Ethelmae Humphreys

Ethelmae Craig Humphreys passed away December 27, 2021, from injuries sustained in a fall earlier that day. She was less than two weeks shy of her much anticipated 95th birthday. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, on January 9, 1927, she was the only child of Ernest Leroy (“E.L.”) Craig of Lockport, New York, and Mary Ethel Crist of Wichita, Kan.

Considered the matriarch of the roofing industry, Ethelmae worked in the shingle manufacturing business most of her life, starting by sacking nails in a Kansas City shingle plant, and concluding with 73 years of service as Chairman Emerita at the company her father started, known today as TAMKO Building Products, LLC.

Ethelmae graduated from Westport High School in Kansas City, Missouri in 1944, and moved to Joplin, Missouri with her parents where her father started TAMKO later that year. She then attended Monticello College in Godfrey, Illinois before transferring to the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas to study foreign languages. Ethelmae graduated from KU with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts in 1948. She was a member of Alpha Delta Pi. After graduation, Ethelmae returned to Joplin to work for TAMKO as her father’s health began to decline. To satisfy her father’s job requirement, she learned to take dictation and shorthand – such were the roles expected of women in the 1950s- attending Joplin Business College to learn business basics. She then worked for TAMKO as a payroll clerk, bookkeeper and secretary to her father beginning in 1948.

After her father suffered a stroke, Ethelmae was named executive vice-president and took control of the day-to-day operations of TAMKO in 1950, at the age of 23. As she succeeded in a predominantly male industry, confidently leading a major corporation as a 20-something woman in 1950s America, Ethelmae often joked she was the only foreign language major who came home to run a shingle company.

In 1955, Ethelmae married John Pershing (“J.P.” or “Jay”) Humphreys, of Wichita. He preceded her in death on October 6, 1993. They had three children: David Craig, Sarah Jane, and John Patrick. Ethelmae left full-time work at TAMKO in the late 1950s to care for her children, with J.P. taking the lead at TAMKO. She served as TAMKO’s Chairman of the Board beginning in 1972 and returned to full-time work at the company in 1985. Ethelmae served as CEO after her husband’s death in 1993, until the couple’s oldest son, David, was named President and CEO the following year. In 2019, Ethelmae became Chairman Emerita, passing the reins of Chairman to her son, David, and in that same year TAMKO celebrated 75 years in business. In 2021, she celebrated over 73 years of service with the company having continued to work on mostly a daily basis until the time of her death because, as she said: “TAMKO is like my home and I love my home. The office is where I feel the most comfortable. It’s where I was the closest to my father, and then the closest to my husband Jay. It’s been a major part of my life. I get the feeling of family closeness here and I’m proud of the organization and amazed by its growth and success.”

Along with her husband, Ethelmae continuously pursued manufacturing excellence and helped grow the company from a small, local shingle manufacturer with two plants in Joplin, to one of the largest privately-owned roofing manufacturers in the U.S. and one of the top four asphalt shingle producers in the nation with more than a dozen plants in nine states, a nation-wide distribution system of warehouses and a diversified array of building products. Even more exceptional, however, were her pursuits outside the business.

Ethelmae was heavily influenced by her late husband’s study of and foundational belief in individual liberty, free markets, and the pre-eminent importance of a good education. In addition to her work at TAMKO and her philanthropic efforts, she spent a lifetime actively advocating for liberty and free markets, supporting principles of freedom and free enterprise, and serving for decades on the boards of the Cato Institute, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, and the Foundation for Economic Education.

Ethelmae established two charitable foundations: the E.L. Craig Foundation in 1960 to honor her late father and the J.P. Humphreys Foundation in honor of her husband. She continued to serve as the President of both foundations until her death. Over the years, these foundations have generously donated to organizations on whose boards she served and other institutions supporting individual rights, community development, and civil society, including the Acton Institute, The Institute for Humane Studies, the Mackinac Center, and the Cato Institute.

She also focused many of her efforts close to home, supporting both Mercy and Freeman Hospitals as well as academic institutions in her four-state-area community, including stepping forward to provide significant funding to help rebuild Mercy Hospital after it was destroyed in the historic May 2011 tornado that ravaged her hometown of Joplin, Missouri.

In her personal life, Ethelmae was a devoted wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. She was a brilliant woman who chose to lay her business potential aside for a time to care for her children, even moving with them to Wichita, Kansas for several years to enable their attending the Wichita Collegiate School, which later served as the model for Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School in Joplin.

Until the day she passed, Ethelmae was an avid reader, devouring anything of substance she could get her hands on. Her executive library is filled with free market libertarian titles such as Human Action by Ludwig von Mises and The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek. She hosted a free market discussion club with members of the community to discuss political paradigms and issues within the Joplin area and the nation.

Until the time of her death, Ethelmae lived in the house that she and husband J.P. built in 1962. It was her home, she said, and she was happy there. She chose to surround herself in her everyday life with the people she loved – her office and her home were filled with pictures of family, friends and longtime co-workers, and of course, TAMKO-related events. She loved traveling (especially with friends and grandchildren) having visited seven continents from the 1950’s on the Queen Elizabeth into the 1990’s by the Concorde and continuing travels for the past 21 years to far flung places like Africa, China, Russia, the Middle East, and Antarctica. She hated missing a bridge game as she was an avid bridge player who studied bridge strategy and often played 2-3 times a week and loved to win a quarter or a dollar or two. And she was a dedicated fan of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Ethelmae was preceded in death by her parents and her husband, former longtime TAMKO President Jay Humphreys. She is survived by her three children: David (Debra), Sarah (Paul Atkins), and John (Martha); grandchildren Mary Evelyn, Jane (Tim Martin), Jacob Gutwillig (Victoria), William, Rebecca, Stewart Atkins, Peter Atkins, Henry Atkins, Rachel (Cameron Rice), J.T., Alex, and Bella; and several great-grandchildren

Service arrangements are pending under direction of Parker Mortuary in Joplin.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.