January 19, 2018
On January 1, 1989, Gary Johnson and Lonnie Laffen started an architecture firm. On January 18, 2018, after growing JLG from a two-person studio to one the top in the country (and one of Inc. Magazine’s 50 Best Places to Work), the Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce honored Lonnie with the prestigious Henry Havig Award. Said Bob Boyd, a previous recipient of the Henry Havig Award and the award presenter, “The Henry Havig Award recognizes in a very meaningful and concrete way that community service is honored and appreciated, and that being part of a community requires dedication and commitment.”
Bob’s introduction to the award can be read here.
In gratitude, Lonnie gave the following remarks to the evening’s attendees:
“Grand Forks is an awesome community. This town wants you to succeed. [The leadership] wants you to be a part of it. They help you be a leader. They become your mentors.
I had unbelievable mentors when I came to this town – truly unbelievable: Sam Silverman, Hugo Magnuson, Hal Gershman, Karl Bollingberg, Randy Newman, Casey Ryan…it’s unbelievable the people in this community that want you to succeed and want to help you.
It’s been truly a privilege to live here, and work here, and to know all of you.
Two of my mentors were my mom and dad. We built our company with an unbelievable passion for customer service, and this passion started with my parents. They moved to Wimbeldon in 1957, and started a Standard Oil Bulk Agency. Everyone was Farmer’s Union – that’s all there was there then. We looked at the Farmer’s Union as a sort of the ‘evil empire’a and we were the good guys, and a Farmer’s Union customer was simply someone who was waiting to become our customer because of our unbelievable customer service. Everyone became a Standard Oil customer in [my dad’s] lifetime.
To illustrate my dad’s devotion to this service, here’s a story: When I was a sophomore, my dad said, “You can date anyone you want, as long as she’s a Farmer’s Union girl.” And I said, “Well, why would that be?” And he said, “Because we’re going to get a customer out of this deal.” So, I’m in the backseat of my wife’s cousin’s car, and she leaned over and kissed me, and I can tell you, Dad, the Farmer’s Union was not the first thing that entered my mind. But she was a Farmer’s Union girl, and she became a Standard Oil customer. And that’s how my kindergarten classmate became my wife.
That devotion to taking care of our customers, we brought to our company, and that’s how we’ve grown. That, along with the passion my mentors, and you all, installed in me for giving back and public service. It’s truly, truly humbling to be here, and thank you very much.
One more thought: I had the privilege of sitting next to Senator John Andrist for my first session for all of my committees, and he was truly an unbelievable man and unbelievable mentor. And he told me one day in the Senate:
“You know, if you lived in the United States, and you think about all of the billions of people who have lived on this Earth, and how new this country is – if you were born in the United States, you have already won the lottery.”
And I can tell you for me, that is absolutely true. And if you had the chance to grow up in a small town in North Dakota, you won it again. And if you had the chance to live and work in a community like this – I’ve won the lottery at least three times.”