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Ralph Johnson, 2011 Hall of Fame inductee

Posted: Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Story printed with permission from Ralph Johnson from BEL Awards booklet

Ralph Johnson of Johnson Petroleum, Inc. was inducted into the Greater Fort Wayne Business Hall of Fame Tuesday, May 24 at the annual BEL (Business and Education Leadership) Awards ceremony at the Grand Wayne Convention Center, Fort Wayne.

The Johnson story began in 1929, when fuel oil sold for 10 cents a gallon, and Edward Johnson began selling and delivering farm fuels and lubes, heating oil and kerosene. By 1970, he was nearing retirement age, the distribution system was changing and his son Ralph was looking for a new job.

“I was looking for a job that would let me be home with my family,” says Ralph Johnson, “A year later Dad retired and sold me his two trucks. Then in 1972 I invested all my savings to buy the local bulk plant. In the sale, I got more accounts, a delivery truck, and my first semi truck. That started the growth of Johnson Petroleum.”

The 1973 oil embargo interrupted that growth, however. “The 1973-74 oil crisis was tough. Companies were shedding people, and everyone was running out of fuel,” Ralph says. “I remember working until 5 p.m., then driving our semi back and forth to Indianapolis overnight, hauling 7,800 gallons each trip. I made three trips that Thanksgiving day. It was the challenge that put our feet on the ground, though.”

With the return of ample oil supplies, Ralph was prepared to expand the business. He bought more trucks and semis, and in 1977 he purchased Hoffman Oil, Co. That purchase included a retail location. “It was our first convenience store, and we also pumped gas and had a bay for tire service.” Ralph says, “During the 1980s I purchased more retail stores. These were good investments. In 1989 I sold the farm business and bulk plant where it had all started.”

As the company expanded, so did the involvement of Ralph’s children. When Ralph retired in 1999, the company had two divisions. His son Ryan purchased the wholesale division, Johnson Petroleum, Inc., and his daughter Darlene purchased Johnson Junction, Inc., the retail/convenience store division. “Today, the wholesale division has four retail locations, a quick lube station, a truck stop/wash, and the warehouse,” Ryan says. “We also have five company owned and operated semi tractor/trailers for transport, two delivery trucks for commercial and home/farm accounts, and 66 employees.”

The retail/convenience store division has also grown under Darlene’s guidance. “We now have five gas station/convenience store locations. Several were purchased and renovated, and one was built on Guilford Street in 1989,” Darlene says. “There has always been something on the list to be done, because if we aren’t constantly changing, we wouldn’t be able to survive.” Despite challenges and market shifts over the years, the Johnson family has persevered. “There have been so many changes since I started this business years ago,” Ralph says, “Because I learned to adapt, I was able to be successful.”

To respond to expanding industry regulations, Ralph and six fellow petroleum marketers used their entrepreneurial expertise to form Creek Run Environmental Engineering in 1993. The partnership originally focused on the partners’ own companies petroleum-related issues. Today, the partnership helps clients throughout Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Kentucky navigate the environmental regulatory process and it practices environmental stewardship through its work.

The Johnson family gives time to their community and the industry in which they built their business. Ryan is active with the Kiwanis, serves on the 4-H Board of Directors, and coaches youth teams. In addition to serving the oil industry at the state association level, Darlene serves on the boards of directors for Parkview Hospital and Parkview Foundation, The Quayle Vice Presidential Learning Center, Regional Workforce Development Board, and United Way.

Ralph has served on the boards of directors of two local banks, the 4-H Board, Huntington Economic Development Corporation, Huntington Chamber of Commerce, and Huntington University, among others. He says it is “through service to the community where you grew up and got your opportunities that you find friends for life.”