Celebrating a Life Well-Lived

Thorofare, New Jersey sits nestled just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Though home to fewer than 6,000 people, Thorofare is headquarters to the Marine Equipment and Supply Company (MESCO), a wholesale distributor providing more than 24,000 products to over 250 marine equipment manufacturers from Connecticut to Virginia.

MESCO’s success isn’t simply the story of a business; it’s the story of a family whose vision has transcended generations.

In 1910, William Kirkland helped found MESCO, eventually becoming president and sole proprietor. After the arrival of his son—Don Kirkland, Sr.—William’s business venture became a legacy that’s been passed down from father to son for more than 100 years.

Don began working the floor of MESCO’s shipping department while still in high school. Over the following years, he would wear many hats—from photographer to traveling salesman. Along the way, he served in the Navy during World War II and hiked the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail multiple times.

Eventually, Don succeeded his father as company president, maintaining the entrepreneurial spirit and relentless work ethic that built the company.

In 1959, a devastating 8-alarm fire at MESCO put Don’s determination to the test. But a tragedy that could have marked the company’s end instead demonstrated the strength of Don’s commitment. Thanks to a deep relationship Don had forged with Girard Bank, MESCO secured the financial backing to relocate to a large commercial building, set up desks, connect phone lines, and continue responding to customer requests. 

Not only did the business survive, but just a few hours after the fire, MESCO was back in operation. 

Today, Don’s influence continues to shine through his son, Don Jr., and grandsons, Don III and Andy, all of whom are part of the business and relish the privilege of carrying on MESCO’s 118-year-old legacy. 

To the Kirklands, the rows of marine equipment lining MESCO’s warehouse are more than products for sale: they are a testament to the virtues of hard work and ingenuity exemplified by Don Sr.

Don, who passed away in 2016, left an indelible mark on his family, community, and country. He believed people flourish best when blessed with the opportunities available through limited government and free enterprise.

He practiced this belief both in his business and in his philanthropy—including his support of the Commonwealth Foundation for 25 years and through a generous gift on his passing.

Commonwealth Foundation is incredibly grateful for visionaries like Don, who see beyond their lifetimes and invest in future generations. In celebration of a life well lived, CF is pleased to reinstitute our legacy society as the Don Kirkland Society.