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By Mike Scott
Not every business leaves a legacy lasting hundreds of years. Whiston Construction marked March 31, 2022 as their final day in business, but their seven decades of service will still stand for many years to come.
On Friday, April 1, I sat down with the newly-retired Mike Whiston to hear the story of this remarkable company.
Founded by Byron and Mildred Whiston in the early 1950’s the company has grown and built many notable buildings across northeast Missouri.
Before World War II, Byron worked as a carpenter, following the jobs where they went. He built barracks for the military, and ended up at Los Alomos, New Mexico. There, he was given the choice of staying there with a good job, or enlisting. Bryon chose to enlist in the U.S. Navy.
He served as a carpenter on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean. Among his duties was to repair the damaged wooden decks, work that needed to be done quickly so other aircraft could land.
“He was a tough, unique individual,” Mike Whiston said. “He was courageous and very smart.”
Several times, the ship came under attack by Japanese Kamikaze planes.
After the war, Byron and Mildred started the company in Canton.
“It was how they made a living and raised our family, three girls and two boys,” said Mike.
“My mother kept all the records,” Mike said. “She kept meticulous books.”
Among their early projects were the Seyb Auditorium and 1955 addition at the Kahoka High School, which is now the Middle School.
In 1956-57, Whiston Construction built the Shrine of St. Patrick.
While too young to have been there, Mike had plenty of stories about the job.
According to the stories, the crane used on the site was too short to lift material and the cross to the highest points of the Shrine, so they cut a tree in the woods and chained it to the crane’s boom to extend its length.
Another St. Patrick story, told to Mike by the late Earl Watson, was that Father O’Duignan wanted to push the first wheelbarrow of cement for the foundation. After a short prayer. O’Duignan and the wheelbarrow fell off the ramp.
“It’s okay boys, you can laugh,” O’Duignan said. “We’ll start over with a few ‘Hail Marys’.”
In 1960, while Whistons were building the Kahoka United Methodist Church, a tornado hit Kahoka.
“Dad had just set the arches for the Methodist Church, which were temporarily braced,” Mike said. “We heard about the tornado, and drove to Kahoka to see the damage. Dad was relieved to see the arches still standing, but his scaffolding was destroyed.
The first time Mike “got up and got in the truck to go to work” was in 1966, when they built the Post Office in Kahoka for Reed Van Vlack.
“As a 15-year-old, I moved brick from the street to inside on a wheelbarrow.
In January, 1967, fire destroyed the southeast corner of the Kahoka square.
“Dad was hired by Gene Daniel and Willie St. Clair to rebuild for them,” Mike said.
“I was sixteen, and the brick came in by rail. We unloaded the brick from the rail car and hauled it to the job site,” he added.
In the summer of 1968, they built what is now Kahoka Medical Clinic. At the time, it was Family Services, a doctor’s office, and the Health Department.
In 1969, they built the original 60-bed Clark County Nursing Home.
Debby and Mike moved to Kahoka in 1973, when her job with MU Extension required her to live in Clark County.
“We were building the Kahoka Senior Housing at the time,” Mike said.
Some of the other projects built by Whiston Construction, locally and across northeast Missouri, include:
•Rennovation of Kahoka State Bank
•Hiram Hiller house basement addition
•Classroom additions to Black Hawk and Running Fox
•Kahoka City Hall and Paul Rowe Museum
•Kahoka State Bank- Wayland
•Palmyra Savings (now Bank of Monticello)
•Exchange Bank- Kahoka
•Peoples Bank addition
•Indian Pride Learning Center
•Canton City Hall
•Several projects at Canton High School
•Several projects at Highland
•North Shelby classrooms, band room and multipurpose room
•Pepsi Cola Bottling in Memphis
•Catholic churches in Kahoka and Memphis
•RCF at the Scotland County Nursing Home
•Several projects for Scotland County schools.
•High-rise at 10th and Broadway in Hannibal
•Farmers and Merchant’s Bank in Hannibal
•Maple Lawn Nursing Home in Palmyra
•Marion County Highway Department
•Senior Housing in Palmyra
•Football concession and bleachers, and school improvements in Palmyra
•Three nursing homes in Paris
•Keosauqua Senior Housing and Health Department buildings.
“I remember stories about each one,” Whiston said.”That’s what kept me in construction-knowing that the work continues. I’m proud of what we’ve done.”
His best memory is of the Clark County Courthouse, built in 2011-12.
“It’s always nice to build something of significance in your hometown. We really had some divine intervention with the weather, which was perfect for us,” he added.
Mike was concerned that the courthouse wasn’t situated correctly on the lot, relative to the jail. The architects told him that the courthouse would be standing for 200 years, long after the jail was gone.
When Debby retired from Univerity of Missouri Extension in 2015, Mike was asked by many people when he was planning to retire.
“I hadn’t given it much thought, but it made me realize that my brother Mark and I didn’t have an exit strategy for our family business. We had always been too busy and on to the next project,” he said.
“Mark and I realized it can’t go on forever,” Mike said. “We were at the top of our game, and it might have been easier to continue on.”
Their final project was the new City Hall in Canton, completed in 2021.
“We decided not to take on any more projects. It was time to spend time with family and friends. It was a bittersweet decision,” he said.
“I worked with a lot of good people, and that’s what I’ll miss the most.