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Jack Thornton Passes Away After A Lifetime of Contributions To His Pallet Friends
Jack Thornton: Jack Thornton was a friend and a machinery supplier who played a leadership role in the development of pallet recycling; Jack, who was retired, recently died at the age of 88.
By Ed Brindley
Date Posted: 5/1/2008
Many readers, especially those with a history in pallet recycling, have known and appreciated Jack Thornton for many years. In 2000, I had the pleasure of recognizing his positive contributions to the pallet industry and saluting him for the friend he was to so many of us. I am sad to announce that Jack passed away on Sunday, March 30, at the ripe age of 88. Those who knew Jack will appreciate that he stayed vintage Jack until the end.
All of us have a short list of unforgettable characters whom we will cherish, mostly people who enriched our lives because we knew them. Jack is certainly a candidate for the lists of many people in the pallet industry. He never knew a stranger and enjoyed the attention of his loving family through the final hour. At NWPCA meetings I would often run into hotel staff who knew Jack because he was friendly to everybody he met. I saw gate guards at shows wearing Woodthorn hats that Jack had given them. We often appreciate people for their hearts because that is where they really live and where they connect with others. I was blessed by Jack when he shared his big heart with me over the years and cherish the times we shared ice cream at the end of a taxing pallet event.
As the owner of Hazlethorn Machine Co. and Woodthorn Corp., Jack was a technology innovator and a well-loved salesman to the pallet industry for many years. In the early days of pallet recycling Jack was a visionary who saw its potential and worked to develop machines that would help this fledgling industry succeed. His company was the first one to advertise recycling machinery in the young Pallet Enterprise magazine. I can easily say that Jack contributed greatly toward helping recyclers develop better ways to recover pallets. His jovial nature and charismatic spark will be truly missed. But Jack was active in the pallet industry long before recycling surfaced. He sold and serviced machinery that processed pallet lumber, such as notching machines, chamfering machines, cant sizers, etc. At the Richmond Show one never knew what kind of innovation might appear in Jack’s booth because he was one of the few machinery distributors who really focused on our industry.
The Thornton family held a memorial service on April 19.
Jack was born and raised in Terre Haute, Ind. and moved to Chicago to attend Illinois Technical College in electrical engineering. In 1941, Jack enlisted in the U.S. Navy, entered flight training, and was chosen to become a Marine Corps fighter pilot. His military awards include the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, the Presidential Unit Citation, and many others.
Following active service in WWII, Jack joined a reserve squadron in St. Louis, Mo. where he served during the Korean War and continued to serve as Commanding Officer of the Marine Fighter Squadron in St. Louis and Columbus, Ohio. Jack flew 8000 hours in most Naval and Marine aircraft and was one of the few WWII-era prop-driven aircraft pilots who successfully transitioned to jet fighter aircraft.
After WWII, Jack returned to Indiana and worked for Belden Co. as sales manager. He then moved on to Twigg Industries where he designed and sold jet aircraft components, and then joined E. T. Hazledine Co, a business founded by his grandfather. As sales and marketing manager, Jack was contacted by Harold Dodd of Dodd Sawmill in Sullivan, Ind. to design and build the first semi-automatic commercial notching machine for wooden pallets. This entry into the design, manufacture, and marketing of pallet equipment led to a long succession of pallet machinery developments and a lifetime of growing along with the industry.
Jack launched and became president of Hazlethorn Machine Co. and eventually established Woodthorn Corporation, which was on the leading edge of offering machinery and systems for pallet recycling and recovery.
Jack’s contribution to the pallet industry lives on today through numerous people he employed, trained and mentored, including Mona Tracy of Trace Equipment, Randall Keko of Viking Engineering, Randall Kimbrell of Pallet Solutions, and Jeff Riddle of Mobile Pallet Service. Pallet Enterprise readers owe Jack a special thanks because it was his mailing list that he so generously shared with us that helped a sincere but undercapitalized man establish the Pallet Enterprise, a respected magazine for our industry.
Mona Tracy worked with Jack for many years and started her own company to take care of Woodthorn’s customers when Jack closed the company. Mona shared with me, “Jack was a very special person who meant a great deal to me. I will always remember him for three reasons. He made it possible for me to work with the good people in the pallet industry. He was a valued, close friend. And I always had fun when working with Jack.”
Any reader who wants to recognize Jack and his contributions may make a donation to the Semper Fi Fund, which provides crucial support for active-duty wounded Marines and their families throughout recovery. Make a check payable to Semper Fi Fund. Be sure to enter on the memo line ‘Col. John C. Thornton,’ and send checks to Injured Marines Semper Fi Fund, MCCCK, P.O. Box 355, Prospect, KY 44059. I cannot think of a better way to pay tribute to a good friend to so many in the pallet industry than honoring his love for the Marines.
I always knew that Jack had a deep love for both flying and the Marines. I read his obituary with interest about how deeply his patriotism ran.
Because Jack and his beloved wife Peggy worked so closely together, I decided to run the same picture of the two of them together that we used in my article in 2000.
As a charter member of the CWPCA and one of the early associate members of the NWPCA and WPA, Jack was respected for his many years of dedicated service. For years Jack was in the running for sponsoring the most new NWPCA members. He organized the annual NWPCA tennis tournament for many years.