Two of St. Joseph’s most prominent and successful entrepreneurs shared the stage at the capstone luncheon during Entrepreneurship Week. Craig School of Business benefactor Steve Craig interviewed guest speaker Joe Gray, founder of Gray Manufacturing, who shared stories of his early life and entrepreneurial journey with more than 280 luncheon attendees. 

Both men have deep roots in St. Joseph and, between the two of them, have contributed greatly to the region’s growth and entrepreneurial spirit.

“It’s almost impossible to encapsulate Joe’s incredible, almost 99-year life in one interview,” said Craig. “Joe is truly a treasure to not only our community, but to our country as well.”

After graduating from MWSU’s predecessor institution, St. Joseph Junior College, Gray earned his aeronautical engineering degree at the University of Kansas. Shortly after graduation, Joe joined the Navy.

“I joined the Navy because I thought they didn’t march,” Gray quipped. “That was one of my first mistakes, and I’ve made a lot of them.”

When the Navy discovered Gray had an aeronautical engineering degree, they assigned him to work on rockets and jet propulsion for guided missiles and aircraft during the war. After the war, Gray met and worked with Wernher von Braun, the German engineer who was secretly moved to the U.S. as part of Operation Paperclip following WWII. Wernher von Braun eventually helped develop the rockets that launched the United States’ first space satellite as well as served as the chief architect of the launch vehicle that propelled the Apollo spacecraft to the Moon.

After his fascinating military career, Gray returned to St. Joe where he and his father joined forces to start Gray Manufacturing in 1952. Gray Manufacturing transformed the automotive repair industry and has remained at the forefront of the air lift jack industry since its inception. With dozens of patents to his name, Gray, and the family-run business continue to embody the entrepreneurial spirit.

Concluding the interview, Craig said, “I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did. As we wrap up I would tell you, Joe, that your life has been a living testament to your midwest values as well as hard work and dedication and the amazing opportunities our country has to offer.”

You can watch the full interview and hear more stories about Joe Gray’s life and entrepreneurial philosophy here.