ARCADIA, Wis. – Ashley Furniture Industries, LLC Founder and Chairman, Ron Wanek, was inducted into the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Inc. this past weekend. The Horatio Alger Awards, which took place in Washington, D.C., was a four-day event honoring the achievements of both Members and National Scholars, affording both groups the opportunity to meet and interact as well as exchange stories of hardships and triumphs.
Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Inc., is a nonprofit educational organization honoring the achievements of outstanding individuals and encouraging youth to pursue their dreams through higher education. Celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, the Horatio Alger Award has been annually bestowed upon esteemed individuals who have succeeded despite facing adversities, and who have remained committed to higher education and charitable efforts in their communities.
Wanek joined 15 other exceptional business, civic and cultural leaders from across North America in receiving the 2022 honors.
“This is the highest of lifetime honors one could ever dream to be a part of, and I am beyond humbled,” stated Ron Wanek. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without my family, my wife, the wonderful mentors I had along the way and everyone who believed in me. The mission of the Horatio Alger Association is a critical one, helping students pursue their education and dreams regardless of the rising costs. Education is the key to further advance our country as a world leader for generations to come, and I look forward to supporting the Association and the students with my fellow members.”
Wanek grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota, where his family farmed as sharecroppers. The home he lived in for much of his childhood did not have electricity or running water. When he was eight years old, Wanek began working on the farm to earn 25 cents per 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, immediately entered the workforce as a laborer at the Winona Industries factory. His hard work and ambition was noticed by the owners of the factory, who mentored him and taught him every aspect of the manufacturing business.
In 1970, 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. Ashley is now the largest furniture manufacturer in the world and their retail operation is the largest retail furniture store brand in North America and one of the world’s best-selling furniture store brands with more than 1,075 locations in 64 countries. Since its establishment, the company has rebirthed itself 17 times and today employs more than 30,000 people with over $6 billion in sales annually.
In 1988, Wanek and his wife, Joyce, established the Ronald & Joyce Wanek Foundation which provides funding to a variety of causes including education, the arts and medicine. The Wanek family also provided a cornerstone donation to The City of Hope to help fund an ambitious $50 million plan to find a cure for Type 1 Diabetes. Wanek, in addition to the substantial contributions made by the Todd and Karen Wanek Foundation, has personally donated millions to Mayo Clinic to assist their research efforts to cure heart disease.
Among his many philanthropic contributions, in 1990, Ron established and continues to be the benefactor of Soldier’s Walk at Memorial Park in Arcadia, Wisconsin. For nearly three decades, Ron has contributed millions of dollars and thousands of hours of service by hand sculpting and designing over 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 of Washington D.C.
Thanks to the generosity of its Members, in 2022, the Association is projected to award $21 million in need-based scholarships to over 2,100 outstanding high school students who are committed to pursuing higher education and giving back to their communities. Like Association Members, Horatio Alger Scholars have faced significant adversities, but have also displayed unmatched resilience in overcoming their challenges.
Photo: Supreme Court Justice and Horatio Alger Member, Clarence Thomas, presents Ron Wanek with the Horatio Alger Association medallion.