In 1964, my daughter, Kathy Ann, was born with cerebral palsy. Doctors told us we might be better off placing her in an institution. But my wife, who was a registered nurse, and I saw a spark in her eyes, so we decided to work with her ourselves. That decision changed us both profoundly. Here’s what happened:
In 1968, the backhoe I’d been renting for my excavation business was repossessed from its owner. I was left high and dry. I used my life savings to buy it back from the dealer.
During this time, money was tight. I was trying to make more to help Kathy Ann, and I needed a product to sell. I decided to install package pools. It wasn’t easy, but I was able to make ends meet.
Once things got better financially, we had to make some decisions about Kathy Ann. We always wanted her to be an independent person, not limited by her disability. We set the bar high for her at an early age. For example, an important goal was for Kathy Ann to be able to feed herself. It took years, but one day, she smashed a spoonful of potatoes into her mouth. Mission accomplished.
This led me to discover that there are no limitations to what you can do if you put your mind to it. At this same time, my vinyl-pool business began to take off and we moved it from suburbia to a high-traffic location.
Soon we learned that Kathy Ann was not being nurtured by her school. Our son was getting a better education than our daughter because he was attending a “regular” school. So we set out to get Kathy Ann mainstreamed. The school district was scared to death to take the girl, and it took many discussions and the threat of lawsuits, but we finally got our daughter into the sixth grade. It proved to be a wonderful thing for everyone — even the teachers — and inspired me once again to never give up if I believe in what I’m doing.
As she grew older, it occurred to us that Kathy Ann wouldn’t always have her parents around to help. We had to make her completely self-sufficient. The words “I can” became the order of the day. I wouldn’t let her miss anything. I would tie her to my feet, so we could play baseball and badminton. We would go trail biking with her duct-taped to the motorbike. Kathy Ann eventually graduated from high school with honors.
During this time, I became a member of the local Lions Club. I also found myself on the board of directors for the United Cerebral Palsy Association, where I eventually served as president. In 1972, I helped form the Committee to Acquire a Swimming pool for the Handicapped, or CASH, at Camp Lilly, an Easter Seals camp. We built it with donated labor and materials as well as fund-raisers. All of my hard work was inspired by Kathy Ann, who attended this camp as a child.
In 1984, my incredible daughter went to college, where she graduated cum laude with a degree in speech communication. In the late ’80s, she was invited to the White House lawn to see President Bush (the first one) sign the Americans with Disabilities Act and later then-Gov. Thomas Ridge appointed her to the Pennsylvania Statewide Independent Living Council. Currently, Kathy Ann is the board president of Voices for Independence, a center for independent living located in Erie, Pa.
This past year, we began a project to rehab the three-decade-old Camp Lilly pool. In August, there was a dedication ceremony for the restored pool, and it was attended by a state senator, state representatives, a U.S. Congressman, the mayor of Reading, and, of course, my daughter. I visit that pool every day and still take care of it.
My experience with Kathy Ann was key in making me a successful businessman. I’ve become better with people and developed good crisis-management skills. I’ve also gained the ability to win others over to my way of thinking.
Our decision to raise Kathy Ann ourselves instead of institutionalizing her taught me the responsibility to see any job through to the end. And just like we did for our daughter, I learned to set and achieve tough goals in my own life. How can I expect great things of Kathy Ann, and not hold myself to the same standard?
She is my biggest inspiration.
Apollo Pools Inc.
- There are no limitations. You can accomplish anything if you set your mind to it.
- Be responsible. Finish what you start; see everything through until the end.
- Do ordinary things exceptionally well. This sets you apart from the pack.