Belated Tributes for Industry Family: Don Olson and Jim Barnett

Bob Ulrich
Posted on April 18, 2019
Don Olson left Firestone in 1972 to start his own tire dealership.
Don Olson left Firestone in 1972 to start his own tire dealership.

Occasionally a death notice slips by without, well, notice. In this case there were two of them. And both men made their mark in the tire industry.

At one time, Don Olson, who died Dec. 3, 2018, at 95, was one of the largest tire dealers in the country. He started Don Olson Firestone Inc. in Clearwater, Fla., in 1972, and grew the chain to more than 40 stores at one point before selling to Larry Morgan in 1992.

Olson was as big a supporter of Firestone brand tires as anyone. He worked for the former Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. for more than 25 years before heading out on his own. And, as his obituary says, he “was instrumental in forming a nationwide group of retired Firestone employees call the ‘Gum Dippers’ who got together every year in Clearwater for their annual convention.”

Here are some more interesting facts about Don from his obituary:

  • He spent three years in the Navy during World War II.
  • He and his wife, Doris, were married for 68 years. She died in 2015.
  • He started at Firestone changing tires, and climbed to the rank of vice president of trade sales.
  • “He built his family business by finding the right people. He always said the people he hired were responsible for his success. He never thought of his employees as employees, but more like an extended family.”
  • He was president of the National Tire Dealers and Retreaders Association from 1982-83.
  • He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the City of Clearwater in 2007.

As a young industry pup (Pup? I sound like some old guy), I liked talking with Don, who was always down to earth and accommodating for such a large tire dealer.  

In addition to his wife, Don was predeceased in death by his daughter, Jan; parents, Lewis and Minnie Olson; brother, Dale; and sisters Pearl and Hazel. He is survived by his son, Jim (Nancy); and grandchildren Lisa (Fred), Nicole, and Ryan.

James "Jim" Barnett was also an executive at Kelly-Springfield Tire Co.
James "Jim" Barnett was also an executive at Kelly-Springfield Tire Co.

Longtime Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. executive Jim Barnett died earlier this month at the age of 88. He spent 46 years at Goodyear before starting his second “career” at the University of Akron (Ohio), where he donated his time and efforts to the University’s College of Business Administration. He even served as dean from 2003 to 2006.

He was a recipient of the University of Akron’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1988.

I didn’t know Barnett personally, so I will rely on his obituary in celebrating his life.

A longtime resident of Akron, Jim served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

At Goodyear, he began working shifts in the factory, and rose through numerous sales and marketing positions to become an executive vice-president. (I know he was at one time vice president of OE sales worldwide). He was instrumental in the creation and launch of Goodyear's Eagle series tires.

“Jim's family lovingly remembers him as a man of integrity and generosity who often said he felt lucky in life, but really was responsible for making his luck,” said the obituary.

He was preceded in death by his first wife, Joyce (nee Wortman), and his parents, James and Dorothy Barnett of Latrobe, Pa. He is survived by his wife of 27 years, Antje; sons Scott (Becky) and James (Kim); daughters Nancy and Andrea (Mark); grandchildren Kyle, Brett, Jeff, Katharine, Kelsey, and Paul; and four great-grandchildren.

Here’s something you may not know about Barnett: He traveled extensively and developed a passion for Japanese gardens and bonsai trees. His Japanese garden was featured in Smithsonian magazine

Calling hours and services for Olson and Barnett have come and gone, but their contributions to the living, and our industry, remain. Godspeed, gentlemen.

Related Topics: B.O.B., Don Olson, Don Olson Firestone, Jim Barnett, NTDRA, obituary, University of Akron

Bob Ulrich Editor
Comments ( 4 )
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  • Robert Peterson

     | about 20 days ago

    Don was a wonderful man who had time and a friendly word for everyone, even a lowly warehouse worker trying to put himself through college. Warmest regards to his family and I was blessed to work for the man.

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