Stites leaves influence in business and community

August 19, 2013

Hearld-Citizen - Sunday, Aug. 18, 2013

Entrepreneur. Farmer. Community leader. Craftsman. Family man.

Those terms and more describe what John D. Stites did in his 86 years of life.

“He was kind of a John Wayne-type of fellow,” his son, Johnny, CEO of J&S Construction, said. “He was able to take the smallest things in life and teach important life lessons from them.”

Stites passed away peacefully at home on the family farm Aug. 10.

And in those 86 years of life, he was involved in a lot, from impacting a large number of people through his civic activities to starting one of the area’s largest construction firms.

Building blocks from small beginnings, Stites’ legacy began after his service in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He came back to Cookeville to attend college, but in 1947, he left college to join the family business, Builders Supply Company, a company his father had a hand in beginning.

That was when his entrepreneurial spirit started to emerge. He designed and built the first ready mix concrete plant and introduced the first ready mix concrete trucks to the area.

“He helped provide concrete for the first Buffalo Valley bridge,” Johnny said. “He set up material, sand and gravel on the construction site, since it was too far to carry.”

He also provided the sand and grains for the Standing Stone State Park bridge.

Eventually, he was bought out of Builders Supply Company and later started his own company - Wholesale Building Materials.

This was the first cash and carry lumber yard, initially selling lumber and building materials from railroad cars because there was no building for his inventory.

“I remember going down to the train yard as a young boy to help unload lumber and other materials,” Johnny recalled. “He really taught us, his kids, the value of hard work.”

In 1957, he founded J&S Construction after purchasing the Bill Smith Machinery Company.

It began as a small residential construction firm through building speculative houses from building materials he had accumulated.

Originally, it was called John Stites and Sons Construction, but the name was shortened to J&S Construction.

It was also much smaller then — there were four to five people working for the business at the time.

In the early ‘70s, Johnny and Jack came back home and joined their father in the business.

Johnny had only been in the position three years when his father left the business.

“He came in to my office one day and said, ‘Do you understand what we’re doing here?’” Johnny recalled. “I said, ‘Yeah, I think I do.’ He patted me on the shoulder, said ‘Good,’ and left.”

And he never came back.

“He never criticized and never asked us what we were doing,” Johnny said. “He trusted his kids to perform.”

It wasn’t until the late ‘70s that the construction business really took off and started to grow.

“I don’t think he ever dreamed it’d be this big,” Johnny said. “He used the business to be a tool to reach out to the community.”

Some examples of that include donating material to build the office building for the Mustard Seed Ranch, building a Habitat for Humanity house and co-sponsoring the Monterey High School’s Virtual Enterprise Class website, and endowing an engineering scholarship at Tennessee Tech, among other things.

Now, the next generation of the Stites family is involved in the business.

“We’re blessed to have great people here and I know he was proud to have them here, too,” Johnny said.

Community man

Stites was also known for his activities in a number of organizations throughout the county — from being a founding member of the Jaycees and the Cookeville Country Club to being a Scoutmaster.

“Though his scouting efforts, he really made an impact on a lot of boys lives,” Johnny said. “At the funeral (which was held last Monday), a lot of people came and shared stories of his scouting influence.”

He also had a hand in developing Ironwood Golf Course, the first public 18-hole golf course in Putnam County.

He also built and managed the Upper Cumberland’s first nursing home, Cookeville Nursing Home, which was sold in 1980.

Through his creative side, he built a workshop on the farm and would create unique pieces for his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“A few of his pieces are even in the J&S offices,” Johnny said. “I remember he’d watch the DIY network and then go out into the workshop to try his hand at making whatever he saw on TV. He was always reading, learning new things and just always thinking outside the box. He found his niche and stuck to it.”

And his legacy lives on in his business.

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