Herald-Whig View

'Knap' Knapheide gave us finest example of how to live

Posted: Sep. 2, 2018 12:20 pm

HAROLD W. Knapheide III received the Joe Bonansinga Community Service Award from the United Way of Adams County in 2008, one of the many times he was honored for his steadfast support of community organizations and causes.

He was introduced that day by Rocky Murry, the 2001 Bonansinga recipient, who told stories of Knapheide helping other people without a hint of recognition or care if people knew of his involvement.

"Your greatest gift is only now becoming evident," Murry said of Knapheide. "You have given us the finest example of how to live and how to give back."

That sentiment has been repeated often in every corner of Quincy in the five days since Knapheide, or "Knap" as he was known by all he came in contact with, died unexpectedly, a day before what would have been his 73rd birthday.

Through the sadness of his passing is an enduring legacy of a businessman who oversaw the expansion of family-owned Knapheide Manufacturing Co. into one of the largest U.S. producers of service and utility truck bodies, and of a civic leader who shared his time and financial support with important community causes.

"Communities can't measure the impact of a person like Mr. Knapheide," Marcel Wagner Jr., president of the Great River Economic Development Foundation, said last week. "His influence and the company he led has tremendous impact on thousands of lives."

One of Quincy's oldest and largest companies, Knapheide Manufacturing was launched in 1848 by Knap's great-great grandfather, Heinrich Knapheide, who emigrated from Germany. The company started in a blacksmith shop where horse-drawn wooden wagons were built. As vehicles came into use, the company made the transition to a variety of utility beds for trucks, vans and other vehicles.

Knap spent more than 50 years with the family-owned business, including the last 40 as president. He saw it become the largest producer of farm truck bodies in the country and, realizing all markets are cyclical, helped develop and market a new service body product line that enabled Knapheide Manufacturing to survive and thrive during the farm crisis in the 1980s.

The company withstood catastrophic Mississippi River flooding in 1973 and 1993 that idled its facilities in West Quincy, Mo. After the 1993 disaster, Knap made one of the most important decisions of his career, working with city, county, state and development officials to build a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant on a 160-acre site northeast of 24th and Koch's Lane.

That facility opened in 1997, spurring other commercial development in that area, and a second manufacturing plant on the company's campus began production earlier this year. As a result, Knapheide Manufacturing remains an innovative industry leader with about 1,500 employees locally and 2,100 nationwide.

Just as important, Knap worked quietly and efficiently behind the scenes as a champion for causes to benefit the community and its residents, deflecting praise directed his way.

"The mission is more important than the recognition," he said upon receiving the 2009 Harry and Carlene Geisler Friend of Children Award from Chaddock.

He led major fundraising campaigns for the United Way, Salvation Army, Quincy YMCA and Quincy University, among others. Following the example of his parents, he was a strong supporter of education, athletics, Scouting and the arts.

He worked on numerous projects to benefit kids and the disadvantaged, giving generously of his time and money, and persuaded others to join him.

The list is long, the lives touched immeasurable.

Knapheide provided a glimpse of the personal and professional philosophy that guided him in a 1997 interview with The Herald-Whig marking the opening of the company's new Quincy manufacturing facility.

"I think we see ourselves as pretty inseparable from the community," he said. "We believe very strongly that there are a lot of responsibilities that individuals and corporations have. This community has looked out for us. ... It's our duty and obligation to support our community, too."

Harold W. Knapheide III, tall in stature and towering in life, left an indelible imprint on Quincy. We can best honor him by following his exceptional example of how to live, lead and give back.