An immigrant’s 1920s Granville enterprise sustains his family for generations.
The families of John Rukavina and Irene Lucas came to the Morgantown area from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s, likely for the plentiful work in the coal mines and glass factories. John, who at some point adopted the last name Koval, started Koval Building Supply in about 1925 to make his own way in Granville’s thriving economy. “They were tearing down homes and salvaging parts and selling them—toilets and things like that,” says grandson Stephen. “So he evolved that into a plumbing supply shop, which is the Granville location where we started out.”
Business must have been good, because John and Irene were soon married and, over the following decades, they had five children: Wilma, Julia, John Jr., Dorothy, and Steve. They lived beside the shop and did business any time anyone needed something. And through the mid-century decades, the kids all did their part. Steve worked while he attended University High School and as a marketing student at WVU in the late ’60s, and his older brother, John Jr., who worked as an engineer, pitched in on Saturdays.
John Sr. commanded a room and had the respect of his family and community. He liked to say that the plumbing supply business was a gold mine, because everyone needs a faucet and a toilet. As the youngest, Steve was raised by older parents and lost his dad when he was a young man. But when Steve and Jackie Pinti met in the late ’70s, a few years after John Sr. had passed on, she remembers Steve telling her, “My father gave me more wisdom than any young father could do.”
Jackie did a case study on Koval’s as her thesis in human resources at WVU, and she and Steve had a whirlwind romance—they were married in Las Vegas in 1981. “We were involved in the National Association of Home Builders’ local chapter, and we went to a lot of conventions there,” she recalls. She started learning about showroom display design.
They also learned out west that Jacuzzi whirlpool bathtubs were becoming popular, and they stocked 15 in the warehouse—but, because the Granville store had little space, every time Jackie wanted to show one to a customer, Steve had to haul it out from the back. That motivated the construction of the Scott Avenue showroom in 1985. John Jr., who had gone full-time in the mid-’70s, ran the Granville store with Jackie, and he taught her plumbing. And meanwhile, Steve built the new building: a 4,000-square-foot showroom and retail store with room to display 40 bathtubs, including every Jacuzzi tub in stock. No more hauling tubs in and out.
Family and work life intertwined. As children Nicole, Stephen, then Katie came along, the family decided to build a bigger house—and when Jackie was researching fireplaces and couldn’t find a place in town to see them on display, Koval’s added a line of fireplaces to its offerings. It opened a location in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, in 1995, too. Jackie got increasingly involved in interior design, and the kids grew up with the business. “We were always running around the showroom,” Stephen says. “We all counted inventory.” He started working off and on when he was 16. Nicole and Katie left the state for college, but Stephen attended WVU, then started working at the store full-time in his mid-20s.
Koval’s Morgantown showroom changes regularly in response to design trends and manufacturer standards. Three years ago, for example, the family introduced a new line of fireplaces. And two years ago, when Jackie and Stephen built another new house, it spurred them once again to add to their offerings: this time, lighting.
A third generation is well in place at Koval’s. Stephen handles marketing and sales. Nicole came back to town in 2017 to be closer to family and now does kitchen and bath design. And John’s daughter Amibeth, who’s Nicole’s age and worked at Koval’s summers while earning a master’s degree at Marshall University, learned plumbing from her father and now works the counter and sells bath fixtures and fireplaces. Not counting Stephen’s young twin sons, Rhett and Noah, who offer 4th-generation help at inventory time, the business employs 20.
With a particular heart for sports, the Kovals have always sponsored baseball leagues and a girls’ softball team, and they’re supporters of the WVU Mountaineer Athletic Club as well as WVU Medicine Children’s hospital. Jackie has also served on the board of the West Virginia Public Theatre.
Steve attributes Koval’s early success in part to the good livelihoods that the coal industry provided for Granville and the Morgantown area. And the family gives back to WVU, he says, in recognition of the strong economy that the university and the hospitals foster in Morgantown. “This has been a great place to raise a family.”