Next time you are driving down the New York State Thruway near the Canandaigua exit, you might notice a special truck in the lane beside you. It could be an 18-wheeler operated by Leonard’s Express with a very large message decaled on both the driver’s side and passenger side of the cab. It says: “Parkinson’s Foundation Greater Rochester. Learn more at parkinson.org.”
“It really stands out. It’s an all-white cab and the letters are in a bold, turquoise color,” said Mike Riccio, marketing director for Leonard’s Express. “Hopefully this will encourage people to find out more about Parkinson’s disease and the local organization that helps people who are dealing with it.”
This is the second time the family-owned, Farmington-based trucking company has decorated trucks to support a charity. First, it was a pink ribbon for breast cancer, and now, blue lettering for Parkinson’s. And with each decorated truck comes a commitment to donate one cent for every mile the truck is driven.
“We started the penny-per-mile campaign for breast cancer awareness. We decaled four trucks with pink ribbons, and they have now have traveled more than 1.7 million miles,” said Riccio. “You do the math. That’s about $17,000 which has gone to the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester, and the wheels are still turning!”
Leonard’s Express is currently owned by the Johnson Family and employs 540 people nationwide. It has 400 trucks and 700 trailers for moving goods around the country, but the family has local roots and has always been focused on supporting the local community. Kent and Pat Johnson started operations in 1972 under the business name KJ Transportation. The couple has been together since high school when they were sweethearts at Lyndonville High School. They recently celebrated 55 years of marriage.
While building their trucking business, they raised three sons, Ken, Kevin and Kyle, as well as a daughter, Kimberly. Each child took on different business roles at Leonard’s Express as they grew up, married and started their own families. In 2013, the children took over operations so Kent and Pat could retire but the company motto remains: “Success through Service."
“We are a close-knit family and we know how important customer service is. We also know it’s important to serve the community so we are continuing the traditions my parents started of giving back,” said CEO Ken Johnson.
When their sister Kimberly was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago, the Johnson brothers held a brainstorming session. Ken came up with the penny-per-mile campaign. Kevin suggested decaling pink ribbons on certain trucks and Kyle proposed giving the mile money to the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester to keep the donations local. It was a family decision everyone liked. In the spring of 2018, the siblings collectively chose to expand the program to include the Parkinson’s Foundation Greater Rochester Chapter. This time they would honor their mother, Pat, who was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disorder in 2009.
“More research and awareness programs need to be developed for Parkinson’s disease. It really was a no-brainer to pick the local organization that supports this as we added to our charity program,” said Ken Johnson.
There are approximately 4,000-plus individuals with Parkinson’s disease living in the greater Rochester region. Many of the symptoms involve a loss of balance, slow movement, stiffness or tremors, and currently there is no cure. The Parkinson’s Foundation Greater Rochester provides a variety of support groups, education programs and assistance to families and caregivers helping to manage the effects of the disease.
According to Kimberly Collins, community development manager of Parkinson’s Foundation Greater Rochester, Pat Johnson has been an active member of the Parkinson’s support group in the Canandaigua area.
“Pat has brought so many people together since her diagnosis," Collins said. "She is committed to the cause and her whole family is backing our foundation with the penny-per-mile campaign. It truly is an amazing family effort!”
It’s estimated the Parkinson’s Truck will travel more than 125,000 miles this year, so Leonard’s Express is prepared to make a donation of $1,200 to $1,500 to the Parkinson’s Foundation Greater Rochester.
The company’s website includes a mile counter at the bottom of the home page so folks can keep track of the progress.
“We think this is a very unique and thoughtful way for the Johnson family to honor Pat and help us continue our mission to serve people with Parkinson’s disease in the Greater Rochester region,” said Collins.
The Parkinson’s Truck officially arrived at Leonard’s Express last Friday and the driver, Jim Newkirk, made several trips around the company parking lot to show it off to employees, friends and the media. Newkirk is from Homer, and is proud to drive the Parkinson’s truck because one of his family members had the disease. As soon as photographs were taken, Newkirk was back on the road. He started chalking up miles for charity with a trip to Florida and the Midwest over the weekend.
The Parkinson’s truck is scheduled to return to the Rochester area in time for “Moving Day” on Sunday, Sept. 30. “Moving Day” is the annual fundraising walk and community event held each year by the Parkinson’s Foundation Greater Rochester at Monroe Community College in Brighton. The public is welcome to come see the truck and to participate.