As northbound IH45 travelers bid farewell to the beautiful city of Huntsville, they pass a company that first said “hello” to Huntsville in 1987. Let’s meet founder Jack Olsta of The Jack Olsta Co. and acquaint ourselves with his life in the community.
You, your company, and Huntsville seem to be a good fit. Did you grow up in Huntsville?
Both my wife Ann and I grew up in Bloomfield, New Jersey. In fact, we started dating there 60 years ago and have been happily married for the past 52 years. I graduated from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with a degree in mathematics and took a temporary job with Heil, a company which manufactures tank trailers. That temporary job turned into a career as I worked in their marketing group for 23 years.
The Texas Gulf Coast was and is a major market for our industry, so Heil transferred me down here to open a tank trailer repair facility in 1974. I had been managing both the facility and the sales and marketing in the Southwest when I had the opportunity to turn the repair facility over to someone else, allowing me to concentrate on sales. Then in 1987, I applied for and received a dealership for Heil. Heil had no dealerships in the Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Arkansas area. As a dealer, I had the opportunity not only to sell new Heil trailers, but to buy and sell used trailers, and to lease trailers as well. In 2011, our son John assumed ownership of the company, and I retired. He has greatly expanded the scope of our company by adding new products and services, and by servicing customers nationwide and in the Caribbean, Central and South America. Many second-generation businesses don’t have a good track record, but his leadership has brought substantial growth to the company. We are very blessed.
You are a steadfast supporter of the Boys and Girls Club of Huntsville. What is your involvement with this organization?
I served as board president of this great organization for 10 years and developed a deep passion for the work it is doing. The stated purpose of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America is “that programs and services promote and enhance the development of boys and girls by instilling a sense of competence, usefulness, belonging, and influence.” The motto is, “To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.” Clubs provide a fun, safe, and positive environment for kids and teens during their after-school hours, and during the summer months. Great emphasis is put on each student’s education, believing that a child who succeeds in school has a much greater chance for success in life and will become a citizen with a positive impact on his or her community. In fact, the Club follows a student’s school performance by regularly checking his or her progress and provides tutoring as needed during program hours. Many Sam Houston State University students have worked in the program over the years and have been able to provide help with the Club members’ schoolwork, as well as being positive role models for these kids. In addition to help from the SHSU community, many citizens of Huntsville have provided support for the Boys and Girls Club over the years. We are grateful for the interest and help given to this worthy endeavor.
As a board member of the Boys and Girls Club of Huntsville, you have helped guide this group with a look to the future. What accomplishment has given you the most satisfaction in that role?
As we have watched this local club grow, the board has seen the need for a bigger facility to meet the objectives of the program now and into the future. That dream is now becoming a reality. Ground has been broken at a new site across from the HISD transportation complex on MLK Drive, a new building has been ordered, and we are ready to pour a slab for this $2 million project. Although I no longer serve on the board, I am thrilled to see this new step into the club’s future. This new building will provide a place to serve 400 kids and will include a teen center as well. The leadership of the staff and volunteers has provided growth and a service of high quality for our Huntsville kids. Once again, my life has been blessed as I have had the privilege of being a part of this wonderful organization. It gives me great satisfaction to know that our community will enjoy future benefits as the kids involved in this program grow up to become responsible citizens and leaders in both their families and their communities.
Huntsville has been blessed with your leadership, both as a business owner and as a volunteer, giving generously of your time and talents. What other groups or charitable organizations have you been or are now a volunteer with?
I’ve served as chair of the regional Boys and Girls Club, have twice been a board member of the Chamber of Commerce, serving one term as finance chair, and have served on church boards with responsibilities as finance chair as well. In addition to these, I served on the HISD school board, on the Huntsville Planning and Zoning Board, and as President of the National Trailer Dealers Association. I currently have memberships in both the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs. It’s been fun. I’ve enjoyed serving in these capacities and believe in the causes they support.
I have heard that you have a great love for baseball. Is that rumor true?
Yes, I love baseball. I grew up in the New York area and have been a Yankees fan all my life. And, of course, being close to Houston has made me an Astros fan as well. A friend of mine and I go to spring training somewhere every year, and we have been able to visit every major league ballpark. We attended the first major league game in the new Atlanta stadium, SunTrust Park, a game between the Braves and the Yankees.
An interesting note, too, is that my love for baseball fits perfectly with my passion for the Boys and Girls Club. The Official Charity of Major League Baseball is the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. That’s a winning combination.
With your time so filled with business, charitable endeavors, and baseball trips, do you have other hobbies as well?
Ann and I enjoy gardening together, and you can find me on many occasions working away on a wood project of some sort. I love working with wood, and whether it be cabinets or bookshelves, I’ve spent many hours with my tools and saws, crafting items for our home, our children, and our grandchildren. I had the pleasure of building the first Book Box in Huntsville, which is located near the city pool. And at present, I am building a cedar strip canoe.
To begin, I had to make the forms for the canoe and a “strongback” to support the project. I used 1˝x6˝x18´ rough cut western red cedar, planed it to ¾˝ and cut each board into ¼˝ x ¾˝ strips. The edges were routed to allow a mating of the joint between the strips when installed on the canoe. The applying of these strips included gluing the edges between the strips and using small nails and staples to install the strips on the forms. They were installed 6 at a time, then going to the other side to install 6 more. This process was followed until the canoe was entirely stripped. The next step was sanding the canoe, making it ready for the installation of a light weight fiberglass application. This is where I am at this time. Once the exterior is done, the canoe is removed from the strongback, and the same procedures are followed on the interior. The next step is making and installing the seats, gunnels, and other accessories. And finally, the moment has come to float it on the lake and begin enjoying the fruit of my labors with my wife, and my children and grandchildren!
Please share about your family.
I’ve mentioned Ann, my beautiful wife of 52 years, a fantastic mother and steadfast supporter of all my endeavors. She is a nurse and, over the past 10 years, we have taken week-long mission trips with Benevolent Missions International to Fiji. Benevolent Missions International is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing needed ophthalmic care to the underserved in many areas around the world. Ann assists the surgery team, and I operate the tonometer, which measures pressure in the eye. I’ve become known as “Dr. Poke!” We will be traveling to Belize with this group in 2018.
Our 3 children, all graduates of Huntsville High School, have gone on to have successful careers in medicine and business. Our 8 grandchildren range in age from 12 to 20.
What are your future plans?
Ann and I love to travel. We have been to all seven continents, and have just returned from a trip to Normandy with the Traveling Aggies. While there, we got to visit the Texas Embassy, which was maintained by the Republic of Texas in Paris from 1836 through 1845. Antarctica was my favorite destination. We will continue to travel as long as we are able.
My life has been filled with one blessing after another. I look forward to a future filled with family, friends, and more opportunities to serve this wonderful community of Huntsville.