Sunday, July 1, 2012

Annabelli Mushrooms and Great Americans

Dennis Annabelli is an amazing guy. He is one of those people with whom I can sit and talk for hours on end. Lots of times when I drop by his office we get into trouble because time flies by and we aren't paying much attention. I have always loved the stories of hard working Americans who make it in life, and Dennis is one of those folks.

Recently one Saturday just before lunch I dropped by to see him at his office. We started chatting about life in general and what was going on with both of us. As the conversation went on he began telling me stories of when he was a young boy and his work in the family mushroom business. This was a story I had never heard.

He told how his father would rouse them early in the morning and they would work all day cutting mushrooms. All day was 12 or 14 hours with a short break for a sandwich, then right back at it. Three rows running the length of the barns, hundreds of feet long. The first row on your knees, the second bending over and the third off a ladder. Working side by side with the migrant workers and never letting up.

He would miss three days of school during each harvest session and when he showed back up and his teachers would ask him where he was, he said he would show them his thumb. The dirt from the work would stain their thumbs black for days after. The teachers knew that the farm boys were working, and that was that.

The family mushroom business thrived for years. The chores and the hard work were never questioned; when dad said to get something done you just did it. Eventually his father went to work for one of the big soup companies, and the mushroom chores were done. 

Today many kids have no idea what a family-owned farm or business takes to run. Many would have a hard time just telling you what their parent does for a living. The hard work that came with the mushroom business would be out of the question for most young people today.

David M. Kauppi, president Mid Market Capital, says historically less than 13 percent of third generation kids raised in a family business will stay in the business. When business founders were asked why they were successful, many say it is the long days -- up at 3 a.m. and down late -- that kept them from spending the money and thus the capital to stay successful. Today the lifestyle and a taste of the good life many of the founders’ kids enjoy keep them from sharing the passion and commitment of the business founder. They like the perks but lack the drive. Sounds familiar to lots of parents. I suspect.

The Bible tells us to work hard. 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12,For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” And Pope Paul VI agreed, "All life demands struggle. Those who have everything given to them become lazy, selfish and insensitive to the real values of life. The very striving and hard work that we so constantly try to avoid is the major building block in the person we are today." 

Some say the introduction of the air conditioner to the American public in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s is when Americans began to forget how to work hard. Many blame the introduction of the computer and television as the end.

Hard work is seldom something anyone wants to do day-in and day-out. For many it is just what they do. You get up, get the job done, then you do it again the next day. We are gifted by God to be in a country where if we do get up, work hard, strive and push, we can be successful and enjoy the fruits of our labor. Many lives have been given to afford us this the gift that is America -- a place where anyone who is willing to work hard and stay out of trouble can do mighty things.

My buddy, Dennis, was raised old school and has never considered not working hard and providing for his family. He is not alone. I was moved by his story of the mushroom farm because he was so matter of fact, so sincere, and the descriptions of the hard work were profound. 

"When my dad said something, we just did it. We never complained or questioned whether we had to do it -- we just did it," Annabelli explained. In his eyes you can see a sense of love for family and a deep respect for his father. The hard days as a child are now filtered by time, and the memories are empowering and joyful.

When we looked up there were two employees standing by his door waiting to talk to him, his phone had rang twice and his iPhone beeped once with a text message. Dang it, we did it again. We got carried away in conversation. I love that.