Skip To Main Content

John Campbell receives ECC Honorary Degree

John Campbell

A soft-spoken man with a genuine heart for people, John Campbell proudly displays an “I support Ellsworth Community College” sticker on the front door of the family business, Campbell Supply Corporation. His father attended ECC, he attended ECC, and several siblings and other family members are ECC alumni. He has been a dedicated member of the Ellsworth College Foundation Board of Directors since 2004, and was one of the driving forces behind the establishment of a generously endowed scholarship from Campbell Supply/Cam Spray/Iowa Power Products for employees’ families and other students. John will be the recipient of an honorary Doctor of Humanities (honoris causa) degree at this year’s 125th annual ECC commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 9.

“Life has been an interesting journey!” John says. He and his five siblings (which includes a twin sister) experienced the death of his father when John was 13. His mother and siblings pulled together to keep the family farm going. John graduated from high school at 17 and began attending Ellsworth Junior College while working part time for Tony Gentle, who owned a drug store in Iowa Falls. At this time he started to focus on his lifetime dream of being an International Harvester dealer; his father had always used IH equipment. While attending Ellsworth, John approached the IH dealer to see if there was any part time work. The dealer was not hiring and told John he would not be selling out in the future.

John says, “I was devastated because I had dreamed of being an IH dealer since I was five years old.” Then he remembered going with his dad to purchase some parts from the Manning H. Howell shop on Rocksylvania Avenue. He visited with Manning and his wife, Vi, and they hired him. John could see a wonderful opportunity in the agricultural supply business.

John says he saw great potential for the Howells to expand their business, and soon he was dreaming that some day they would retire and he could buy the business from them. Shortly after he was hired, the owners were away for an extended time and they asked John to run the business for them in their absence. A self-proclaimed “nut for procedures,” John had the opportunity to reorganize the store, conduct a complete inventory, and develop the store’s first inventory catalog in a three-ring binder (before the days of computerization). He assigned each item a part number, bin number, and price. Next he systematized the sales and delivery routes and established sales schedules to increase business. The Howells were pleased and told John that when they retired they would like to see him purchase the business, if he was still interested.

John had to take two years away from Iowa to serve as an Army medic from 1955-57 in the European command stationed in Toul, France. On his return he went to Pittsburgh, where his fiancée, Ruth, was teaching. He attended the University of Pittsburgh, studying mechanical engineering and business. John and Ruth Campbell were married in August 1958 and returned to Iowa Falls, where he resumed working for Manning W. Howell Company.

After five years of employment, John and his brother Jim purchased the business and called it Campbell Supply Company; they officially became partners on Jan. 1, 1963. A few years later it went from a partnership to a family-owned corporation. They have grown from three employees in 1963 to more than 100 employees currently, with stores in Iowa Falls (corporate headquarters), Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, and Sioux City. Along the way, in response to a request from a customer, John developed an industrial power washer that later became Cam Spray, a brand of pressure washers and jetters now sold all over the world. A third division, Iowa Power Products (IPP), was added to the corporation in 1984 and is the Honda engine distributor for the state of Iowa. IPP is also the sole Iowa distributor marketing Hatz diesel engines to Original Equipment Manufactures.

With a milestone 80th birthday coming up this fall, John says he is backing off from the business and is thankful that the next generation is very capable to continue to manage with the established principles of the corporation. He enjoys being at the office Monday through Thursday mornings to be with the employees and continue to be part of the management team. John’s brother/partner passed away in 2003 and his son Bob took his father’s position in the company and now manages the wholesale division. John’s son-in-law, Jim Gillespie, manages the Cam Spray division and Bob and Jim are the officers of the corporation. John’s oldest son Mark is the chief purchaser for Cam Spray; son David manages the Iowa Power Products Division; and youngest son Steven handles the Human Resources for the corporation.

“We have wonderful people working for and with us … folks who’ve been with us anywhere from one year to 40+ years,” says John. “They’re talented, dedicated, loyal, and embrace the Christian principles on which our company is founded. God has richly blessed us, and we give Him the honor and glory. We’re very thankful!”

John adds that he and Jim started their business with prayer and an agreement between brothers to always settle differences before going home at night, and let bygones be bygones. “Mutual cooperation, understanding, and due diligence have been the key for our family business. We always have valued our customers and our goal is to provide service, service, service!”

John enjoys woodworking and has built many things for family members and friends; one of his favorites was designing and constructing the lighthouse on his property along the Iowa River. In addition to his service on the Ellsworth College Foundation Board, he is a Director on the Board of the Iowa Falls State Bank, and a former member of the Library Board, the Park Board, and the Iowa Falls Area Development Corporation. In 1999-2000 he was chairman of the Vision 21 fund drive for the Water Park, the Barlow Memorial Library, and restoration of the Carnegie/Ellsworth Library building. In 2005 he was the recipient of the Iowa Falls Community Service Award. He was a co-chair of the fund drive for the Hansen Family Hospital, and enjoys being a church volunteer, where he has done lay work at the nursing home for more than 25 years.

John and Ruth enjoy spending time with family, all of whom live nearby. They have four children: Karen (Jim Gillespie), Mark (Jill), David, and Steven (Alison); eleven grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

The honorary degree will be presented to John Campbell during the ECC commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 9, at 10 a.m. in the Dittmer Gymnasium on the Ellsworth campus in Iowa Falls. A reception will follow the ceremony.

PHOTO CAPTIONC. John Campbell is pictured in ECC’s Kruse Main building in front of the Ellsworth College Honor Wall, which was dedicated by the Ellsworth College Foundation Board and Ellsworth College Board of Trustees in October of 2013. ECC Foundation Director Kaitlyn Bartling characterizes Campbell as “a thoughtful and dedicated Board member whose first concern is always how to benefit our students and the community.”

Related Articles