founder of Ashley Furniture, receives the Horatio Alger Award
WASHINGTON DC- The Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Inc., a nonprofit educational organization honoring the achievements of exceptional individuals and encouraging young people to pursue their dreams through higher education, has named the Founder and Chairman of the Board of administration of Ashley Furniture, Industries, Inc., Ronald G. Wanek, as a member of the Horatio Alger organization.
Wanek joins 15 other outstanding business, civic and cultural leaders from across North America in receiving the 2022 Honors. For more than 70 years, the Horatio Alger Award has been given annually to esteemed individuals who have achieved success despite the adversities and who have remained committed to higher education and charitable endeavors in their communities.
Wanek grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota, where his family was a tenant farmer. The house he lived in for much of his childhood had no electricity or running water. At the age of eight, Wanek started working on the farm to earn 25 cents a week. Growing up, he watched his grandfather and great-uncle build furniture as a hobby, which would ultimately inspire his career. Wanek graduated from high school and instead of going to college, he immediately entered the workforce as a factory worker at Winona Industries. His hard work and ambition were noticed by the factory owners, who mentored him and taught him all aspects of the manufacturing business.
In 1963, Wanek took what he learned at Winona and became involved in starting and running a new operation in Red Wing, Minnesota. He continued to benefit from excellent mentorship and on-the-job training, establishing a solid foundation for his business career. Seven years later, he and a group of investors formed Arcadia Furniture Corporation. Wanek managed the day-to-day operations of the business. Ultimately, Arcadia Furniture merged with another company, Ashley Furniture, to become Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc. Ashley Furniture is now the largest furniture manufacturer in the world and their retail business, Ashley HomeStore, is the North America’s largest retail furniture store brand and one of the world’s top-selling furniture store brands with over 1,000 locations in 56 countries. Since its creation, the company has renewed itself 16 times and today employs more than 30,000 people with a turnover of more than 6 billion dollars per year.
“Ronald Wanek lives by the guiding principle that a rising tide lifts all boats,” said Terrence J. Giroux, executive director of the Horatio Alger Association. “He’s a philanthropist in the truest sense of the word, not to mention that he built his business from the ground up.”
In 1988, Wanek and his wife, Joyce, established the Ronald & Joyce Wanek Foundation which funds various causes including education, the arts and medicine. The Wanek family also provided a base grant of $50 million to the City of Hope to find a cure for type 1 diabetes by 2023. Wanek, in addition to substantial contributions from the Todd and Karen Foundation Wanek, has personally donated millions to Mayo Clinique to support their research efforts to cure heart disease.
Among his many philanthropic contributions, in 1990 Wanek created and continues to be the benefactor of Soldier’s Walk at Memorial Park in Arcadia, Wisconsin. For nearly three decades he has contributed millions of dollars and thousands of hours of hand service sculpting and designing more than 25 monuments in the 500 meter walk that captures all of America’s wars. Soldier’s Walk is recognized as the nation’s first war memorial, outside of Washington D.C.
“I understand the important role education plays in changing the trajectory of a life, but I also know what it feels like to not be able to attend college due to rising costs,” Wanek said. . “To be inducted into an organization that works tirelessly to support thousands of young people each year, easing the financial burden of earning a degree, is truly an honor. The mission of the Horatio Alger Association is essential and I look forward to contributing to its advancement.
Through the generosity of its members, the Association awards need-based scholarships to outstanding high school students who are committed to pursuing higher education and giving back to their communities. The Association also educates young people about the limitless opportunities the free enterprise system offers them through hard work, honesty and determination. Like members of the association, Horatio Alger Scholars have faced significant adversity, but have also shown unparalleled resilience in overcoming their challenges. Since the scholarship program’s inception in 1984, the Horatio Alger Association has provided over $235 million to 35,000 needy students, all funded solely through the generosity of Association members and friends.
Wanek and the Class of 2022 Members were formally inducted into the Association April 7-9, 2022, at the Association’s 75th Horatio Alger Award Induction Ceremony in Washington, DC. The annual three-day event honors the achievements of members and National Fellows, providing the two groups with an opportunity to meet and interact as well as exchange stories of hardships and triumphs.
For more information on the Horatio Alger Association and its class of 2022 members, please visit www.horatioalger.org.