The wealthiest person in Tampa Bay is giving away millions

Ash Jurberg

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I have been writing a popular series of articles about leaders, entrepreneurs, and entertainers and how they give back to their communities.

Today I wanted to look at the wealthiest person in Tampa Bay, Ronald Wanek, and his charitable efforts. So let's take a quick look at his story.

The wealthiest person in Tampa Bay

Wanek is the founder of America's largest home furniture manufacturer and retailer, Ashley Furniture, and has a net worth of $4.9 billion.

It is a far cry from his humble upbringing. As a child, the home he lived in did not have electricity or running water, and when he was eight years old, Wanek began working on a farm earning just 25 cents per week.

His father taught him to make furniture, and in 1970 he used those skills, starting a furniture manufacturing business with a loan.

In 1976 he purchased Ashley Furniture, now the world's largest furniture manufacturing company with revenue of $6.6 billion a year, 1,000 employees, and 1,000 stores in 36 countries.

This has made him very wealthy, but he has been very generous with his wealth.

Philanthropy

Perhaps due to his humble upbringing, Wanek has always supported others less fortunate than himself.

In 1988, Wanek and his wife, Joyce, established the Ronald & Joyce Wanek Foundation to fund various charitable causes, including education, the arts, and medicine.

Some of their donations include:

  • A $50 million grant to The City of Hope to find a cure for Type 1 Diabetes by 2023.
  • Tens of millions in donations to the Mayo Clinic to assist their research efforts to cure heart disease. This cause is personal for Wanek as his grandaughter had a heart defect when she was born.
  • Additional grants to the St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital and other medical research organizations.
  • Millions of dollars in funds to assist local schools and universities and more than 1,000 scholarships in helping offset the escalating costs of higher education.

In 2017, Wanek received the Nido R. Qubein Philanthropist of the Year Award, which honors individuals who have made a significant contribution by being examples of philanthropy and stewardship. While earlier this year, Wanek received the 2022 Horatio Alger Award. The Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans is a nonprofit educational organization honoring the achievements of outstanding individuals and encouraging youth to pursue their dreams through higher education.

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. 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.” Ronald Wanek

Your thoughts

Readers, what do you think of Ronald Wanek's charity? And what Tampa Bay organizations do you think he should support?

Please leave your thoughts in the comments below and share this article with others so they can join the conversation.

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