Making way for something

Hi everyone,

Forty-five years ago I began buying the five houses along the north side of E. Grand Street as they came on the market. Their back yards butted up against the south border of my firm, Glenstone Block Company, which faced on Glenstone, one of the busiest streets in Springfield. I wanted the properties in case I might need room to expand the block storage yard some day. In this old picture, the block plant is not shown and the houses are hidden by the trees.

Glenstone Block Company, Springfield, Missouri

In the meantime, our property manager kept the houses rented. Glenstone Block Company (1945-2008) is no more and the 80-year-old houses are no longer attractive on today’s market. I’m in the process of having them removed to open up a large tract of land suitable for something new. Ideas are under consideration. Hopefully, something will be finalized by the end of the year or early in 2023.

A Glenstone Block Company night

Hi everyone,

I had a restless night, unusual because I usually go to sleep quickly and don’t get up much during the night. For some reason I got to thinking about the thirty-five years of my life I spent as owner and president of Glenstone Block Company. The brain, after all, is a renegade that lives by its own rules.

I was with Hallmark Cards in 1972 when my dad called to ask if I would move back home and take over his business so he could retire. He was 62 and tired. He had managed the company for twenty-seven years. I accepted and reported to work at Glenstone Block on the first Tuesday of February, 1973. With deep regret, Sandy gave up her job as a high school counselor at the end of that school year and joined me in Springfield.

In 1973, the company had one location, at 928 South Glenstone in Springfield, Missouri. It manufactured concrete blocks for the construction industry. Over time I expanded the company. We added a block plant in Branson, a hardware store in Branson West, a precast concrete plant in Springfield, a distribution center in Camdenton, a hardware store in Kiser, and three more hardware stores in Springfield. Sandy and I also added a gift store, Gamble’s Gifts.

Last night my mind was full of memories of those years, the good people who make the company successful, customers who became friends. I was always proud of our program to help employees go to college by paying part of their course costs. More than one graduate went on to new careers. I was writing and publishing, but many of the awards I got during those years were for my involvement as a business man in the community. I loved our newsletter, filled with contributions from employees, including poetry. We held company picnics. I was dunked in water tanks more than once. I served on a lot of boards and groups, from the better business bureau to public television, to citizen advisory committees for three universities, and more. The company itself received recognition for the environment it created for both employees and customers.

I sold the company in October 2008 and began writing twelve hours each workday. When Sandy retired from our gift store in 2018, I shaved my workday to seven hours. Last night for reasons unknown, the long hour belonged to Glenstone Block Company. I didn’t begrudge it.

Back in the day

Hi everyone,

I just found a marketing flyer from my block company days that shows our 12-person sales staff. It has been eight years since I sold the company so I’ve only seen a few of these guys since then. Their faces bring back good memories.cci09182016_00000 Have I ever shown you Glenstone Block Company? This is a poor picture taken through glass of a mounted photograph. You can see my image lurking in the background like Marley visiting Scrooge. Or maybe it’s just my ghost overlooking my old haunting grounds.20160918_152339_resized
This was our main location at 928 S. Glenstone in Springfield. We had another manufacturing plant in Branson and six hardware stores located in four communities.

Another life

Hi everyone,

Yesterday Sandy and I signed a lease allowing a new company to move into my old office building in Springfield, where I worked for thirty-five years from 1973 to 2008. It was the home office of Glenstone Block Company. I was owner and president.

During the day my world centered on the manufacture and sales of concrete blocks for the construction industry. We had a plant in Springfield, one in Branson, and a stocking yard in Camdenton. At one time we also operated half a dozen True Value and ACE hardware stores in Springfield, Kaiser, Branson West, and Camdenton. At it’s peak, the company employed over one hundred men and women.

This week I pulled out a scrapbook created as a gift for me in 1993 by my secretary Dixie Nyer. Memories came flooding back as I turned the pages, pausing over faces I haven’t seen for many years. We were all so young! I’d forgotten about the newsletter I occasionally wrote (with ample help from several others in the company). A company survey had shown that employees wanted to know more about how business worked so I wrote a series of articles about a fictitious small businessman named Fernando who started a company to manufacture Belly Button Lint Cups. Poor guy had a heck of a time figuring out how to control his inventory, price his product, keep his expenses in check, and somehow make a profit.

It was another life, filled with meetings, decisions, trying to keep up with trends and stay ahead of competition. Several of the people who helped make Glenstone Block Company what it was are gone. I’ve lost track of most of the others. One, I’m happy to say, my former administrative assistant Elaine Gold, still comes to my house once a month to pay bills and do my filing. Okay, I’m spoiled. Another ex-employee, Karen Stewart, now performs the same duties at our gift store, Gamble’s.

