Shaping a legacy: Earning, learning and givingWith the help of a retired financial adviser, Woodland Hills CEO and President Richard Quigley turned a $55,000 flood damage repair job into a $2,700 solution.
By: Patra Sevastiades, for the Budgeteer
If fairy godfathers exist, they may drive farm machinery.
Just ask Richard Quigley of Duluth. After the June flood, Quigley, who is CEO and president of Woodland Hills, discovered that rain-swollen Amity Creek had roared through the property, damaged two 6-foot culverts, and cut a mammoth gash into the road. The estimate for the repair was $55,000, he said. Woodland Hills, a facility that runs residential and day programs for teenagers dealing with issues of abuse, neglect, mental health, and addiction, did not have money in the budget for the job.
One day, Quigley said, he mentioned this over lunch to Phil Strom, vice president of the Woodland Hills board of directors. Strom, impeccably clad in suit and tie, looked straight at Quigley and offered, “If you get me the materials to repair the road, I can fix it.”
The next day, 68-year-old Strom showed up hauling a trailer carrying an ASV rubber-tracked loader. With the help of one of Quigley’s staff, he got to work. Hours later, the two men had filled the hole and resurfaced the road. Total cost: $2,700.
Strom, a retired financial adviser, cheerfully related that he is no stranger to farm machinery or adversity. He was born in Blue Earth County, Minn., the sixth of seven children. The son of sharecroppers, he grew up in a chilly house with no running water. In winter, he recalled, the drinking water in the bucket sometimes froze around the ladle. The family owned cows, he said, and his parents sold the cream. His mother used the skim milk for meals. The remainder was mixed with oats for use as pig slop. Strom worked hard, he said, and did not feel poor.
When he was 14, he said, he hired himself out to a farmer to do labor for room, board, and a wage. Later, he worked for another farmer, and when the time came to pay Strom, the farmer admitted he didn’t have the money. “So I proposed taking a flock of sheep in exchange for the $300 he owed me.” The farmer agreed. Strom sheared the sheep and sold the wool and the lambs. By the time he finished high school, he said, “I had more money in the bank than my father ever had.”
Strom kept working hard. He and a silent partner opened a retail men’s clothing store. Soon, they had a successful chain of Wilson’s Better Men’s Clothing.
But the two men had a falling out, and Strom lost his stores. It was a blow.
“It sounds silly now,” he said, “but it was like losing a child.” Strom found himself back at square one, with a family to support. He had to make an unexpected career jump: He landed on his feet as a stock broker — and he said he did better than he could possibly have imagined.
That was one of two life challenges that, by his own account, forged his character. The second continues to this day.
Strom became an alcoholic, he said, and he hit rock bottom emotionally, spiritually and financially. He joined a 12-step program. “It took me three years to be free of my obsession with alcohol,” he recalled. He is a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 33 years, he said, and prayer and meditation continue to be part of his daily routine. “I cannot imagine my life not being an alcoholic,” he adds, because he is grateful that his recovery has made him the person he is today.
“I have been given so much. Now, I want to give back.” And he does, especially where kids are involved.
Back in 2008, Quigley of Woodland Hills became aware of a disturbing new nationwide trend: Girls were getting in trouble with the police at alarmingly high rates. He asked Strom, “Would you consider heading a fundraising effort for a new $5 million girls’ dormitory?” Strom and his wife, Babs, gave a lead gift. Strom solicited additional donations. The dorm has been full ever since it opened in 2009.
Quigley, too, is grateful. “Everything we asked him to do, he did.”
“Woodland Hills makes a difference in kids’ lives,” Strom said. “That inspires me.”