Fred Sarkis September 27, 2000 Millionaire Part 2
OUR TOWNS, NORTHWEST WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2000 Millionaire FROM PAGE IF Brown said he walked away from the talk with a lot to think about. "He really emphasized responsibility responsibility and that the world doesn't want to give you anything," anything," Brown said. "I have to take what I have in myself, show the world who I am, and that I can go out and do anything." Sarkis also speaks to adults about the importance of becoming becoming mentors. And he's just completed an autobiography about his childhood, childhood, titled Prisoner of the Truck. He hopes to have a publisher lined up sooa "I do not know how successful the book will be," he said. "But I do know that, if successful, any royalties will be set up in a trust fund for the benefit of childrea" As a child, Sarkis knew what it was like not to fit in. . The eldest son and second of 10 children of Lebanese immigrants, Sarkis had a much darker complexion complexion than his Irish classmates at the Catholic grammar school he attended in Rochester in the early 1930s. To complicate matters, matters, he was skinny, pigeon-toed, pigeon-toed, pigeon-toed, bowlegged and knock-kneed. knock-kneed. knock-kneed. He vividly remembers second grade, when his mother helped him prepare 40 valentines for a class party. The 7-year-old 7-year-old 7-year-old 7-year-old 7-year-old watched as the other children's desks were piled high with cards. He came home with only two. "I was devastated," he said. And life was about to get harsher. harsher. Hard times At the start of the Depression a few years earlier, Sarkis' father had lost his confectionery store. He began selling fruits and vegetables vegetables from the back of a truck to support his family. But after an eight-year eight-year eight-year struggle, the elder Sarkis was unable to save the family's family's spacious four-bedroom four-bedroom four-bedroom home on Driving Park Avenue in Rochester and most of its furnishings. furnishings. The family moved into one of the poorest neighborhoods of Rochester, where they rented a partially furnished second-story second-story second-story flat. Fred Sarkis was happy about the move. "I finally felt like I was going to fit in," he said. But soon after, his life changed drastically. From age 8 to 14 Sarkis worked for his father selling fruits and vegetables door to door for customers customers in the suburbs. He worked 100 hours a week during the summer summer months, and 19-hour 19-hour 19-hour days on Saturdays during the school year. Every Saturday evening, his father finished his day by making a call on Hedges Bar and Grill on the corner of Leo Street and Joseph Avenue. The younger Sarkis was locked in the truck while his father tried to peddle any remaining fruits and vegetables vegetables before they spoiled. The stop often took four or five hours. "My dinner consisted of raw fruits and vegetables," he said. "And I tried to prevent frostbite by taking off my shoes and putting my stocking feet on the kerosene lamp" kept in the back of the truck to keep the produce from freezing during the winter. He was unhappy and resentful. He thought of the truck as a prison and his father as the warden. warden. One day, the young Sarkis threw a tantrum after his father i fh mint AIMEE K. WILES staff photographer Fred Sarkis developed the Bristol Harbour condominium complex and now lives there. MAX SCHULTE staff photographer Sarkis clowns at Salvation Army kids' drop-in drop-in drop-in program. had made him retrieve some fruit baskets they'd left inside a building building where they were selling. "I was angry and I had enough," he said. " 'You hate doing this, don't you?' " he recalls his father saying saying sternly. "And I said yes.' " Sarkis' father told him he was stuck on the truck because he wasn't educated to do anything else. Then he told his son the only way he could avoid ending up like his father was to study and go to school. "It was at that moment I knew I had a way to escape," Sarkis said. "And I started bringing my school books and Bibles on the truck." At 16, Sarkis graduated first in his class of 70 from business school. He took a job working nights as a typist and was able to earn enough money to buy his family now with 10 children a home on Park Avenue. Success, failure He entered the Navy and served during World War II. He was home by the time he was 20, working full time and attending business classes at the University University of Rochester at night When he was 23, he was accepted accepted at Notre Dame University. University. He went home and told his family. "But that night my father pulled me aside and told me he had been to the doctor's earlier that day and was suffering from high blood pressure," Sarkis said. "He told me he could die at any time and then it would be my responsibility to take care of my mother and brothers brothers and sisters." Three months later, his father died of a heart attack. Sarkis turned down Notre Dame and never looked back. V'.- V'.- When he was 24, he started a coffee vending business. By the time he was 34, he merged his company with a national firm and became a multimillionaire. Sarkis then became the financial financial father of Bristol Mountain Ski Resort. A mild winter for skiing and interest rates of nearly 20 percent forced Sarkis to sign over Bristol Mountain to the bank in 1981. "I went from tremendous success success to tremendous failure," Sarkis said. "I had to move my wife and five children into a 1,200-square-foot 1,200-square-foot 1,200-square-foot 1,200-square-foot 1,200-square-foot cabin." But as Sarkis had done before, he rebounded in a big way. He and his brother Joseph again established a coffee vending business, business, which took off. Sarkis then went on to develop the Bristol Harbour golf course, marina and condominium complex on Canandaigua Lake. While it was a struggle, that venture also became a huge financial financial success. But that wasn't the end of tough times for Sarkis. Eight years ago, he was diagnosed diagnosed with prostate cancer. Again he survived and is now considered considered cured. Sarkis and his wife of 44 years, the former Helen Margaret O'Hara, also from Rochester, have five children and n grandchildrea They spend six months a year at their Bristol Harbour condominium condominium and six months in Florida. Sarkis began retirement playing tennis and penning his autobiography. autobiography. Then, in April 1999, a friend told Sarkis his life story was inspirational inspirational and asked him to speak to his math class at Palmetto High School in Florida. That led to three days of motivational speak- speak- J - yj. - ' "SsjH ing to more than 1,300 students. He was thrilled. But soon he learned a terrible secret. His younger brother told him that while he had spent winter nights locked and cramped in the back of the truck, his father was inside eating a warm meal and gambling away the day's wages. Young Fred had been brought along as a cover. "I was devastated and angry and I felt betrayed," Sarkis said. "And I stopped writing." An extremely spiritual man, Sarkis said that from the time he was a child, he has looked to God and prayer to get him through tough times. He asked God for a sign as to how to handle his hurt and pain. The next day, he opened his mailbox and there were n9 letters from Palmetto High School students, students, praising and thanking him for his talk. Sarkis made peace with his father's actions and began writing writing again. Making it worthwhile Sarkis who has been involved involved in retirement with United Way and Big Brothers, Big Sisters studied clowning a year ago and then began creating skits to get his message out to younger childrea He's done three clown performances performances to help raise money for Camp Good Days and Special Times. And he recently made a presentation to 70 children in Canandaigua's Phoenix Program. The program provides children ages 7 to 16 with activities between the end of the school day and when their parents get home, and during summer vacation, said Canandaigua Police Chief Patrick McCarthy. "Fred's presentation had the kids talking," McCarthy said. "And that's always a good thing. It obviously obviously made an impact on them." Despite the adversities, Sarkis will tell you he's thankful and grateful for the life he's led. But he'll also tell you there's still a lot to be done. In his mission mission to reach 100,000 children, he says he's spoken to about 2,000 so far. "What's really important to me is helping kids," he said. "And if I can make a difference in even one of their lives, it's worth it Money can't buy that kind of success or satisfaction."