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A humbling experience

Published April 25. 2011 08:38AM

Last week, I was honored to speak about John "Sonny" Kovatch on the Senate floor as my colleagues and I presented a Senate resolution honoring his memory. It was a humbling experience to speak about this Pennsylvania visionary in front of his family, honored guests and Senate members.

Sonny Kovatch's long and storied career began in March 1946 after returning from Army service in the Pacific. He used his entrepreneurial spirit and opened a small auto repair business in his father's one-car garage in his hometown of Nesquehoning, Carbon County.

From that small beginning he saw bigger and better things. He wanted to grow his business and help his home area at the same time. What followed is truly an American success story.

That small repair shop expanded into several car dealerships and later into the Kovatch Organization and KME world leaders in the supply of customized specialty trucks and vehicles. Markets currently served include aviation, petro-chemical, industrial, energy, military, police, and fire-rescue.

For decades, the Kovatch Organization has earned a reputation for quality and reliable delivery.

The company entered the specialty vehicle manufacturing business in the 1970's and the first contracts for both rebuilding and new manufacturing came from military clients. The Kovatch Organization 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.

Despite tough economic times, Kovatch's vision remained strong. The company continued to reinvest in infrastructure and remained positioned for growth. Kovatch did this while never forgetting his roots and his community.

He was largely responsible for attracting other businesses to his home area of Carbon County. These include Redner's Supermarkets, Tonolli Corporation and Heritage Signs.

He was also instrumental in, and provided the land for, the Carbon County campus of the Lehigh-Carbon Community College.

Known as "highly motivated," John Sonny Kovatch was once described as "a human machine that never slows down, whose day starts at 6 AM and except for the time with his family and church is continually on the go. Yet he always finds time to discuss a personal or community endeavor."

In 1970, the company secured the first of many military contracts, creating hundreds of local jobs.

In 1981, the firm was awarded a $66 million contract by the U.S. Air Force to produce aircraft refueling trucks. The company later designed and constructed a prototype of another refueling truck which resulted in another large contract.

In 1985, Mack Trucks discontinued production of fire truck bodies because of poor economic conditions. Kovatch purchased the business from Mack and the company grew into a major fire truck manufacturing firm. Kovatch Mobile Equipment or KME is the largest family-owned fire truck manufacturing plant in the world with sales offices across the country.

Kovatch always had an open-door policy for his customers. When a fire department purchased a vehicle from Kovatch, members of that department could visit the plant and see the construction process from start to finish.

He also implemented a policy where any employee who is a volunteer for a fire department, can leave their job whenever a fire call occurs in their community.

It was just a few years ago that "Sonny" retired and turned the company over to his son. He still kept on oversight role and visited the business every day, retaining an untiring drive which led the firm to its record of success.

Today, John J. Kovatch III is the CEO and President of the Organization and has continued his father's philosophy of steady growth through quality and innovation in a wide range of specialty markets.

John also continued to reinvest in the Organization and has further grown the company by entering new markets. His son, John Kovatch IV is heading a division dedicated to new growth markets for the company. These include law enforcement vehicles for police and security departments, EMS vehicles like ambulances and transport vans, and a wide range of fleet vehicles and commercial trucks.

John "Sonny" Kovatch's commitment to economic development, infrastructure improvement and the community is unsurpassed. His story is one of the great American success stories that we all can look up to and model our own goals and aspirations around. His commitment lives on as the Kovatch family continues to build a legacy of improving the lives of countless Pennsylvanians.

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