I was 19 years old when I lost my father to cancer. It was the summer of 1971, and I had just finished my first year of college at the University of South Florida. I was studying electrical engineering, but I had to quit. My father owned a citrus grove in St. Petersburg and I had to take over. My younger sister, Jacklyn, who was only 14 at the time, and my mother, Linda, asked me to take over from Dad and not to sell the business. They didn’t have to ask me. I couldn’t imagine selling the place. It was where I grew up. It was where I became a man. It was part of the memories I had of my father.
I moved back home and set my mind on following in my father’s footsteps. He would have been upset that I had quit school to come back to the grove, but he would have been proud of me for taking care of the family. That much I believed. I had to. The farmhands began dropping like flies the summer of 1972. I had to start cutting them back because I couldn’t afford to keep them going with the little money we were making that year. We went from a 15-man group to a five-man group. Instead, I took the money that would have paid for their salaries for the rest of the year and invested it in a Petersen Citrus Loader. The loader helped us collect all the fruits we needed that year and for many more years. The Petersen, as we called it, lasted a long time and it helped us make it by.
I took care of mom while Jacklyn went off to college. She got a full scholarship and got a job as a waitress during her time at the University of South Florida. She studied biology because she wanted to become a doctor. She wanted to help cure people of illnesses ever since Dad died. And she did. She now works in Seattle as a heart surgeon. She left Florida and didn’t come back until mom died in 1991. And I sold the grove that year and decided to open up a sandwich shop in Hollywood instead. It’s been successful, which I’m glad about. And I still go up to the grove when I get a chance.
I’m your average guy who dropped out of college and decided to start a construction company. I didn’t want to go through the corporate ladders and brown-nose my way to the top. I had no interest in any of that. I wanted to operate an honest business that would value its employees rather than seeing them as disposable sheep. So, I moved back in with my parents while I started my company. I began at the bottom with a few friends who needed to make a quick buck. I knew a few people since I had been working in the construction industry every summer since I was 16 in Indiana.
We would work for my buddy, Steve, and I told him that I wanted to start my own company. So, he gave me some helpful tips and he showed me the ropes. He even told me that he would join my company once we got started and got a few clients. He had mouths to feed and couldn’t just leave right away. I began the paperwork for my company and after a few years I had several clients that would frequently call us to get to work for them.
As the owner of a construction company, I have to keep an eye out for the best products. I pride myself on being able to deliver the highest quality service and products in the Boston area. The last thing I want on my hands is a lawsuit for negligence. But, more than that, I do not want to put my guys at risk of getting seriously injured. My men are like my family. So, when I meet with manufacturers I always check their products. I learned to do this early because of my Dad. He was a laborer and he taught me to always triple check everything and to take a person’s word with a grain of salt, especially a salesman.
About 15 years ago, I decided to test out Roller Die’s products because they were in the manufacturing business for over 70 years. I have yet to be disappointed by any of their custom made parts and their ability to deliver through their custom roll forming process. They have been able to create any part we have needed that our clients have wanted custom made for their homes or buildings.
A few years ago, my wife, Maggie, and I decided to move to Jacksonville after living in Chicago for several years. We met at the University of Chicago. She was in my microeconomics class. I sat in the back of the class, and she sat in the front of the class. She took notes, and I doodled. The teacher one day called on me and asked me to answer a question. A question he knew I couldn’t answer. He walked up to my desk and grabbed my notebook to see if I had taken any notes, but instead he saw my drawing of Maggie sitting at the front of the class with her hair swept to her left, her legs stretched and her ankles crossed. The professor just set the notebook back down and told me to meet him after class.
Once class was over, he sat me down and told me that the only reason he didn’t say anything was because I was top of the class in terms of exam grades. “So, it’s Ms. Granger that’s caught your attention more than my lecture?” he asked. I nodded half-heartedly. He told me that I was to sit next to her every day from now on out. I was shocked, but I didn’t argue with him. I sat next to her for the rest of the semester and we spoke more and more every day. It started off with “Hello” and became a relationship by the end of the semester. My last day of class, an exam day, I was first to finish my exam. I thanked my professor as I handed him my exam, he winked and smiled at me. And that was it.
I told Maggie the story on our two-year anniversary when I gave her the drawing. I proposed to her that night and she told me that she was pregnant with our baby boy, Charles, named after our professor. Once Charles was born, Maggie’s mom and sister would take care of him while we were at school or work. We finished our degrees a year later and I got a really great job offer to move to Jacksonville. And Maggie insisted on getting camera surveillance and security systems installed in our first home. So, we contacted SAFE Inc. and they did a wonderful job installing everything plus testing and inspecting our fire alarm system. Maggie decided to take a year off to take care of Charles and to adjust to the new area. And we are expecting our second child in December. Charles is going to have a baby sister.
