Don Lorton, a retired corporate executive whose employers have included such names as Jenn-Air, Maytag and Whirlpool, has been named recipient of the Ron Braam Lifetime Achievement Award by the local JA affiliate.
Intended for a JA advocate who gives years of volunteerism to the local organization, the Braam award “... recognizes those individuals who have devoted their time and resources to supporting Junior Achievement and its goal of empowering young people to own their economic success,” according to Melanie Connatser, JA president.
Connatser’s praise of Lorton’s longtime commitment to the ideals of Junior Achievement was echoed by another veteran JA volunteer, Rick Platz, who is completing his final term as JA board chair.
“It was a great honor to recognize Don Lorton for his lifelong contribution to Junior Achievement,” Platz said. “Over many years, in Cleveland and in other communities where Don has lived, he has given his time and leadership willingly, and enthusiastically, to help make JA a success.”
Lorton, who came to Cleveland in 1991 to lead the local Maytag manufacturing facility after the corporation’s merger with the former Magic Chef Company in 1986, has given his time, talents and energy to JA for decades.
Upon his arrival in Cleveland, Lorton immediately became instrumental in beefing up local contributions to JA in the local community, Connatser explained. At that time, the nonprofit operated under the name of Junior Achievement of Bradley and McMinn Counties; however, it eventually evolved into the current Ocoee Region designation and the service area expanded to Meigs, Polk and Monroe counties.
Lorton’s belief in JA, and his commitment to support it both monetarily and as a volunteer, earned him a key recognition in 1992. During that year, he was named recipient of the JA National Award for Leadership and Support.
But the award recipient’s involvement with Junior Achievement pre-dates by many years his relocation to Cleveland.
According to biographical data provided by the local JA office, Lorton — whose name, face and allegiance are also identified with United Way, the Museum Center at Five Points, Cleveland Associated Industries and the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, among others — first became active with Junior Achievement in Danville, Ky., in the early 1970s, and continued that involvement for the next two decades in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.
While working for Jenn-Air, an appliance manufacturer headquartered in Indianapolis, Lorton led that company’s initiatives to launch JA after-school programs. In 1988 and 1989, he chaired JA of Central Indiana where more than 20,000 students participated in JA programs. During this period, he also headed up several large, and successful, fundraising campaigns, according to JA biographical data.
Even in retirement from a long corporate career in appliance manufacturing, Lorton’s commitment to JA has not slowed.
Currently, he serves as a member of the JA of the Ocoee Region’s President’s Council, the Presidential Selection Committee and continues his advocacy for the nonprofit through his membership in organizations like Cleveland Associated Industries, and by his ongoing financial contributions.
“Junior Achievement of the Ocoee Region is proud to recognize Don Lorton for his lifetime service to JA and to the many young people in the communities where he has lived,” Platz stated.
Lorton doesn’t hesitate to expound on the values of JA and how its grassroots approach to real-world education continues to make a difference in the lives of school-aged children in all grade levels in which it is offered.
“The role of JA and the principles of a market-driven culture continue to be a part of my community service,” Lorton said. “The key to JA’s success is in the direct hands of business leaders and their support for the programs that it provides to students in our classrooms.”
Lorton’s roots run deep with the JA movement. These are the same roots that brought the education initiative to Bradley County in 1965, and they were planted by a manufacturing predecessor to Maytag.
Forty-nine years ago, the Magic Chef Company — headed by Skeet Rymer — was pivotal in the launch of JA in local school systems. Just a few years later, Lorton became active with JA in his home community — at the time — of Danville.
When Maytag acquired Magic Chef, and the Cleveland-based plant began operating under the name of Maytag Cleveland Cooking Products, the support for JA continued. And that was the perfect scenario for Lorton’s arrival to town in 1991. But in his Maytag leadership role, Lorton took JA fundraising to another level.
Platz and Connatser credited Lorton with JA’s continuing impact in the five-county region, and especially within the Cleveland and Bradley County school systems.
“Volunteers like Don Lorton, and the drive that makes them true leaders, are invaluable to organizations like Junior Achievement,” Platz said. “It’s not just their personal donations of money nor their generous gifts of time, it’s also the positive community image that they give to our organization.”
He added, “I, as well as Melanie and the entire JA board of directors, congratulate Don on this tremendous honor. And even more importantly, we thank Don for all he has done for Junior Achievement, and all that he continues to do for our organization and for the young people of Bradley County, and the remaining four counties in the Ocoee Region.”
Last year, the local JA affiliate reached 4,500 students in 177 classrooms, Connatser said.
Junior Achievement supplements the work of classroom educators and works as a partner to public school systems.
“Junior Achievement of the Ocoee Region places a primary emphasis on preparing young people in financial literacy, entrepreneurship and work readiness,” Connatser, who joined JA earlier this year, explained. “In order to train students in these primary areas, JA’s primary goals include expanding and managing the demand for JA programs and securing sufficient resources — both in volunteers and funding.”
In an interview with the Cleveland Daily Banner published in the newspaper’s June 23 edition, Connatser pointed to the continuing relevance of JA and its community impact.
“JA makes our communities stronger by bridging the gap of what students are learning in school and how it can be applied in the real world,” she said. “The hands-on learning allows students to become better prepared for their futures. JA reinforces the value of an education.”
For more information about JA of the Ocoee Region, and how to become involved in its community mission, call 423-614-8775.
Locally, JA is located in the former Safety & Security Building of Cleveland State Community College on Adkisson Drive.
About JA of the Ocoee Region fundraising: The nonprofit’s annual fundraising campaign is now underway and is putting the wraps on a back-to-school fundraiser in partnership with Cooke’s Food Store and several local banks: Andrew Johnson Bank, Athens Federal Bank, Bank of Cleveland, Bowater Employees Credit Union, First Tennessee Bank, Regions Bank and Southern Heritage Bank.
Also, to support the ongoing fundraising drive, JA will be sponsoring its upcoming “Race to Achieve” 5K Run and 1K Walk on Saturday, Oct. 18, at the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway. Those wishing to get involved can register to sponsor or to run at https://www.juniorachievement.org/web/ja-ocoee.