I was 4 when my father died; we had $17 in the bank and I barely remember him. All I remember is they tried to split up my family and put us away in foster homes. I was the youngest of 8, 4 boys and 4 girls, the oldest being 17. My mother said if we wanted to stay together, each of us would have to get jobs when we turned 14 and pay $20 a week.
The older kids worked at Bill Bobenger’s Texaco on the corner of Wayne Ave. and Georgia Ave., but the younger kids would go out collecting coke bottles or wood soda crates. You could get 2 cents a bottle or $2 a crate. We would cut grass, shovel snow, walk dogs, or really anything we could do for a buck. When I turned 14, I went to work with my brothers at the gas station even though I didn’t like Mr. Bobenger, and I never trusted him. I worked every minute I wasn’t in school. When the older siblings moved out, it meant less money was coming in each week. So in high school I did the work program, I went to school in the morning, then at noon I went to work at the shoe shop making 95 cents an hour.
The neighborhood said we were a ‘broken family’ but they couldn’t be more wrong. We were the closest family on the block. Our Christmas’s were wonderful; we didn’t get much but we were all together. Mother raised us right. We went to the St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Silver Spring every Sunday. We didn’t have much but we had our name and reputation. My Mother raised us with four rules: If you say you’re going to do something, you better do it. Do not lie. Do not cheat. Do not steal. She would always tell us that actions speak louder than words. When people saw how we stayed together, they began to have faith in the Crovato family, our faith and trust in each other.
Thompson Dairy delivered our eggs, milk, cheese, and other dairy products to the house since before I can remember. A family of 9 uses a lot of food but for 12 years we never received a bill. It wasn’t until I graduated high school that I learned Mr. Bobenger had been paying the bill the whole time. He figured we needed the help, and we did, we needed it bad. What an amazing American!
It was tough to grow up in the 50s without a father. At school when kids would have their parents come in, I was always the odd man out. I was never able to play sports in high school; we always spent our free time doing odd jobs. I never had a real positive outlook for what I would do when I was older. I knew I didn’t have the money to go to college. I didn’t catch a glimpse of my American dream until I was in high school when I met an older man by the name of Tom McGregor. Mr. McGregor had only an 8th grade education but owned the largest printing business in town. His advice to me was “go into business doing something you like, do it for 16 or 18 hours a day, and do that for 15 years and you will be as successful as you’re ever going to be; and you’ll have more money than you’ve ever dreamed of. America is the land of opportunity, now go out and find yours.” Mr. McGregor believed that with hard work in America, nothing was unattainable.
When I graduated high school, I started working at a car dealership. I did just what McGregor said, I worked harder and longer than anyone else. I was promoted to manager when I was 21. That year, I met the love of my life, Betty Ann. We got married in 1975 and had two kids. I needed to provide for my family, and I needed money. An older gentleman who was a distributor for B&G Products was looking to retire, and I wanted to take his place: this was my opportunity. He knew me for my diligence, and I approached him and asked for a price. I took out an $8,000 loan and bought a portion of his company along with three partners.
I did what I had done my whole life, what I was raised to do, and just what McGregor did: I worked my ass off. Every Sunday I sat down and planned out what I wanted to accomplish and how I wanted my company to grow. I started work at 7am and worked till 7pm, then did paper work, slept, and did it all again. I always had an idea of what I wanted to accomplish. Success came from my hard work; the harder I worked, the closer I got to my dream. When I made money, I invested it. I never lived beyond my means or spent money on things I didn’t need. In 1979, I bought out the first partner, then bought out the second in 1983, and the third in 2002. I grew the company from 4 employees to 65. I would always work first, and play later.
Growing up, I never believed in the word can’t, it’s the worst four letter word in the English dictionary. I’ve been told constantly what I can’t do, but what led to my success was the will to disagree and my relentless diligence to provide for my family and myself. I erased can’t from my vocabulary. I never imagined that I could take an $8,000 loan and turn it into $23 million in annual sales, but with hard work in this county there is nothing you can’t do. My hard work was rewarded in America. Had I grown up in Peru or Russia, I would not be in the same position I am in today.
As a child, I was focused on what I didn’t have, but it wasn’t until I focused on what I did have right in front of me that I started making progress in my life. You have to stop looking for somebody to come and give you an opportunity; you have to go and get what you want. McGregor was right; you can’t make up for hard work in America. I am Corky Crovato and I am the American Dream.