterson Manufacturing and its subsidiaries employ over 600 in Grandview. A true locally-owned business, Armacost and his brother employ many members of their family. At one point, a change in the company’s name was discussed, but it was decided that with all the catalogs and publicity already out there, there wasn’t a real need.

“Quite often, I’m called Mr. Peterson,” said Armacost, “mostly by people who don’t know any better.”

Armacost has worked a variety of jobs at Peterson Manufacturing since he was first pushing that broom at 14. From shipping, to finished goods, warehousing, sales, billing and so on, his dad thought he might like to do accounting. However, he wanted to be where the action was in sales. That’s where he spent most of his career, until becoming President and CEO of the company upon his father’s retirement.

“Dad always drank martinis,” said Armacost. “He once told me, he said, ‘I never dreamed the company would be this size. I was just looking for a way to have a nice lifestyle for my wife and my children.’ His father was a taskmaster, and my dad was tough on me, too. Really tough. We were having cocktails on my deck one afternoon and he looked at me and said, ‘You know, I was really, really tough on you. But I was just trying to make you strong.’ I said, ‘Dad, I’m strong enough, let’s call it quits, okay?’”

Over a drink at a Chiefs game, Armacost Sr. told Sharp that he couldn’t’ be happier with the way Peterson Manufacturing had come out.

“He said he was harder than hell on Don Jr.,” said Sharp. “He said, ‘But look what it’s done. Look at what he’s done now. Between those two boys, they’ve built something that I’ve never in my wildest dreams imagined.’”

While he was hard on his boys, and had high expectations, Armacost Sr. was also very charitable. It wouldn’t be unheard of for him to load up his car full of Christmas gifts for a family in need.

“I think he would be astonished at what he started,” added Goodson.

For a family in the car business, the Armacosts grew to love, and respect, the light business. And for 75 years, Kansas City, Missouri, the nation and the world, have respected them back ten-fold.