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Former Foley President, H. Jack Hunkele, Dies

Thu December 10, 2009 - Northeast Edition
Jennifer Hetrick

Jack Hunkele, president of Foley Machinery, addressing the crowd during the grand opening of Foley’s Piscataway, N.J., facility in 1967.
Jack Hunkele, president of Foley Machinery, addressing the crowd during the grand opening of Foley’s Piscataway, N.J., facility in 1967.
Jack Hunkele, president of Foley Machinery, addressing the crowd during the grand opening of Foley’s Piscataway, N.J., facility in 1967. Jack Hunkele, second from left, with a group of Foley executives in 1978.

H. Jack Hunkele, 94, former president of Foley Inc., Piscataway, N.J., died at his home in the Sarasota Bay Club, Sarasota, Fla., Nov. 11.

Mr. Hunkele was originally from Newark, N.J., but moved to Peoria, Ill., to work as a Caterpillar salesman after completing his courses at Lehigh. He worked for Cat for 12 years, moving from sales to management. During that time, he met his wife Evelyn, who predeceased him. Upon his return to New Jersey with his two children, he began working for Foley Inc. It is from Mr. Hunkele’s former friends and co-workers at Foley that these fond memories are shared, as the friendships he developed and the impressions he made there endured for decades, each memory expressing unanimous respect, appreciation and a few heartfelt laughs.

Larry Wallace, who retired from Foley as executive vice president in 1995, worked with Mr. Hunkele for many years.

“Jack and I were very close friends and worked well together,” Wallace said. “He was a rising star at Caterpillar and to this day I don’t know how Ed Foley Sr. ever got Jack to come to Foley. I assume that he met Jack on one of his trips to Caterpillar, and they hit it off because Jack was from New Jersey. Ed knew what he needed and was a very astute businessman and convinced Jack to come onboard and to this day I’m grateful that Jack did decide to come to Foley. When he came, he changed the whole dynamic. He was a great guy to work with because he never made you feel like you worked for him. He was an extremely confident individual … full of ideas. As a matter of fact, one of his ideas came into fruition in the construction industry. Today all wheel loaders have side dumpers but they didn’t back then. It was Jack, after speaking with Caterpillar officials, who convinced them to put side dump buckets on wheel loaders. Jack was the guy who implemented that. Caterpillar went to Foley numerous times looking for ideas and Jack and his staff were always willing to oblige. Jack started as sales manager but was quickly promoted to general manager and then to president, which was a great move by Ed Foley Sr.”

Wallace himself started at Foley in 1959, as a “pup” or more precisely, an inventory clerk. “But when Jack came onboard, everything changed for me and the company,” he said. “Jack first brought in other string managers, in the parts and service area and engine division and also made changes in the finance area. Jack was always a leader and could bring out the best in people. I remember on many projects, he would just let you fly. Sure, he’d look over your shoulder, but he would guide and make you feel like you could succeed. He was never heavy-handed; he was a professional manager; a pro’s pro. He was brilliant at motivating people to get things done and hiring the right people to do that.”

According to Wallace, Mr. Hunkele retired in 1979 for two reasons: he felt that he had had his turn and since Kim Foley was ready to lead the company, he was confident that leaving was the right thing to do. Mr. Hunkele made a clean break from Foley once he retired and Wallace would only see him on rare occasions after that.

When Wallace would think of him, sometimes the thing that he’d miss most about him was that, “he could tell a helluva joke and he was fun to be with. I loved his ideas and he left that with me to continue long after he left. Caterpillar continued coming to Foley for suggestions and ideas for product improvements, etc. And that was Jack’s legacy really. Everyone missed Jack when he retired; there was quite a void, but there was a smooth transition and Kim Foley proved that by continuing the leadership so well, not missing a beat.”

Kim Foley, chairman, Foley Inc., echoed Wallace’s sentiments.

“Jack worked at Foley Incorporated from 1960 until his retirement in 1979, with a career highlight serving as president. Prior to moving East and joining Foley, he spent 12 years in management at Caterpillar in the newly formed Engine Division and was involved in both domestic and international markets. At Foley, he mentored many of us in the business and was highly regarded throughout the industry. Jack lived for many happy years in Longboat Key, Florida, with his wife BJ. He loved boating and the Florida life. At 94 he lived a full life that brought joy and happiness to all who knew him. We will miss Jack and extend our deepest sympathies to his family,”

“As one of the Foley Machinery former salesmen who attended the funeral, let me tell you about the: ’Jack Hunkele School of Sales Training.’ Quote: ’Make the best deal you can but make the deal,’” said Chief Weaver.

