Ronald G. Wanek, the son of sharecroppers who built one of the world’s leading furniture companies, has been named a winner of a 2020 Horatio Alger Award.
Wanek is chairman of the board of Home Furnishings Association member Ashley Furniture Industries, based in Arcadia, Wis. He grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota in a home that lacked electricity and running water for much of his childhood. Following high school, he went to work as a laborer for Winona Industries, where he learned about manufacturing.
In 1963, he joined a start-up company in Red Wing, Minn., acquiring on-the-job business training. In 1970, he and a group of investors formed Arcadia Furniture Corporation, where he managed day-to-day operations. Later, the company merged with Ashley Furniture to become Ashley Furniture Industries. Today, AFI is the world’s largest furniture manufacturer. Its retail operation, Ashley HomeStores, has more than 1,000 locations in 56 countries. It has reached $6 billion in annual sales.
The Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Inc., a nonprofit educational organization, honors the achievements of outstanding individuals who have succeeded despite facing adversities. Members remain committed to higher education and charitable efforts in their communities. They help encourage young people pursue their dreams through higher education. Wanek is one of 14 business, civic and cultural leaders from across North America receiving 2020 honors.
Wanek foundation supports education, arts, medicine
In 1988, Wanek and his wife, Joyce, established the Ronald & Joyce Wanek Foundation, which funds a variety of causes including education, the arts, and medicine. The Wanek family also provided a $50 million cornerstone foundation grant to The City of Hope to find a cure for Type 1 Diabetes by 2023. Wanek has personally donated millions to Mayo Clinic to assist its research efforts to cure heart disease.
In 1990, Wanek established Soldier’s Walk at Memorial Park in Arcadia. For nearly three decades, he has contributed millions of dollars and thousands of hours of service by hand-sculpting and designing more than 25 monuments in the 500-meter walk that captures all U.S. wars. Soldier’s Walk is recognized as the nation’s premiere war memorial, outside Washington D.C.
“I understand the important role education plays in changing the trajectory of one’s life, but I also know what it feels like to not be able to attend college due to rising costs,” said Wanek. “To be inducted into an organization that works tirelessly to support thousands of young people each year, lessening the financial burden of obtaining a degree, is a true honor. The mission of the Horatio Alger Association is a critical one, and I look forward to helping to advance it.”
Horatio Alger class include Jane Seymour
The association awards need-based scholarships to outstanding high school students who are committed to pursuing higher education and giving back to their communities. It also educates young people about the limitless opportunities afforded to them by the free-enterprise system through hard work, honesty, and determination. Like association members, Horatio Alger Scholars have faced significant adversities but have also displayed resilience in overcoming them. Since the scholarship program was established in 1984, the association has provided more than $180 million to 27,000 students in need.
The 2020 Horatio Alger class also includes actor, artist and designer Jane Seymour. Jane Seymour Designs is a lifestyle brand, which, in collaboration with designer Michael Amini, shows at the Las Vegas and High Point furniture markets.
Wanek, Seymour and others in the class will be formally inducted into the association April 2-4, 2020, during its 73rd Horatio Alger Award induction ceremonies in Washington, D.C.