My goal is for the University of Tennessee to be known for their education and the product they put out. Ann and I both believe that education is what fuels success—not just our own success, but the success of UT and the state as well. I’m deeply honored and will try to live up to the billing.”—John D. Tickle, reflecting on the college naming.
John D. Tickle
John D. Tickle is the owner and chairman of Strongwell Corporation, headquartered in Bristol, Virginia, right on the Tennessee border. A first-generation student, Tickle worked while attending college to pay his own way. He received his bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from UT in 1965 before joining the workforce.
“I began my career with Owens Corning in Toledo, Ohio, and was surprised to find that most of my associates there did not even know that the University of Tennessee had a college of engineering,” said Tickle. “That bothered me because I was educated here and, quite frankly, I thought I had received an excellent industrial engineering education. That was a long time ago, and UT Engineering has continuously improved since then.”
Tickle also served in positions with Justin Enterprises and Krueger Metal Products before returning to his hometown of Bristol, Tennessee, to assume the presidency of Morrison Molded Fiber Glass Company (MMFG). Tickle stayed with MMFG after its acquisition by Shell in 1985.
In 1997, Tickle renamed the company Strongwell and began developing the technology that has made it a worldwide leader in pultrusion manufacturing, with the Bristol division serving as Strongwell’s largest facility and corporate headquarters.
The materials manufactured at Strongwell can be found around the world in high-end construction. If you have been to a resort on the ocean, there is a good chance the railings and fittings are made from Strongwell product—they don’t corrode in the salt air and look beautiful. If you own one of the orange ladders commonly sold at local home improvement stores, that’s Strongwell material.
On October 14, 2016, the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees voted to name the college the Tickle College of Engineering in recognition of the transformational support John and Ann have provided the university and the college over many years.
“It is my hope, and a major motivation behind my giving to UT engineering, that my support will help our university—and specifically its College of Engineering—be recognized nationally and worldwide as a leading institution for engineering education and research—recognition that I think is deserved,” said Tickle.
Tickle is the recipient of a host of local, regional, and national business and philanthropic awards throughout the years, including the UT Distinguished Alumni Award with his wife, Ann; having the mall at Bristol Regional Medical Center named for him in 2004; being named a Laureate in the Junior Achievements Business Hall of Fame in 2000; the Virginia Chamber of Commerce Torchbearer Award for Western Virginia in 1999; and serving as chairperson for Bristol Regional Hospital from 1987 to 1992.
Tickle, who earned the rank of Eagle Scout, received the Heroism Award from the National Court of Honor of the Boy Scouts of America in June 2012. He also recently received the 2013 ACMA Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA), the industry’s largest trade group in the world.