July ’24 – From the Publisher

Phil Newman and Nathan Sparks at HonorAir 2024

Mentors of Tomorrow

Be prepared is the Boy Scout Motto. As a scout, I have tried to always be ready. But I once heard it said that luck is just preparation waiting for opportunity.

I recently listened to a friend tell me a story about a man willing to share his journey to help a young friend of mine get started down the path of entrepreneurship. Part of the offering was his recanting his own struggles as a young person, often doing without and being apart from his family, all with the idea of building a life and a career that he could be proud of. One that would provide for his family in a way that no other job ever could. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this story, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. The only thing different is the teller of the tale. Regardless, I send my highest prayers to a person willing to share in this way. Kudos, my friend, for the willingness to help our youth literally save our country. 

I personally first observed this in my childhood. The people that my father chose to be friends with were cut often from that cloth. They worked harder than anyone else and often had less, especially in the beginning, but the one thing that they did have that so many others did not was a dream, a vision of where they wanted to end up that was worth the struggle to get there. These are the people that I have watched and listened to, my mentors, the ones that cared enough about me to have shared some of their secret sauce. Those are the people in my life I have admired.

More recently, I had the unique opportunity to sit alongside many of these such men with our senior writer Phil Newman during an HonorAir Knoxville flight. Eddie Mannis, who you see on our cover this issue, has built an exceptional program over the last 17 years with an amazing team to call out, honor, and bring light to the people in our community who have, like those men my father befriended, given so much of themselves to not only their families but their community and their country. Once again I am struck by these type of people. It was a blessing to be able to hear their stories of struggle during battle, but also admire their willingness to share their stories with those of us who joined them. It takes a different kind of strength to do this. No doubt the trip was filled with a variety of mentors.

Upon my return, as I reflected on my own life, I recalled how a family friend became one of my early mentors. While working for the Bonanza Steakhouse, a cafeteria style eatery, I found myself having to make a decision. Shave your mustache or quit. It wasn’t so much the mustache, but rather the idea of being forced. I had already had my first businesses (yard mowing age 12, trout fly production at 14), but I was the grill cook at the Bonanza Steakhouse at 16. So, that night, when the manager delivered me an ultimatum, I respectfully resigned. The irony was my honorary “Uncle Bob,” my dad’s best friend, was there dining that night. I walked out to his table and said, “Uncle Bob, I need a job.” To my astonishment, he told me where to be the next day. 

Uncle Bob met me the next morning and after picking up a hoe, walked me to the back of the property where there was a large field that looked mostly like weeds to me. He knelt down and pointed out the small nandinas growing in the field. I guess I forgot to say that Uncle Bob owned a landscape business. Bob Wherry Nursery. Minimum wage in those days was about $3.65, and this looked a lot less fun than working in the restaurant. I began to wonder how important that damn mustache was. It was hot. It was summer. 

There was no one to work with. I was by myself in a field of weeds and baby nandinas. That’s not exactly the best with my combination of ADD and OCD. I learned to talk to plants that summer because I was that bored. Spending an entire day, then an entire week, in a field by yourself doing nothing but hoeing weeds from around tiny plants can really be mind numbing. But perhaps the lack of stimulation, that very lack of something constantly going on around me, was formative in my desire to be a businessman. I spent time thinking about Bob and his business and it didn’t take long to realize that Bob had figured it out. He didn’t have a fancy truck. He didn’t wear a sports jacket to work. He was his own person, doing what he loved, and imparting some wisdom—perhaps unknowingly—to entrepreneurs in the making. I respected and admired him.

The values Bob instilled in me are ones I’ve had ever since. Be my own person. Honor who I am as an individual. Be willing to go above and beyond. Be willing to sacrifice. Since then, every person I’ve met that I have felt for whatever reason had followed a similar path, I’ve taken notice of. The ones who have sacrificed. The ones who chose to build their business from the ground up, who poured their heart and soul into it, not worried about how many hours they worked or how many days of the year they put in, the ones whose desire to be successful eclipsed everything else. Those are the ones I can’t help but take notice of.

Honestly, in my opinion, that’s what I don’t see enough of today: young people willing to persevere, to do without and to bust their ass to get it done so they can have something in the end. We live in a world of immediate gratification, and that doesn’t work when you want to be in a business. You have to be willing to do without, go without pay, sometimes go without anything, in order to be successful. 

So I come back to the person that doesn’t know this writing is about them. I know that there are some of you who have offered another person, a young person, the opportunity to move into a world where they can make a difference, not only for their own lives, but for the lives of other people. That’s what it’s all about. People helping people. People caring to share their success and journeys with others so they can become the mentors of tomorrow.

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