Monday, January 02, 2017

If I Had One Chance

This is a revision of an article I wrote in 2014 about my father. The Fincastle Herald published it in May of that year. For the sake of privacy, I am leaving out his name, his companies names, and other names.

If I could, I would fix my relationship with him. We are on speaking terms but we are not close, and I do not believe at this juncture we ever will be. I do not know what I have done, but my impression is he is consistently and constantly angry with me for things I am supposed to understand and know I did, but I do not know nor do I understand. This is not something I can fix and I have mostly stopped worrying over it, though the holidays tend to bring it to the fore. You would think I could figure this out, but I cannot and I no longer attempt to. Some things just aren't meant to be.

Anyway, here is the revised article.
***

My father, now 75, is a local businessman who truly embodies a rags to riches story, the stuff from which American legends are made. He was born to be an entrepreneur. At the age of 72, when many men were retiring to play golf, my father bought the local country club in order to work on his fourth concurrent business.

He has a reputation of turning everything he touches into gold, according to an employee at one of his companies. "He turns it around and it turns into money," a purchasing agent for his main corporation said.

My father recently described his life as a movement from ridge to ridge. He was born in Canvas, West Virginia in a cabin that sat on a ridge top. His father at that time was a coal miner. My father now lives in a stately home on a hill outside of Roanoke, Virginia, a long way from a cabin near a coal mine.

My father's storied life as entrepreneur began on the streets of Summersville, WV. When he was seven years old, an uncle bought him a shoeshine kit and he shined shoes in the street.

Not long thereafter, his family moved to Roanoke from West Virginia. His father, a World War II veteran, required treatment at the VA Hospital for wounds he received in the war. After his father healed, the family lived in New Castle in the Scratch Ankle area for two years before settling in Salem, where my father attended Andrew Lewis High School.

During his teen years, my father started his second enterprise, a wholesale fish bait business. He paid other youngsters to dig up worms and moss, put the night crawlers in containers, and sell them to local stores and gas stations. "I did that for two years," he told me. "I had about 25 customers."

Then he started a lawn mower business with a friend. "We cut about $40 a week worth of yards," he said. "You only got $2 a yard back in those days."

At the age of 17, he joined the military, serving for 37 months. He served in Korea for 13 months and eventually ended up in Fort Monroe, Virginia, with the United States Continental Army Command. His last job there was decoding security messages for the government. He received an honorable discharge at the age of 20. "I still wasn't old enough to vote when I got out," he recalled.

After he left the military, he became a police officer in Salem and was one of the youngest men hired to serve on the force at that time. He married my mother, who at the time lived in Salem, Virginia, in 1962. I was born in 1963 and my brother was born in 1966.

However, public service officials then, as now, made little money. "Being a police officer wasn't enough financial security," my father said. "I had $110 a week in expenses and brought home $105." Searching for something better, he decided to turn his considerable charisma and charm to sales.

He became a salesman and branch manager for a company out of Pennsylvania. He commuted from Salem to Richmond. In 1969, he decided he wanted to live in a more rural community. About that time, the company asked him to relocate. When his manager offered him either $4,000 in moving expense money or six-weeks in severance pay, he took the severance.
His Main Corporation
He determined then that he would make his own future, and he would do it in many different ways. First, he set himself up as an independent sales representative. One of his largest clients was located in Southeast Roanoke. In 1973, an opportunity to create a rubber product franchise came his way. He created his first corporation.

In 1976, the company began expanding, an ongoing project. The company has two branches,  two satellite locations, including one in Texas, and 48 employees. The company services over 9,000 customers.

"We ship overseas into India, Vietnam, and China," my father said. The company is ITAR certified, which means it is able to supply products to US defense contractors. My father, now retired, has turned most of the day-to-day operations over to my brother.

My father's company has a reputation for treating its employees like family. "He's got his moments," an employee said of my father, "but he's there for his employees personally as well as on the business level." The company does not have a large employee turnover, she noted. "He instills that family feeling here."

Early on, that wasn't necessarily the case. Another employee, who has been with the company for 30 years, said that becoming more like family was a transition my father made over the years. "He was so hard-core when I came here," she said. "He put business before family, but now it's different. He's mellowed."

Even though he is retired, my father continues to have a near-daily presence at the business. "He makes a point of coming in and speaking, sitting down and asking me how things are going," an employee said. "He told me once, 'I will always be your friend but there is a line I will always draw, and he draws it.'"

My father's selling acumen is legendary. "Once he starts a project he sees it to the end. He followed through until it was delivered. He is always thinking, and he's got a knack for doing it," an employee said.

My brother calls my father, "one of the greatest salesmen that I have ever run into. I firmly believe he could sell a cape to Superman," he said.

Farming

In 1970, my father bought a farm that backed up against his father-in-law's old home place. He fixed up an older home that had no plumbing when he bought the house.

He raised a number of different birds from time to time, including chickens, ducks, and quail. Beef cattle became his number one farm product, however. 

