John Twomey: The American Dream

Yesterday, our guest speaker in the Midwest Entrepreneur’s class was local entrepreneur and philanthropist John Twomey. While all our guest speakers could accurately be referred to as “role models,” John Twomey–now 91 years young–stands out as the quintessential example of a positive role model for the students; not only as an entrepreneur but as a passionate, caring, community-minded person living a long and meaningful life.

Today’s blog entry for this very special guest speaker is Midwest Entrepreneurs student Adam Parr.

I sometimes worry that a 20-something year old student may not fully appreciate the entrepreneurial–and life–lessons shared by someone of Mr. Twomey’s generation. That is certainly not the case below; Adam Parr has done an outstanding job of capturing and here communicating the essence of what was shared by John Twomey–and learned–in class yesterday.  Enjoy…

Prof. Gabel


Growing up, we have all heard about the idea of the “American Dream.”  However, very rarely do you find someone who actually has lived out the American Dream.  John Twomey has done it all from serving in World War II, being a star athlete, raising a family, starting an extremely successful business, and everything in between. John Twomey has lived the American Dream.

John Twomey was born 1923. By the age of six he was working on his father’s farm milking the cows with his sister.  Mr. Twomey’s father was an extremely hard worker who dropped out of school to take over the family farm at the age of fifteen after his father had passed away.  Mr. Twomey said that he developed his work ethic from watching his dad at a young age and over time he became a “product of his environment.”  John continued milking the cows until he was in high school where he began a new chapter in his amazing life.

As he told the class yesterday, Mr. Twomey had a strong interest in running track in high school.  However, the coach thought that he was two small and would not let him be a part of the team.  The track team got a new coach during John’s junior year of high school, and the coach let Mr. Twomey onto the team.  He instantly became a key part of the team.

After high school Mr. Twomey went to Western Illinois University where he also ran track for two years.  During this time, the United States was involved in World War II, and “Uncle Sam came calling” for Mr. Twomey.  The next two and half years for Mr. Twomey were spent on a B-24 bomber fighting for his country which was something that he took great pride in doing at the time.  I enjoyed briefly hearing about Mr. Twomey’s experience in the war because it is hard to find living WWII veterans today.  After his time in the war, Mr. Twomey spent the next two years running track at the University of Illinois.

After his college days, Mr. Twomey then spent the next three years running in the Pan American Games and AAU track meets all around the world where he became a champion by beating former collegiate national champions and other world-class athletes.  As a current collegiate track and field athlete, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing his track and field stories. I also greatly respected what he achieved in college and on the global circuit because that takes tremendous talent, dedication, and hard work to achieve which are all traits he gained at a young age and used to his advantage to start a successful business.

Once his track career was over, Mr. Twomey went back to his roots and began working on the farm again.  While spending time on the farm, Mr. Twomey discovered a problem with the way that the grain was being stored inside the grain bins and discovered a better way to store the grain.  Because of this, Mr. Twomey entered the grain elevator business and began implementing his ideas into the industry.  Mr. Twomey recognized a need in the industry and that was that the farmers needed a cheaper and more efficient way to store their grain without it getting spoiled like it would in the standard grain bins at that time.  Mr. Twomey addressed these issues and began building warehouses that would spread the grain out evenly from top to bottom without having peaks at the top of the stored grain.  By spreading the grain out evenly in these warehouses, the grain stays fresh and does not spoil like it would in a grain bin.  This innovative new way of storing grain is one of the many things that turned Mr. Twomey into a very successful entrepreneur.

As time went on, Mr. Twomey eventually had the cheapest storage rate for grain in the United States.  Because he had the cheapest storage rates, demand was high for his services.  To keep up with the high demand, the Twomey Company began building more warehouses and expanding to new locations including a location along the Mississippi River which helped the business succeed immensely.  Mr. Twomey’s business was able to expand quickly because of the extremely low costs for building warehouses.  Mr. Twomey did everything that he could to make his business succeed to its fullest potential and that included taking care of his employees. He said that he would always try to be “one of the guys” while working with his employees and usually that meant doing the same work that they were doing during the day.  Mr. Twomey also made sure to take of his employees financially by paying them high wages and giving them pension plans as well.  When Mr. Twomey retired, the company had seven locations.  Before the business was sold, the company had expanded to eight locations.  The Twomey Company was sold in 2011 because the Twomey family could “see the writing on the wall.”  Mr. Twomey said that bigger companies were beginning to surface and it was just a matter of time before the Twomey Company started losing customers.

Looking back, it was clear that Mr. Twomey had a great passion for business and that he understood what he needed to do for the business to succeed.  The Twomey Company expanded rapidly and succeeded thanks to the innovative ideas that Mr. Twomey had and the amount of hard work and dedication that Mr. Twomey put in every day.

