Company founders’ home business, family hub

January 10, 2013 By    

F.B. and Dessie Luke dreamed of one day owning and operating their own propane business.

So while the couple worked in the early 1960s for a company called Abbott’s Propane – all the while making a combined $340 per month – F.B. focused on earning a Class 1 business permit, while Dessie explored avenues for financial assistance.

Once their permit and finances were in order, F.B. and Dessie approached Abbott’s Propane owner Will Abbott, an older man who had made it known he was interested in selling his business. F.B. and Dessie dreamed of making Abbott’s business theirs, but when they approached Abbott about buying it, his reaction was not one they anticipated.

“He threw a fit, because of the thought that peons who made $340 a month could buy his business,” Dessie says. “He fired us and sent us home.”

Getting fired proved to be a blessing in disguise, because F.B., Dessie and H.M. Luke (F.B.’s brother) founded their own business, Luke Bros., in October 1962. Fifty years later, three generations of Lukes continue to work in the business, and a fourth has a presence at Luke Bros. every day.

“We tell customers we have four generations in training, because we’re raising my great-grandkids here,” says Dessie, who’s now 80 years old.

The Lukes actually run their business out of F.B. and Dessie’s original home, where Dessie, her daughter Winnie and other family members reside. F.B. died in 2002, but Dessie still sits behind the main desk at Luke Bros. answering phones. H.M., meanwhile, opens the doors and spends a few hours at Luke Bros. each day so business can get started. H.M. is now 90.

The second generation has a deep stamp on Luke Bros., as well. Eddie Luke is a vice president in charge of transportation; Roger Luke is vice president and CEO; and Winnie serves as assistant secretary and treasurer.

Three grandsons, Lance Luke, Brandon Buck and Chris Buck, are also involved with the business, as is Winnie’s daughter-in-law, Tosha Buck. Plus, there are a couple of great-grandchildren being raised in the office, as well as four kids running around there after school.

“I tell customers that we are truly blessed to be able to make a living and spoil the babies here rather than take them to day care,” Winnie says.

Running the business out of Dessie’s home also has perks for others.

“We cook lunch every day, and we still usually fix a breakfast around here for everyone and the drivers,” Winnie says. “If any of our customers happen to come by, they’ll eat breakfast as well. That’s an open-door policy.”

Equipment salesmen who’ve built a relationship with Luke Bros. over the years also know to stop by at mealtime.

“Daddy always said he didn’t care what we fixed to eat, as long as we fixed enough to go around,” Winnie says. “The salesmen always made sure to get here at lunchtime.”

LOCATION: Calera, Okla.

FOUNDED: 1962

EMPLOYEES: 15

CUSTOMERS: 3,500

PROPANE SALES: 500,000 annual gallons

ONLINE: www.lukebrosinc.com

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is the senior editor of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at kyanik@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3724.

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