"I actually leased almost 1,400 acres around here at one time," he said. He raised hay to support more than 100 head of cattle, which he sold at the stockyard. "I sold the last 30 head of cattle in 1995," he recalled. These days he has one animal remaining, an old cow he is allowing to live out its life in his pasture fields. His property is now a beacon for various creatures, with some areas overgrown and others seeded for wildlife enhancement.

He has purchased nearby properties as they came up for sale, expanding his real estate holdings. Today he owns hundreds of acres around the original tract.

In 1976, my father built a spacious home up on the highest ridge of his farm. Not long after his house was finished, our family suffered a series of tragedies that still makes my father shudder when he recalls it: a tractor ran over my brother, who survived the incident. A few days later, while my brother was still in the hospital, my grandfather, my mother's father, passed away. My father told me that was one of the low points of his life.

In 1989, lightning struck his house and nearly burned it to the ground. My father rebuilt. He added on to the house at that time and in recent years, he has renovated the garage and added an addition.

Making Music

My father came from a musical family; his grandfather, father, and brothers all played instruments and sang, and so did he. He formed a band in 1970. He played guitar and sang at venues all over the state, ranging from Virginia Beach to Marion and locations in between.  He has many stories about his time as a lead singer.

"Once we were playing on two hay wagons in New Castle opening up the New Castle Fair and the drummer fell off the wagon backwards," my father recalled. "He drummed barefoot and I looked back and all I saw was two feet up in the air, but he was still beating on the snare drum. He never lost time."

In 1972, my father opened a retail music store in the mall across from Lord Botetourt High School. He ran the store for about four years. The band rented practice space in one of the lower levels of the mall for several years, too.
He stopped playing with his band in 1982. He said it was too difficult to focus on the weekend music and keep up with a growing business. However, he has returned to those musical roots. Now he also plays guitar and sings in a local band that entertains at nursing homes and public fundraisers.
Yet Another Business
In 1999, my father went to Iowa and spent a week at the World Wide College of Auctioneering, which is recognized worldwide as the number one school for auctioneering. Not long after, my father began his second business, an auto auction company.

In 2005, he and a partner bought out a local stockyard and formed a new corporation. The company now has 70 stockholders and my father is on its Board of Directors. "I oversee the operation of the stockyard, and the general manager answers to me," he said.

The Country Club

The local country club and golf course ran into financial troubles during the economic downturn, and in 2010, a group of investors purchased the stock and took over running the company. My father in 2013 bought out one of those original investors and purchased additional shares to become the second-largest shareholder in the country club.

Hobbies

My father was an avid golf player in his younger days and spent hours on the golf course. His main corporation has for the last decade held an annual customer appreciation tournament at the country club he now owns, usually hosting about 130 golfers. My father played golf regularly for 25 years and was on the Senior PGA Tour Pro Am on three different occasions.

He is also an avid sportsman and enjoys hunting and fishing. He has been to Africa twice to hunt big game and annually makes treks to other areas of the United States to hunt, including Alaska. He has also hunted in Canada and in Russia.

Additionally, he has soloed as an airplane pilot. He rides motorcycles, too, and recently turned his Honda Goldwing into a trike bike, one of his few acknowledgements of age creeping up on him.
My mother passed away in 2000, around the time my father began his auto auction company. In 2007, my father remarried.
Looking back on his storied life, my father said he considers himself an entrepreneur. "I also consider myself lucky," he said. "And I'm not a procrastinator, either."
He said he is now back on the ridge, but in a different capacity. He recalls his childhood on that ridge in West Virginia as a happy one. "That is when you're the happiest. You don't have all these tears. You just have happiness at that age."
And now? He looked around the restaurant of his new business venture, and then at me as I interviewed him for this article. "Right now I'm very happy," he said.
 

1 comment:

  1. Don't dwell on the relationship you don't have with your dad, enjoy the one you do have and the time you do spend together. Your love for your father and the pride in and of your heritage show in your writing. I'm sure his pride and love show when asked about his greatest legacy, you and your brother. My father walked away from me at the tender age of eight and said"I hate you and never want to see you again" He never changed his statement and he never saw me again. Like you, I am proud of my fathers accomplishments. A bronze star and Purple Heart in the Korean War. I have learned through time, trying to figure out what I did that was so wrong? I found out that he is just an angry man. Has nothing to do with me. It was just his way. His way of dealing with his world . You at least have the man to respect where I don't. Other than deceased I know nothing of my late father and he nothing of me. My mother wrote him a letter that was read to him about me. How I had grown into a lovely young woman and I was told he cried... maybe tears of regret? I'll never know. He still never tired to contact me in any way. What I do know is that none of his behavior was because of me even though it was towards me. Father's just sometimes don't know how to show their love so we hold on to the good parts of the man and grow from that into the wonderful people we choose to be instead of the bitter ones we should have become due to the circumstances in our lives.
    I enjoy your blog. You are a very talented writer and you father should be very proud of his legacy!

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