Franklin St. John was not just the first person in his family to go to college. He was the first to graduate from high school. “If I hadn’t been close to Michigan Tech, I don’t know what I would have become,” he said. “One of the neighbor boys in L’Anse graduated in 1955 in metallurgy, so I thought maybe I could be a metallurgist too.”
It was thin soup, but nourishing enough to launch a successful life. St. John did well in high school, earning a scholarship and his own BS in Metallurgy in 1960.
He parlayed that degree and two others—an MBA and an MS in Industrial Engineering—into a wide-ranging career as a chief metallurgist in steel mill, company vice president, and, finally, entrepreneur. “Since I got out of Tech, I haven’t had a job I didn’t like,” he says.
He began his latest venture, HerbaSway, along with his wife, Lorraine, in 1996. The company makes and markets liquid herbal concentrates, many of them based on traditional Chinese medicine.
“I took a lot of chances when I went out into the business world and made a lot of decisions,” says St. John. “Over half of them were bad, and I lost a lot of money, but I made money, too.” Now, he enjoys giving some of it away, especially to the university that made it all possible.
St. John has endowed two scholarships to support Baraga County students attending Michigan Tech and has established the Franklin St. John Endowed Chair in Materials Science and Engineering, an honor held by the current chair of the department, Stephen Kampe. That endowment marked Michigan Tech’s first million-dollar gift. In recognition of both his philanthropy and his professional accomplishments, St. John has been named a member of the Academy of Materials Science and Engineering and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Engineering in 1999.
“The materials science department changed my life,” he said. “It’s a give-back thing. If it weren’t for my degree, I might be working in the woods.”
Dr. Steve Kampe, Chair, Materials Science and Engineering Department, Holder of the
St. John Endowed Position
“Dr. St. John’s endowed professorship creates an opportunity to implement a wide-variety of high-impact projects to promote the image, reach, and capabilities of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. One of these activities includes sponsorship of MakerMSE™, an entrepreneurial pathway where students can propose to develop, from conception through production, an artifact or product using the department’s notably unique processing labs and facilities. The endowment provides, for example, the initial investment to cover the costs of the tooling and prototyping necessary to establish a proven and working standard operating procedure. It is a way to remove some of the financial roadblocks which often inhibit creativity and innovation. The results have been fantastic and a lot of fun, too!”