As I watched Mr. Twomey’s presentation in class, I was amazed at the amount of energy and excitement that he had when talking about his life.  Mr. Twomey told us that he likes the idea of “the journey” in life and he feels that his life has indeed been a journey.  It was clear to me that Mr. Twomey cherished every moment in his life and I believe it is important for everyone to cherish “the journey” throughout their lives because one day we will all arrive at “the station.”

Adam Parr

Old Fashioned Unorthodox Entrepreneurial Success: The John “Beefy” Houston Story

Today’s student blogger is Kelin Malcolm. Below, he nicely tells the captivating, perhaps surprising entrepreneurial success story of local landscaper John “Beefy” Houston.     Prof. Gabel


John “Beefy” Houston is what some would call an “old fashioned” businessman.  This is due to the fact that he does not own a computer, and does his accounting with ledger books. He is decidedly and purposefully low-tech.

Mr. Houston graduated from the University of Illinois with a Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science.  After working on his family farm for a few years, the farm was sold which left John looking for a new job.  He did not want to get stuck at a job he hated and “have a heart-attack at age 40” as he has seen several friends come close to doing over the years.

So… Beefy chose to do what he loved doing, landscaping.

John started the company by himself with 1 truck and 1 trailer; 20 years later he now has 2-3 employees at any given time during the summer, 6 trucks, 5 trailers, as well as a few skid-loaders.  He also owns a building used for storage, and he rents out the space he doesn’t use.

John is an unorthodox businessman in that he does not want to grow his company.  What?? Shouldn’t all businesses want to continually grow?

Not Beefy Houston!… His reasoning:  He is perfectly fine where he is at and any more business would just mean more headaches and, possibly, lower-quality service and customer dissatisfaction. He keeps the level of business where he can personally control the high level of quality he is renowned for in the area.

John is also unorthodox in terms of financing his operations. He has no loans to deal with because he has never been a believer in borrowing money from banks.

Houston is also unorthodox in that he does no advertising, not even decals on his trucks.  He relies a lot on word of mouth advertising but he also is a very active member of the community.  “See and be seen” is a big phrase of John’s, he is always at public events around his community because it generates a substantial amount of business for him.

Ultimately, as he told the class repeatedly, Houston believes what goes around comes around; if you treat others, especially customers, bad then bad things will happen.  It is crucial to always be on time and even a little bit early to meetings and John credits this to earning him a couple customers. He believes that you should speak face to face if at all possible and phone calls need to be answered with phone calls, not text messages.

Bottom line… John’s philosophy of treating customers right and having a great work ethic has given him a good base of customers.  Some may view the way John “Beefy” Houston runs his business as kind of “old fashioned and unorthodox,” but he has been very successful in being an entrepreneur.


Visitation & Entrepreneurial Education at The McGuire and Davies Funeral Home

Today’s blog entry is authored by Midwest Entrepreneurs Student Blake Little

Yesterday in class, we had the honor of visiting, touring, and further learning more about the funeral home industry by field tripping to the McGuire and Davies Funeral Home in Monmouth (see:

Al McGuire, one of the two partners in the business, has been around the funeral business his whole life.  He attended college to receive a secondary education degree and wished to become a high school teacher.  His start in the funerary industry came when he moved into an upstairs apartment in a funeral home to avoid living fees. He also had found himself a place to work.  Little did he know, this field of work would become one of the passions of his life; what he today refers to not as a “job” but rather “his vocation.”

After college, Al went on to work at a funeral home in Chicago for some years. However, Al wanted and needed a lifestyle change for his family, which includes his wife and four children.  Monmouth, or “Mayberry” as he calls it, was just the answer he was looking for.  He moved here in 1991 and started working for a local funeral home. After twenty one years there he and the owner had differences of opinion and the two eventually parted ways. Part of these differing opinions involved Al’s desire to modernize and innovate that the owner was opposed to. This move by his previous employer may have been the worst decision possible; it created an aggressive, eager-to-succeed new competitor.

Al brought his long-time friend Trevor Davies, who also had funeral home experience in the area, aboard his plan.  The two leveraged everything they had such as home mortgages, retirement funds, the cemetery Al owned, and the fear of losing everything in order to fund this future business.   The ground was broke for their nest egg on April 23rd, 2013.  All in all, the two invested approximately 1.2 million dollars to build a funeral home that they consider to be the perfect option for funeral services.  Al McGuire used his resources to find himself an accountant to help manage their finances.  This accountant just so happens to be Trevor’s father.

