Legacy of Longevity

Don R. Armacost, Jr. at the Armacost Museum. Photo courtesy of the Kansas City Business Journal

Alumni Achievement Legacy Award goes to Armacost Family

Don R. Armacost, Jr. talks about having gasoline in his blood.

It’s not hard to see why. He’s the President and CEO of a second-generation family business that makes specialized parts for cars, trucks, tractors and other gas-powered vehicles. His family’s vintage automobile collection is such a showpiece that they have built a museum to house it.

But Armacost’s passion for shiny, spectacular vehicles is matched by a passion that goes without attention-grabbing chrome and tailfins. It’s a passion for giving back – to the employees he credits for the business’s success, to community organizations that do important charitable work, and to the alma mater he shares with multiple family members – the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Jarrett Bertoncin (B.A. ’94, M.F.A. ’96, Arts & Sciences) is another family member with a passion for giving back. He is an active member of the College of Arts and Sciences Alumni Board and current board president. He is a product of UMKC’s acclaimed Department of Theatre and works as a designer in a variety of venues, from unique custom-designed fireplaces to theatrical lighting. In addition to his volunteer work for his alma mater, Bertoncin also participates with the Heart of America Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, a not-for profit organization that preserves vintage military aircraft and honors the veterans who flew and worked with them,

The family’s commitment to university and community inspired their nomination for UMKC’s annual Legacy Award. Each year, the UMKC Alumni Association recognizes 16 alumni and one family with top honors. UMKC will honor the Armacosts and other outstanding alumni at the 2016 Alumni Awards Luncheon April 21 at Swinney Recreation Center. The luncheon is one of the university’s largest events and proceeds support student scholarships. Last year’s luncheon attracted nearly 600 attendees and garnered more than $141,000 in student scholarships.

The Armacost family’s Kangaroo tradition began with the University of Kansas City (UKC), the predecessor to UMKC. Lucille Cahill Armacost graduated from UKC in 1938 and her husband, the late Don R. Armacost, Sr., former owner of Peterson Manufacturing Company, graduated in 1940. Their son is Don Jr., who graduated from the Henry W. Bloch School of Management and received that school’s 1990 Alumni Achievement Award. In 2010, Lucille Armacost created the Don & Lucille Armacost Scholarship, one of the largest and most prestigious scholarships at UMKC.

Bertoncin practices as a designer through his company, JSB Designs. He designs unique, large fireplaces and fire pits for showpiece homes and commercial spaces.
As a lighting designer, Bertoncin has been a major contributor to productions at most of Kansas City’s professional theatres, including the Unicorn, the Kansas City Repertory Theatre and the Coterie. He also has worked on productions in New York, Dallas, Washington, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

“As I continue to volunteer at UMKC I am excited about the steps the Arts and Sciences Alumni Board is taking to create a voice within the board for the LGBTQIA community and others,” Bertoncin said. “These steps will put UMKC in the forefront of addressing the needs and concerns for growing and emerging communities on campus. In a sense this is teaching in reverse as we, the board, are the ones learning so we can better support our students.”

As for the Commemorative Air Force, his involvement grew out of a childhood love for flying, building model planes and attending airshows. He obtained a pilot’s license in 1997.
“A large part of what the local CAF does is to teach the next generation about those that gave so much for our freedom,” he said. “I am currently on staff as safety officer and I am the director of Warbirds in Flight our annual open house and Air Show.”

Armacost is now in his 58th year at Grandview-based Peterson Manufacturing, the company his father purchased in 1956. He has been CEO for many years, but started as a teenager, sweeping floors and stocking shelves.

Known as “The Brand that Lights Up Legends,” Peterson makes vehicle safety lighting systems and accessories for “legendary American-made machines including Harley-Davidson, Caterpillar and John Deere.”

“It’s a very unusual company. It’s like a big family even though we’re a big company now,” Don Jr. said. “We really care about our associates and they care about us. I’m ‘Don’ to most of them. We have people who have been with us for 40-45 years. We have profit sharing. I’m happy that I was able to do that for these people.”

He says that working at the family business is “all I ever wanted to do,” but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t indulge in another passion: car collecting. The collection is heavy on classic Studebakers, ranging from a 1915 SD4 Touring car to a 1964 GT Hawk. Don Sr. owned and operated a Studebaker dealership at 13th and Baltimore in downtown Kansas City before purchasing Peterson. But the full collection is an eclectic one with cars ranging from a 1910 International to a Ferrari Testarossa.

In addition to the cars, there is an extensive collection of antique pedal cars, motorcycles, bicycles, automotive related art and a large collection of gas powered toys. The gas powered toy cars date from the 30’s to the late 60’s. Gas powered toy airplanes as well as other toys are also included in the collection.

It’s all housed in the Armacost Museum, also in Grandview, a showplace encompassing two floors covering 44,000 square feet. This space houses a 12,000-square-foot banquet room which incorporates a vintage Skelly Gas Station, 1950’s drive-in-diner stage, and a European bistro sidewalk cafe/bar.

Don’t plan a trip any time soon, though. The museum is not open to the general public. The price of admission is civic involvement. The family makes the museum available to select fund-raising and charitable organizations for special events.

“We limit it to two a month. It’s all volunteer work and we don’t charge for use of the space,” Don Jr. said. “We’ve helped raise millions of dollars for local charities. It’s gratifying to be able to give back to the community in this way.”

Click here for tickets or sponsorship information for the April 21, 2016 Alumni Awards Luncheon.

Click here for more information on the 2016 Alumni Awards recipients.

Nominations are now open for the Class of 2017 Alumni Awardees. Click here to nominate fellow alumni who are deserving of the campus’ highest recognition for alumni achievement. Nominations close March 7.

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