By Mary Kay Sweikar

Not many people from Danville can say they work in Dubai, rode a camel in Egypt, visited the Dead Sea, and attended the grand opening of the tallest building in the world — the Burj Khalifa (located in Dubai).

Burj Khalifa
Burj Khalifa

But Kevin Melton, who graduated from Schlarman High School and attended Danville Area Community College, has done all this in the Middle East, and more.

His parents, Joyce and Harold Melton of Danville, miss having frequent visits with their son and his family, but they are proud of his accomplishments.

Kevin Melton is a vice president with Johnson Controls, where he is responsible for managing and growing ventilation, air conditioning, and heating controls and security business in its Middle East region. That territory includes several areas, including Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

As general manager for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) territory, he is in charge of all business lines for the company, including the air conditioning equipment used in the UAE.

Melton’s company did the security, home automation and information technology infrastructure for the Burj Khalifa, and there is still a Johnson Controls team on site.

“I am very impressed with the world’s tallest building,” he said in an e-mail interview, “and being at the grand opening was very exciting.”

The free-standing structure is 828 meters tall. Below the spire, it has 160 habitable floors, 46 maintenance levels, and two basement parking levels.

Melton said, “My wife, Debbie, and I make sure that we travel as much as possible while we are on this side of the world.” They have visited Oman, Amsterdam, Paris, Monaco, Australia, New Zealand, Jordan, and most recently, Thailand. They are planning vacation trips in India, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Mauritius.

“It’s essential that we travel and take a break from the hot climate of Dubai and get out of the desert for rest and relaxation,” Melton said. He’s an avid golfer who played on both the SHS and DACC golf teams. He hopes to attend the British Open this summer at St. Andrews in Scotland.

The Meltons have traveled back to the United States a couple of times a year, and they met up with family last Christmas at their permanent residence in Rock Hill, S.C. In 2008, Melton was on business at his headquarters in Milwaukee and came to Danville for his dad’s 80th birthday.

They also use video chat to stay in contact with their children, parents and siblings. “Due to the distance, we have not received too many family visitors to Dubai,” he said.

The Meltons can find most of the same grocery and household items in Dubai as they can find in the United States. “But Debbie would tell you that she has to visit several different grocery stores to fill our needs,” Melton said. “Debbie also takes certain medications that she can’t get here in Dubai, and there are other issues that you have to deal with in a foreign country.”

He said driving a car in Dubai was “alarming” when they first moved there two years ago. “But now that the Metro is operational, road construction is nearly completed, and Dubai now has ‘fly overs’ (bridges) versus roundabouts,” he said, “and it’s all getting much better.”

Before moving to Dubai, the couple attended two days of cultural training classes.

“We discussed at length the Muslim religion and the cultural differences that we would see in the Middle East,” Melton said. “Even though most U.S. citizens are very fearful of that part of the world, I feel that a country like the UAE is really very safe.”

The Meltons are treated very well by the people in Dubai. “Many of the locals I’ve met were educated in the U.S. or in the U.K., and they are very professional,” he said. “We have made some very good friends with people from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Ireland, Scotland and England who live in our community.” English is the business language used in Dubai.

The work week in Dubai is Sunday through Thursday, and the Christian and Muslim services are on Fridays in the UAE. “There are actually several Christian churches, including two Catholic churches in Dubai,” Melton said, “and the UAE is very open and friendly to all cultures.”

Melton has always been interested in doing international work and feels fortunate to have this global assignment with Johnson Controls. While he was in engineering school, he worked one semester for Fluor Daniel when it was building the Teepak plant in Lommel, Belgium.

“I got to work with so many people from different cultures during my time in Belgium,” he said, “and I decided that was the type of work I wanted to do.”

Melton has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of South Carolina, specializing in energy systems. He is a registered professional engineer in Ohio and Wisconsin.

“My education in Danville — Schlarman and DACC — prepared me well for my continuing education in South Carolina,” he said. “They are both excellent schools.”

Debbie is a registered nurse, but is not working in Dubai. She is active with the Arabian Ranches women’s group, is taking painting lessons, and has done some horseback riding.

The Meltons have three grown children: Ken is the oldest and lives in Charleston, S.C., where he works on a farm growing organic vegetables; Katie lives in England and is attending graduate school at Warwick University; and Kellie Elizabeth lives in Columbus, Ohio, where she works for a law firm.

Kevin’s parents, Joyce and Harold Melton, moved to Danville when Kevin was 12 years old so Harold could take a job at Teepak as a civil engineer. The elder Meltons have lived in the same house on Sherman Street for 42 years. Joyce retired from Liberty School in 1993 after teaching for 25 years in the Danville district.

In 1974 the Harold Melton family, including four of their children, moved to Antwerp, Belgium, where Teepak built a new plant. Kevin, who was the oldest, stayed in Danville so he could attend DACC on a golf scholarship.

Kevin visited his family in Belgium during Christmas vacation, and then decided to stay when his father found him a job at a construction site. Harold and Joyce next moved to Columbia, S.C., where Teepak built another plant.

“When we lived in Belgium we became more than friends with Harold’s co-workers,” Joyce said. “They had to become our family since we were so far away from home. I didn’t work during that year, and just like Kevin’s wife, I had to fill my days while the children were at school.

“I know from experience how hard it is to move so far away, even for a brief time,” Joyce said. “That experience changed our lives forever, as I’m sure their experiences in the Middle East have changed Kevin and Debbie’s lives.

“Harold and I loved traveling when we were Kevin’s age, and now we are blessed with great memories,” Joyce said. “It’s wonderful to be able to enjoy our son’s travels vicariously.”