This is the kind of question that pulls back the curtain on some of our colleagues’ more familiar lives in the propane industry. From lifelong learning to horses, service, career switches, courage and music, this interesting group shares their little-known backgrounds, which often reveal that a career in the propane industry was not Plan A.
There is also a surprising and fortunate narrow escape that provides a measure of gratitude for the present. In this column, adopted from the familiar “Heard on the Street” format, we offer our responders a chance to answer the question posed in the title. The following article lists their replies reported verbatim.
I have very strangely kept taking courses long after I finished university. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics and the year after received my MBA in finance. All good so far. As the years went by, I kept wishing I had taken history — my favorite subject in high school. So, the next thing I knew, I had a Master of Arts in history.
I thought I should keep going, so I began my Ph.D. After I had finished my comprehensives, but had not yet completed my thesis, I realized this was becoming just a bit too much to juggle, so I stopped. Well, now I had a half-written thesis that I thought I should change into an historical novel. But maybe I should take some courses to improve my fiction writing skills?
Anyway, last year I received my master’s degree in creative and critical writing from the University of Gloucestershire. You’ll be relieved to know that after a bachelor’s degree, three master’s degrees and an All But Dissertation Ph.D., I’ve decided I should probably stop now.
Oakville, Ontario, Canada
My life was on a very different path until I met Mr. Hank Hill of the East! One hundred years and 100 pounds ago (1977), I was fresh out of a college geared toward animal husbandry and business management for running an equestrian center.
I was first headed to do an understudy program with one of the top trainers in the country and then return to manage my first stable (1978). I trained, showed and gave riding lessons.
In 1979, I met Jimmy and, although I ran the stables until 1986, a combination of a really bad horse accident and a propane business that required 110% of our time forced the horses out. My love for horses remains, but I have no regrets (except, perhaps, for my stupid move that caused the horse accident).
One thing that might be surprising is that I am celebrating 40 years in the propane industry. Another fun fact is that I started riding horses when I was 10 years old. My first horse, named Salty, used to bolt back to his stall as soon as I got him into the riding arena.
It only took a few of those tricks before I learned how to gain his respect. I finally retired from owning horses and show jumping in 2008. Then as an encore, I was able to “give back” all of the life lessons I learned from horses to at-risk children in Los Angeles County.
Ted Johnson Propane
Baldwin Park, California
I’ve been in the propane industry since the year that I graduated college. However, people might be surprised to learn that I didn’t plan for a career in our industry. In my early 20s, I planned for a career in law enforcement, and I hold a degree in the administration of justice.
I flew helicopters in Vietnam in 1970-1971 for the 1st Cavalry Division of the U.S. Army. I was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in combat. I got out of the Army and went through Bible college. In 2009, I returned to Vietnam on a sightseeing vacation. Unbeknownst to me, I was traveling with a group of vets that were looking for soldiers that were killed during the war, but their bodies were never recovered (known as missing in action or MIA).
We discovered a previously undiscovered helicopter crash site that had three crew members that were not recovered. In 2019, the MIA accounting command began an excavation of the crash site. We hope to recover some remains this year and repatriate them and give their families closure.
Shasta Gas Propane
I have six sisters and one brother! We all have a great love of music, and it has always been an important part of our lives. If the record player or radio wasn’t going, someone was playing the piano or guitar. My parents loved to hear us sing, and we spent a lot of time each summer on our swings singing to my youngest sister, who was mentally disabled. She loved it, as did our neighbors.
We were all part of the church choir from a young age, and some of us still participate today. Parties always included time for playing our guitars and a singalong. In fact, the evening I met my husband, I played the piano and guitar with him. When I think of all those times, all the weddings and guitar masses we sang, it brings back such wonderful memories.
McMahan's Bottle Gas
I’ve had two ‘careers’ in my adult life. Both involved owning a business. First, I was a retailer, owning a miniature department store in one town and then expanding to a second location 15 miles away. I did that for 20 years.
Second, I joined in and owned part of Rural Computer Consultants (RCC) with two of my brothers. I’ve been with RCC now for 23 years. I highly recommend a career change at some point in life. For me, it was invigorating and really kept my mind sharp. My children might disagree with my sharp mind, until they ask me a business question. Those things I remember!
Rural Computer Consultants
Bird Island, Minnesota
I was in the World Trade Center (WTC) the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. It was my very first day of work post-college in New York City. Thankfully, I left the WTC for a meeting a few blocks away minutes before American Airlines Flight 11 hit the north tower.
After the planes hit and the towers fell, I was stuck inside the basement of an office building on Wall Street for hours. In the afternoon, I was finally able to walk out to the East River and get on a police boat, which took me to New Jersey.
Kara T. Tucker
Koppy's Propane Inc.
On Track or Sidetracked
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a ballerina — a typical childhood dream that was scuttled early on. The closest I came was teaching disco dancing in the 1970s. When my brother was a kid, he dreamed of being a pilot and had a nearly life-sized poster above his bed of a cockpit.
His job today is a charter pilot, and he lives in a beach town where he is awakened each morning from the sound of jets taking off at the nearby airport. He’s one of the few people I know who successfully pursued his boyhood dreams, and he has some surprising stories to share because of it.
The best-laid life plans often take divergent paths. If so, are these twists and turns surprising or simply all part of the unpredictable nature of life?