Fast Facts about John
Position: Medical Equipment Planner
Education: University of Kentucky
Interesting Hobby: Hot Air Ballooning
Favorite Place in Louisville: The Falls of Ohio State Park
Although occasionally an aeronaut, John Hitron, Senior Architect/Medical Planner, is anything but flighty. With his feet planted firmly in architectural soil, he sat down for a few minutes with us to talk.
Tell us about your background.
I graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1976, studying for one semester in Venice in Northern Italy. I have worked for several architecture firms around Louisville and landed permanently at Arrasmith in 2001. I have been here for close to 20 years.
What sparked your interest in architecture?
A long, long, long time ago, my grandfather was in the millwork business and was V.P. of a planning mill in Louisville that did the millwork for Churchilll Downs and the Spindletop Hall in Lexington. I took an interest in what he was doing with the lumber business. My family noticed and kept encouraging me to be an architect. They said it often enough that I guess it was kind of just bred into me.
I think I was drawn into the process of creating or building things. I like the whole idea of the building industry. Once I found out what an architect did, it grew from there.
You have a unique specialty in medical equipment design. How did that develop?
I have always been a technical, hands-on “tinkerteer” and enjoy learning how things work. There is a lot of that in the medical arena. When we get a new piece of equipment, I talk to people about it and what it does. Typically, the more complicated it is, the more interesting I find it.
I am currently designing an interventional radiology suite. This is the office you go to if you have a blood clot or stroke. Essentially, the equipment is an x-ray tube that takes a 3D picture of the clot that simultaneously enables doctors to put a catheter in and extract it.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
I take joy in being able to help people. I have designed healthcare projects all around the world, from Kentucky to Pakistan to Jordan.
When you can help by providing a new facility with something modern and up to date, you feel like you are really saving lives.
Where is the most interesting place you have been?
I really enjoyed Amman, Jordan. I have been to Dubai, Jordan, Pakistan, London, Italy, and France, but I find that Jordan was the one I enjoyed the most. The people were so friendly. You saw Christians, as well as the typical Islamic people, together. They were very welcoming to me, and I enjoyed being with them. The most exotic place I have been to is Pakistan. It was like stepping back in time. It isn’t primitive, it is just a hard life the people live.
Do you have any hobbies?
I have a hot air balloon and I am an aeronaut. I used to fly more frequently, but as of late, I only get out a dozen or so times a year. I still go to balloon events, which is where I do most of my flying. It isn’t an easy sport, you can’t just go out and hop in, start it up, and take off. You have to ensure the weather is good, check with staff, etc.
I have been going to one race in St. Louis for 38 years. Most races have three events (a flight, tether, and glow) and then a little party. In St. Louis, they do it right. They do three parties and one flight. It is 60 balloons and draws a crowd of 100,000. Last year, I received the Master Pilot Award (most call it the Last Man Standing Award) from the Balloon Federation of America at the event.
How did you get started in ballooning?
Many years ago, my wife worked for an advertising agency and was doing some work for a Louisville festival. They invited all the employees to the balloon practice and she made her way onto a list of people to go up in one. I was just in the chase truck with a recovery crew, driving around bumpy, country roads with a sore butt. But when she landed, she proclaimed we needed to purchase our own balloon. However, that was in 1977, during the oil crisis and the price of nylon made it too expensive.
For Christmas that next year, she purchased a balloon ride for me. We went flying to this valley and started contour flying, it was amazing. When we landed, I suddenly agreed with my wife and we got one that night. I always say my first balloon ride was $125, my second was $8,000.
What does your perfect weekend look like?
I don’t have a “perfect” weekend, as such, but I like to have “special weekends.” For instance, every spring, my daughter and I go to a horse show out of town. She lives in Lexington, but we go to shows all over the country—Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio—it has always been a special Daddy-Daughter trip with just her and I.
Or another one of my special weekends is the Kentucky Three Day event. It has become a big deal with our family. We tailgate on the course and my wife spends months preparing the menu. All of my friends, her friends, family, etc., gather and live it up the week before the famous Kentucky Derby.
What’s one thing not everyone knows about you?
There are probably a lot of things, but nothing I am going to admit. In the 70s, I was background checked by the Secret Service. Surprisingly, it had nothing to do with the fact I was part of the Student Mobilization Committee to end the war in Vietnam. Instead, it was because I was a bartender and was to be tending bar for Nelson Rockefeller.
I also had drinks with John Wayne. He was the guest of my wife’s father at the Kentucky Derby one year. We were invited to the suite for drinks before dinner.
Tell us about your family.
I was happily married to Dawn for six years, and then kids came along. In all seriousness, we have been married for 43 years and have three kids, Anna, Andrew, and Maggie. Anna is an oncology pharmacist; Andrew is a doctor of organic toxicology; and Maggie, the youngest, is a lawyer (who doesn’t practice) who runs a vets office. I also have three grandkids.
All of my kids are high achievers, and we have spent a lot of time and money getting them to this point in their lives. My wife and I figure when we are old and feeble, they will take care of us. However, I also worry that they will just put me in the attic or a crawlspace.