It wasn’t all that unexpected when, during a birthday bash for TAMKO Building Products on Wednesday afternoon, President and CEO David Humphreys took time to look back, particularly to a date 75 years ago this month — Sept. 5, 1944.
That is when his grandmother, Mary Ethel Craig, suggested naming the new company after the five states that originally made up its service territory — Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma.
Just six months earlier, in March of 1944, E.L. Craig and Mary Ethel Craig became two of the owners of Lehrack Asphalt Roofs, with plans to convert a former Joplin street car barn at 601 N. High St. into a production site for roofing material.
“Think about their courage,” Humphreys said of the Craigs, his grandparents. Humphreys was speaking to more than 300 employees beneath a red, white and blue tent. “My grandfather — 69 years old at that time — (creating a company) in a world at war.”
The country had been attacked less than three years earlier; the Allied invasion of Normandy had been launched just three months earlier.
“At that time it was not clear at all which way the war would go,” Humphreys said.
“But my mother always said even more amazing was how brave my grandmother was,” Humphreys continued, “for them to risk their life savings on” the fledgling company.
Humphreys called the growth of the company an “amazing accomplishment.”
The founders' 21-year-old daughter, Ethelmae, took over day-to-day operations in 1951, and later, with her husband, Jay “J.P.” Humphreys, who was named company president in 1960, they continued to grow it beyond its initial market to become a nationwide operation.
Today, the company has operations around the country and a nationwide workforce of 1,400 people, including about 800 who work in the Joplin area. TAMKO's operations in the region include what it calls its downtown operations center in Joplin and plants on High Street (site of the former street car barn) and Range Line Road, additional plants in Lamar and Columbus, Kansas, and engineering offices in Webb City.
As part of its expansion, TAMKO also has a new executive headquarters address in Galena, Kansas, that, along with its Joplin offices and other operations such as its Dallas, Texas, IT center, are all part of its corporate operations. The company said its expansion to Galena allowed its executive team to have offices in close proximity to each other with better day-to-day communication than was possible in the complex of buildings in Joplin.
TAMKO employees were treated Wednesday to a lunch and various games. Eleven employees with the most seniority were introduced during the festivities, led by Ethelmae, at nearly 70 years. Her introduction drew loud applause.
“I’ve heard guys talk about the TAMKO legacy, and here it is, 26 years later, and it’s absolutely true,” said longtime employee Rick Taylor, also known as “Rick the Roofer.” A veteran of the roofing business for 55 years, Taylor served TAMKO as a territory manager until just recently, when he became the public face of the company, serving as its field sales training manager and visiting contractors coast to coast. Humphreys dubbed Taylor an “ambassador to the world.”
“This is the best job on the planet for me,” Taylor said. “When they gave me this job, it’s like I’d died and gone to heaven.”