Dixie, herself a writer, penned this poem for the opening page of her gift scrapbook. It’s over the top but Dixie never got over the fact that I hired her when she was down and out, cleaning motel rooms and barely making it. I hired her to do our advertising and picked her from several applicants with strong credentials. I chose Dixie on two counts: she was a writer and she professed to dislike advertising. I figured that would give her a reason to come at our ads from a different point of view, and she never disappointed me. I can still hear her squeal of joy over the phone when I called to offer her the job.

To the Main Man

Ever the gentleman
and the great scholar,
Ever the kind friend
if you should holler,
Never a harsh word,
never a frown,
Never a dark mood
dragging him down,
Full of good will and
spontaneous laughter,
Eager to help you find
what you’re after –
Spritely in step
and cheery in tone,
Making the work place
feel like a home —
Champion of children,
the needy and weak,
Defending the cause of
those who can’t speak,
Just and impartial,
whatever the cost,
most incredible BOSS!
— dn

When I sold my company, I became a fulltime writer after a lifetime of writing before work or after I got home. I was 71.

An anniversary

Hi everyone,

Here’s a repeat from May 7, 2012. An arsonist had just burned down the block plant that my father and two partners started in 1945. A lot has happened since then but I took that occasion to write something about the wonderful man I was lucky enough to call Dad.

Today, December 7, officially marks the day that Dad died in 1989. That’s what the hospital record said. Truth is he died just before midnight on the 6th in my arms on the floor in our house after a fatal heart attack. He was kept on life support during the ambulance ride to the hospital but nothing could be done.

My father, John Harrison, was a good man. He was a good son too. His father died when John was twelve. At age sixteen he started working part time to help his mother and two sisters get by. His first job was on the excavation crew for a company that laid gas mains. He carried a water bucket and dipper to thirsty men in the ditches. To break in the new kid, the men took turns yelling, “Water boy!” first from one end of the line, then the other. John’s father and uncles were all veterinarians, his aunts all nurses. John didn’t have the opportunity to pursue a career. Immediately after graduating from high school he went to work fulltime for the city. During the next sixteen years, he never missed a day.

Like many people, John dreamed of having his own business. In 1945, he joined with Bill Pauly and Guy Hall to create a company that manufactured concrete blocks for the construction industry. Bill was a carpenter, big and rough, proud of his skills and his raw strength. My dad was six feet tall but slender, bald, bespectacled, an office type good at math and record keeping. Guy worked for a lumber yard and didn’t become an active member of the firm until years later.

Bill and my dad built the block manufacturing building at the back of the lot they leased at 928 S. Glenstone in Springfield, Missouri. Bill knew how to do it so he was foreman. During construction, Dad was a walking disaster. He would come home after a day of back breaking work with cuts on his head from banging into low beams, his hands so blistered that he could hardly make a fist. But day by day the plant took shape and eventually they got it done. My father was proud of what he had helped accomplish. My first job was sickling down weeds at the front of the lot with Bill’s son Billy. We were eight years old.

Glenstone Block Company grew slowly, but it lasted. A lot of men raised their families on their pay from the firm. Sometimes Dad would take the whole crew to the river to fish. I remember riding on a flatbed truck down bumpy roads, trailing dust on those following us to the water. On one occasion, Bill nailed the head of a large catfish to the office door. Dad was furious. Bill couldn’t stop laughing.

In October, 1972 Dad became the last member of the original three partners. After running the company for twenty-seven years, he was ready to retire. In February, 1973 I accepted his offer to join him. I resigned from my position in Kansas City as Editorial Manager for Hallmark Cards and moved my family to Springfield. I managed the company as president for thirty-five years until I sold it in 2008.

John Harrison’s dream grew even after his death in 1989. The company expanded until it had one hundred employees operating two block plants, a distribution yard, a precast plant, and six hardware stores in five communities. After I sold the company, the new owner – also a block manufacturer – shut down the operation when the economy wouldn’t support it. The buildings, including the modern replacement of the plant that John and Bill built sixty-two years earlier, fell silent. The yard, once stacked with inventory, lay vacant. Vagrants came. Vandals stripped copper from machinery, stole steel pallets, and covered the walls with graffiti.

Monday night, April 30, 2012, someone set fire to the plant. I don’t understand how some people are capable of such destruction. I hope that person is caught. I hope he gets the help he needs before he hurts someone, before he destroys the memory-filled property of another family. My dad was a man of his word. He was liked, admired, and trusted by everyone. He was a loving husband to Neva and father to my sister Jule and me, a dedicated fisherman, and an honest friend. He also believed that you don’t spend your life feeling sorry for yourself or blaming others. The loss of his father when he was so young changed is life forever. He didn’t become a veterinarian. He started a company that supported hundreds of men and women over a period of six decades. In John Harrison’s world, you do the best you can with the cards you’re dealt. The fire the other night has brought back many wonderful recollections of my father. For that, at least, I can thank the man who burned down Dad’s block plant.