John "Sonny" Kovatch was a visonary.

The area business and civic leader, who died Saturday, launched a small auto repair business in Nesquehoning shortly after returning home from fighting in the Pacific during World War II.

But he saw bigger and better things than his initial enterprise. He wanted to grow, and his business grew with him.

The repair shop expanded into a number of automobile franchises that proved successful. Who would have ever thought that such an endeavor would one day be U.S. and World leader in fire truck manufacturing?

Firefighters throughout the country know the Kovatch name. It has become synonomous with firefighting apparatus and equipment around the globe. Mention the name, Nesquehoning, and it's a good bet that a firefighter will ask, isn't that the home of KME?

It was in the 1970s that Kovatch's dream grew to its present status as one of the area's largest employers. The company entered the specialty vehicle manufacturing business and the first contracts for both rebuilding and new manufacturing came from military clients. Kovatch soon garnered a reputation for on time deliveries and product innovations. To enlarge the company's contract capabilities, Kovatch began a series of acquisitions of compatible companies. The company soon was serving customers with a much wider range of customized specialty products, according to its website.

"Through the power of our sheer will and determination, we challenged even our biggest competitors over the years. Today, we are a US leader in fire truck manufacturing and have increasingly shipped products around the world," Sonny Kovatch once explained his company's success.

He wasn't afraid to take on the big guys, and as a result became one of the the big guys himself.

Today KME Fire Apparatus is the flagship brand of the Organization and is a leader in the manufacturing of custom fire apparatus for military, industrial, airport and municipal fire departments. The company has a nationwide dealer network and factory locations in California, New York and Virginia. Recently KME has added new staff and products to dramatically grow its presence in the wildland firefighting sector.

The vision Kovatch had never ceased. Despite the difficult economic climate, he continued to expand the business. KME has continued to reinvest in infrastructure for future growth. Recent additions at its world headquarters in Nesquehoning include a new 166,000 square foot central warehouse and distribution center, multiple meeting and conference rooms with digital technology, an apparatus final inspection center, and capital improvements to manufacturing equipment, according to its website.

Kovatch never forgot his roots, and he gave countless hours of his time back to his community.

Despite the harsh economic climate, Kovatch Enterprises became the one constant in the Panther Valley. Businesses came and businesses went throughout the years, but the Kovatch Corporation remained strong, thriving on government contracts and building on a reputation of quality and service.

Family man, business man and community leader. Those were the three ingregients that helped Sonny Kovatch rise above the rest.

He left a legacy for those who have come after him to follow.

John J. Kovatch, son of the founder, is the CEO and President of the Organization. He is quoted on the website as saying: "Reinvestment into the company has been and will continue to be one of the keys to successful relationships with our clients worldwide. Our strategy always involves looking forward and trying to stay ahead of the curve, rather than simply reacting to changes. These new projects are the result of this kind of foresight, which we think helps to set KME apart from the rest of the field in our markets."

That will be a fitting tribute to the man who made it all come together. John "Sonny" Kovatch will be missed, as much for his presence as for his leadership. He brought jobs, pride, stability and success to his home town. His contributions won't be forgotten.

Bob Urban

rurban@tnonline.com