Nesquehoning Fire Chief John McArdle said he was saddened to hear of the death of John "Sonny" Kovatch Jr., founder of the Kovatch Corporation and its subsidiaries in Nesquehoning.
"Certainly he's going to be missed," McArdle said. "He's been a pillar of the community for a long, long time."
McArdle said he remembers him best as a "friend and asset for our fire companies."
He had donated the land for the Hauto Fire Department.
When the Nesquehoning Fire Station was built, Kovatch assisted with the use of his firm's equipment and provided slab (site fill).
"In the last 10 years or better, EMTs and drivers have come out of Kovatch" to handle emergency fire and ambulance calls, said McArdle. "This brainstorm came from him and his family."
He said this provided manpower during fire and ambulance calls during the day, not only in Nesquehoning, but also surrounding communities.
"His sister and other family members have always supported us," said McArdle. "He laid the groundwork and I'm certain they're going to continue it."
William J. O'Gurek, chairman of the Carbon County Board of Commissioners, remarked, "When I think about the impact Sonny had on all of Carbon County, the word 'phenomenal' comes to mind. He not only built a great organization, but he contributed greatly to helping to enhance the quality of life for those in his hometown and all of our surrounding communities."
O'Gurek added, "My heartfelt condolences go out to his family during this most difficult time."
Another commissioner, Wayne Nothstein, who has also devoted his entire teen and adult life to helping volunteer fire companies, said Kovatch's death "is really a tragedy and a big loss to the county."
He praised Kovatch for bringing in many businesses and jobs into the county.
"What he did for the local fire departments is incredible," said Nothstein. "Bringing in a quality (firetruck) manufacturing plant, so many jobs, letting firefighters leave their jobs to fight fires, he was a community-oriented person who went above and beyond."
Speaking as a representative of the Lehighton Fire Department, which purchased apparatus from KME, Nothstein remarked, "In our dealings with buying our first KME fire apparatus, we are really pleased with the way they took care of us."
Shawn Hoben, fire chief in Summit Hill, said he was given one of his first summer jobs by Kovatch.
"That's his legacy, creating jobs," Hoben said.
Hoben, noting the Summit Hill Fire Department bought most of its apparatus from KME, praised the work ethic of the Kovatch family.
"He cared about every aspect of the business," Hoben said of Kovatch. "That's why KME was a success, because of his leadership."
Hoben added, "He gave back to the community."
"What he did for this area – this guy is a legend," said Hoben.
Mark Stromelo, president of Nesquehoning Borough Coucil, also praised Kovatch for his industrial and community service, especially noting how he let his employees leave work to fight fires and respond to medical emergencies.
"He built up the town practically himself," Stromelo said.
He added, "He was a good man and he'll be surely missed."
Former Carbon County administrator Mortimer Smedley, who now lives in Florida, labeled Kovatch "an achiever among pioneers."
Smedley commented, "Sonny was part of that great generation who survived the Depression years and then sacrificed much to protect the freedom we are so readily losing today."
He added, "He was, determined and independent, that bittersweet mixture that is the trademark of the men and women of the greatest generation."
Smedley continued, "He did a lot for Carbon County and many individuals, many of his deeds unknown and without notoriety. He made choices in life that came with a hefty price tag. These choices, right or wrong, he would have to live with for the rest of his time. He made these decisions at the risk of losing everything without seeking praise or accolades, of course they came naturally."
His son, John Kovatch III, who is now the CEO of the Kovatch Corporation, said in a prepared statement, "My father was a true American success story. He loved what he did and had a passion to build a legacy that will continue to positively affect our lives for generations to come."