After working for a landscaping company as the sales manager, I decided it was time for me to move on from being a pawn in a company. I wanted to make my mark on the world and offer clients and customers an honest day’s work. I wanted to get away from sitting at a desk all day and making calls. I wanted to be in the thick of it and make suggestions and decisions for clients while also helping bring their landscaping design to life in the Fort Lauderdale area.
I decided to create my own company and I hired some of my former coworkers who wanted a change as well. We brought some our clients with us and we hired several workers who needed jobs from the previous company as well. I created the logo with help from a friend and the team helped come up with the name of the company. Now, it was time to put us on the map. I found Social Agency online and I decided to give them a shot. They were amazing in helping build me a website as well as place me on Google My Business and various other online networks. They also worked on SEO content for the website to make sure we were getting traffic.
My business was picking up past the few clients we had gathered and brought with us. We stretched from working solely in Fort Lauderdale to moving all the way down to Miami for commercial and residential clients. Because the business was doing so well, I decided to enroll for a university degree at Florida International University. I had never had the opportunity to do so because I could never afford it. I worked my way up through the ranks of the landscaping business because my father worked as part of one.
This was finally my opportunity to advance my knowledge of the landscaping design industry by enrolling for the Landscape Architecture + Environmental and Urban Design (LAEUD) and dive deeper into my passion for designing landscapes. My team was supportive and they were perfectly capable of handling my part time studies at FIU. I would enroll in courses throughout the year while juggling my work life, school life and personal life. My wife and kids were proud of me and I was proud to show them that even at 42 an education was important. But, more than that I showed them that anyone can achieve success even if it is later in their life. I wanted them to understand that instant gratification is not the answer and that they would have to pay their dues over the years.
When I was a kid, my Dad always asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I used to tell him I wanted to be a garbage man because the guy was always friendly to me and he always got to ride on the back of the truck. I thought it was a cool job. A few years later he asked me what I wanted to be and I told him I wanted to be a sewer cleaner. He asked me why and I told him it was because the Ninja Turtles lived down in the sewers and I wanted to help them.
As you can tell, I was not your typical kid who wanted to be a NASA astronaut, which I think is a good thing. Not everyone should have big dreams of flying to the moon or being doctors, there are many levels in society and I think everyone should contribute their part to make each other’s lives better. I, for one, did not want to be the vet that my sister became or the lawyer that my brother became. Some parents might have seen it as a disappointment, but my parents were proud of the fact that I came to own my own company that dealt with excavation and sewer cleaning.
When you work for the City of Aventura municipality and own the company that does the sewer cleaning work in the area, you can bet that you would require a lot of man power. But, I won’t risk my men going down into a sewer to clean up when in this day and age there are tons of technological inventions that could do the dirty work for them. I have reliable friends who have helped me along the years and they work for Vac-Con. I buy my trucks from them to purchase my sewer cleaning trucks as well as my hydro excavators.
You might be cringing at the idea of sewer cleaning, but let me tell you this: When you are sitting in your office or at home and your pipes are working well and your city is clean that’s because of the work I do. When you think about it, I am in there doing the dirty work for the city to make sure that you are getting your tax payer’s worth in cleanliness. The last thing you want is a backed up sewer, trust me.
Moving to Jacksonville was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I moved there initially for college when I joined Jacksonville University. It wasn’t my first choice university, but I decided to move because they offered me a full scholarship. I didn’t have to a pay a dime for tuition and I got on campus housing. I was undecided on my major for the first year, but I knew that I wanted to go into psychology after taking a couple psychology courses. The way the mind works is just so compelling to me. Mind reading has always been the superhero power I have wanted and I think psychology is as close as it gets.
In the meanwhile, I picked up a job at Publix just so I could have some pocket money and because I was saving up to get a car. It was really hard getting around without a car. My parents said they would help me by letting me be on their insurance coverage and that they would pay for it as well. They also promised to help me make a down payment on a car since they didn’t have to spend a dime on my college education. And thankfully my younger brother was about 6 years off college and my older sister had joined the army and got a full ride to college as well.
In my second year at the university, I enrolled in a personality psychology course and that’s where I met my boyfriend Jamie. He sat next to me from the very first day and he always made funny comments in between the lecture. He always made me laugh and one day he asked me if I would go out with him. We went out and within six months we had moved in together off-campus. We moved into a cute little one-bedroom apartment, but our AC broke as soon we moved in. The landlord gave us the number to Waychoff’s Air Conditioning and told us to call them because they were good friends of his. They came to our apartment and fixed the AC in no time at all. As soon as they were gone, we sat right in front of it because the fan just did not cut it! Moving from Minnesota to Florida was a jump that I was ready for, but the heat was unbearable sometimes. My snowman genes were just not ready for the heat of that summer.