Julie and Brad Burke are continuing the family tradition at Burke & Sons Lumber Company. Burke & Sons will celebrate its 70th anniversary Thursday, November 21, with an open house.
Burke & Sons Lumber Company is pictured above in the late 1950s. The business, located east of Rock Port, is celebrating its 70th year.
Willis Burke, far left, is pictured with his sons Gilbert, Charles, and Reed. Willis, Charles and Reed started Burke & Sons Lumber Co. in 1949. Gilbert joined the business in its second year.
Gilbert Burke, center, celebrated the 60th anniversary of Burke & Sons Lumber Company in 2009 with his sons, Mike, left, and Brad, right.
Burke & Sons Lumber Company, Inc., located in Rock Port, is celebrating 70 years of doing business in Atchison County and the surrounding area. The company was started in 1949 by Willis Burke and his two oldest sons, Charles and Reed.
As the innovator behind Burke & Sons, Willis was the high school apprentice of the late John Ellis. He learned carpentry by building window and storm sashes, wagon boxes and putting new roofs on automobiles.
The original lumberyard, located east of Rock Port, has grown and changed quite a bit over the last 70 years. In the beginning the store had only a small office, limited show floor and one lean-to shed. During the first year of operation Burke & Sons built two homes. After the second year the youngest son, Gilbert, joined the business. Gilbert spent 48 years building and remodeling hundreds of homes and buildings in the area.
Through the early years Burke & Sons bought out their nearest competitors. The Dierks Lumberyard was converted into a 14 unit apartment complex, still in operation, that is located behind Bank Midwest. The Holloway Lumberyard, which was located where River Rock Lanes is today, was destroyed by fire. The property was then divided up into lots and sold. The yard in Tarkio was managed by Charles Burke from 1965 until 1969 when he was killed in an airplane accident. After that Reed Burke managed the yard for a short time until it was sold.
Burke & Sons has been responsible for the development of three additions to the city of Rock Port. The first being the Skyline Drive addition located south of the First Lutheran Church. (The street running through this area was named George on preliminary drawings, but was changed to Skyline Drive as the result of a petition submitted by local property owners.) This addition was added to the city in the late 1950s. The Willi-Gwen Heights addition, named after Willis and his wife Gwendolyn, was begun in the early 1960s and includes Summit Drive, Stanton Drive, Center Street, Snowden Drive and Underwood Drive. (Underwood was Gwendolyn’s maiden name.) The third addition, located on Burke Circle at the south end of Water Street, is called Parkview Addition. This area was added to Rock Port in the late 1960s and includes four townhouse apartments built and operated by Burke & Sons.
In the early 1970s Willis retired from the lumber business and kept busy managing his trailer park and his farm. Living right next door to the lumberyard he was able to keep an eye on the business he built as it moved into the second generation.
As Reed’s son, Randy, and Gilbert’s sons, Mike and Brad, grew they all helped out at the lumberyard and could swing hammers before they were out of diapers.
Mike Burke graduated from State Fair Community College in Sedalia where he received his A.S. in Building Materials Merchandising in 1978.
Eventually Mike became the manager of Sly Lumber in Fairfax. It had been in operation since the 1800s. Brad attended MWSC in St. Joseph majoring in Construction Engineering.
Reed Burke died suddenly on December 4, 1984. This left Gilbert alone in the company. At that point, Gilbert’s family made the decision to continue together. Brad finished his fall term of college and married Julie Beck of St. Joseph. Mike decided to leave Sly Lumber in the beginning of 1985 and the next chapter of Burke & Sons history was opened. As a result Willis Burke was able to witness the company’s move into its third generation. Soon after Mike announced he was leaving, the owners of Sly Lumber offered to sell their operation to the Burkes. Burke & Sons purchased the lumberyard in Fairfax and Mike continued to run the operation.
Gilbert retired, unceremoniously, at the end of 1998. The lack of celebration was due, in part, to the fact that Gilbert announced he would retire on November 12th (his birthday) of 1995. He then failed to do so on a monthly basis to the point that nobody believed he would actually retire at all. It wasn’t official until he showed up late for breakfast sporting a bathrobe at the Rock Port Diner.
Mike left the business due to illness in 2000 leaving Brad and his wife Julie to continue on.
In 2009, their son, Jesse Kendall, moved back to Rock Port to work full time continuing the family tradition at Burke & Sons. Bill Rodabaugh has been with the company for 32 years.
The past few years have seen many changes inside and outside the lumberyard buildings as the business works to accommodate more DIY customers.
In 2015, it was decided to close the Fairfax lumberyard. This was not an easy decision, but necessary for the company to remain viable amid declining population. Consolidating to just one store made it possible to offer more products to area customers.
Brad and Julie, and their employees want to thank everyone for the many years of support they have received. There will be an open house on Thursday, November 21, in celebration of the 70th anniversary. Refreshments, giveaways, and prizes will be provided and they will stay open until 8:00 p.m. that evening.