James R. Hutchins, who served as Foley Inc.’s finance manager and treasurer from 1972 through 2000 said, “Jack Hunkele, or H. ’Jack’ Hunkele as he was known, was my boss for seven years at Foley Machinery Co. He was an imposing figure, an exacting boss, a mentor to employees and a friend to customers. He told entertaining stories with a hint of mirth, which normally concluded with an object lesson. His stock answers held the lessons, and none of us can forget, ’Don’t let the camel get his nose under the tent’ or ’Think big but cheap.’ His economic lessons taught ’In equity, there is strength.’ He stood up for his people, was inclusive in the team approach, and was always part of the solution — never the problem. He helped start the New Jersey Alliance for Action, and was known throughout the Caterpillar organization — dealer and corporate included — as an innovator in engine power application and construction equipment sales techniques.”

“I first met Jack Hunkele back in the spring of 1966 when he hired me as a sales trainee at Foley Machinery Co.,” said Bob Williams. “I took an immediate liking to him as he came across as a ’can-do’ guy with his positive attitude and enthusiastic manner. Jack became a mentor to me and to many of my contemporaries at Foley. He constantly motivated us with his power of positive thinking. There would be times when we salesmen would come in frustrated because we were working on Caterpillar machine sales deals that for one reason or another just were not coming together. Jack with his analytical thinking would say, ’well perhaps you should try this approach or this angle.’ It was amazing how many deals we put together over the years with his advice.

“He was an great communicator who could get his message across in few words,” Williams continued. “His colloquialism ’don’t let the camel get his nose under the tent’ meant ’get on the deal now before competition gets in on the deal also.’ Jack’s can-do attitude had everyone playing over his or her head. It was with this motivation that he instilled in all those around him that spirit that made Foley Machinery Company the premier dealership it became and still is. Working with Jack and the management team around him was a fun thing, like playing on the winning Super Bowl team each year.

“When Jack retired from Foley toward the end of the 1970s, he moved to Longboat Key, Florida. While enjoying his boat and playing golf and tennis, Jack wasn’t content to just play,” Williams said. “He became involved in the community, especially programs for young children at risk. He again used his can-do, always-positive attitude to develop programs for high school students who were destined for failure because of a variety of family problems, problems with school or personal lack of self-esteem. With a local bank, he founded a program to award Sarasota area high school students who had overcome some of these adverse situations with a recognition dinner each year at a top local restaurant. This further led to a program where college scholarships were awarded to some of those who had overcome the most extreme challenges. Jack also organized and funded a program for young school children in grades one through three to learn to read after school. A great many of the children in that program came from homes where English was a second language or where the parents were illiterate. I once asked Jack why he was spending so much time and money on these community programs and his answer was, ’This is payback time in life. When you get older, you realize that much of the success you may have achieved in life may not have been your own hard work alone, but there were others who may have helped you, perhaps your parents, your teachers or professors, friends, business associates who helped with motivation, financial help, good advice. It is time for me to do the same.’

“For many years now many of the members of the Foley team from back in the 1960s and 1970s will gather each spring here in Florida for lunch to share old war stories. Tom Kennedy, Silas Axtell, Rudy Farmer, Chief Weaver, Curt Stokes, Hank Spies, Jack and myself were usually in attendance each year,” Williams explained. “Jack always wanted to know what was happening in the industry today. My son David, who is in the construction equipment business with me and who also lives here in Sarasota, would drop off copies of CEG [Construction Equipment Guide] each month for Jack to read. He couldn’t believe the changes in the industry since he retired, especially the pricing of equipment.

“Jack is going to be missed by a lot of people. He was a mentor to many, a friend of all,” Williams concluded.

Mr. Hunkele is survived by his wife, Betty Jo; a son, John; a daughter, Jan; a stepson, Jeff; two grandchildren; two step-grandchildren; one great-granddaughter; and many good friends.

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