The first year Al and Trevor owned the business, they received 39 calls.  The second year, 2014, they received 69 calls.  In the year of 2015, they have already received 15 calls related to business.   Here at McGuire and Davies, a unique design is presented in order to accommodate any potential plans that one’s family may have.  Their motto is “It’s not our funeral, it’s yours”.  This unique design gives them the ability to slide down walls to help with multitasking in the building, provide guests with a kitchen for complementary coffee and lemonade or luncheons after a service, offices to discuss plans, a crematory, and a room to browse for supplies.  This crematory, which cost the company about 90,000 dollars, gives McGuire and Davies the competitive edge against other local competitors that cannot do cremations on site.  When speaking of the crematory, Al spoke of it not as a “cost” but rather as an “investment,” one that has paid itself off in roughly one year of operation.

McGuire really stresses gaining close relationships with his customers.  Since it is a small town business, it is key to gain the customers trust and show them signs of reliability.   Here he sells his customers a truly great experience and a grand variety of options.  McGuire and Davies provides great services and very flexible hours to customers mourning their loss. All of this leads to the spread of very positive word-of-mouth communication about the business.

McGuire and Davies has been nothing less than successful in their short time open and have installed some key principles that have boosted them to the top.  They have created a peaceful environment that allows them to accompany the needs of their customers.  Even though this field of work presents much emotional stress on Al and Trevor, they find the strength to overcome and create great environment for their customers.  I think the moral of this story may very well be “Treat your employees—as well as your customers— right”.  We all know the value of treating customers right. But treatment of employees matters too; if not treated well, they could very well be your worst nightmare in the competitive business world.

Well done Blake… In closing, allow me to reiterate one of the key points discussed above. This involves Al McGuire speaking to the class yesterday about his $90,000 outlay for the crematory not as a “cost” but rather as an “investment.” One of the many keys to entrepreneurial success is minimizing necessary costs and then making the right investments (as part of taking the right risks, something we spoke about at length in the first week of the class this semester). Entrepreneurs are faced with risk all the time. It is knowing which ones to take and which ones to not take that matters. Al McGuire took a big risk when paying $90,000 for the crematory; but it was the right risk in that the investment has paid for itself in just one year and is one of the key profit centers of the business.

See you next week for more inspirational local and regional entrepreneurial stories and learning!

Prof. Gabel

Doing Wine the Right Way

By Midwest Entrepreneurs Student Miguel Hernandez

What better way to start of the semester for the Midwest Entrepreneurs class than to talk about alcohol; consumed responsibly and in a comfortable environment. Yesterday afternoon the class welcomed our first speaker of the semester; Susan Schuytema, owner and sole proprietor of Market Alley Wines (

Susan came to class with 3.5 years of experience and a couple of handy dandy index cards to talk about her business and her actions in life that made her bring this luxury to the town of Monmouth.

Her entrepreneurial experience was and is crucial for her business today and she makes sure she uses everything she learned not only to have a successful business, but also to keep it successful in the long run.

Susan has worked since she was 13 years old and has worked in a lot of places before her grand opening of Market Alley Wines. She has worked in retail, as a lifeguard, bartender, freelance writer, a journalist in college, and marketed for a nursing home.

All the jobs and positions that Susan has held in her life got her thinking about what she really wanted to do in life. Of course she wanted to do what she loved most so she spent a lot of time looking back in her life to see what she could make out of her past experiences and memories and turn all of that into reality. On top of that she also utilized some research commissioned by the City of Monmouth. This research had found that one of the products that local residents were going out of town to buy was wine. So, she knew there was demand for what she had in mind. She, along with her husband Paul, had the idea of not just selling wine but making it available for sale and consumption in a very welcoming, comfortable environment. Thus, Market Alley Wines was established.

With her experience with wine and her outstanding customer service skills she started her journey to open Market Alley Wines, even if it meant having to make a video from a mobile phone, she did anything and everything possible to get her business going.

Even though she knew that she would be selling bottles of wine at higher prices than other stores that selling similar bottles of wines, she decided to stick with her gut and keep this business alive. But she sells more than just wine at her establishment; she sells an experience unlike anything else in the area. A person can purchase a bottle or a glass, sit on couches with friends or meet new people, listen to bands or people who perform in her business, and experience the relaxing atmosphere that her business has to offer.

This is why people go back for more of the experience that Market Alley Wines provides. They talk about her business and regulars bring new people to check out her place. Price is never an issue when an establishment offers great service, an amazing experience, and a relaxing atmosphere that just takes the world off your shoulders.

Finally, Susan Schuytema advised the class that if they want to start up their own business, they should “do it in your own way.” It’s your business, your face, and your reputation that will affect your business; but make sure you do something that you love to do. It’s a destination and you’re the only one that can decide where that destination leads.