Founder of Ashley Furniture receives Horatio Alger Award
April 17, 2022 | 10:22 am CDT

Ronald G. Wanek

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans Inc., a nonprofit educational organization honoring the achievements of outstanding individuals and encouraging youth to pursue their dreams through higher education, has named the founder and chairman of the board of Ashley Furniture Industries Inc., Ronald G. Wanek, as a member in the Horatio Alger organization.

Wanek joins 15 other exceptional business, civic and cultural leaders from across North America in receiving 2022 honors. For more than 70 years, 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 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 1963, Wanek took what he learned at Winona and became involved with the start-up and management of a new operation in Red Wing, Minnesota. He continued to receive excellent mentoring and on-the-job training, building a solid foundation for his career in business. Seven years later, 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, Inc. Ashley Furniture is now the largest furniture manufacturer in the world and their retail operations, Ashley HomeStore, is the largest retail furniture store brand in North America and one of the world’s best-selling furniture store brands with more than 1,000 locations in 56 countries. Since its establishment, the company has rebirthed itself 16 times and today employs more than 30,000 people with over $6 billion in sales annually. 

“Ronald Wanek lives by the guiding principle that a rising tide raises all boats,” said Terrence J. Giroux, executive director, Horatio Alger Association. “He is a philanthropist in the truest sense of the word, not to mention he built his business from the ground up.” 

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 $50 million cornerstone foundation grant to The City of Hope to find a cure for Type 1 Diabetes by 2023. 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, Wanek established and continues to be the benefactor of Soldier’s Walk at Memorial Park in Arcadia, Wisconsin. For nearly three decades, he 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.  

“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.” 

Thanks to the generosity of its Members, the Association awards need-based scholarships to outstanding high school students who are committed to pursuing higher education and giving back to their communities. The Association 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 unmatched resilience in overcoming their challenges. Since the scholarship program was established in 1984, the Horatio Alger Association has provided more than $235 million to 35,000 students in need, all of which has been funded solely through the generosity of Association Members and friends. 

Wanek and the Member Class of 2022 was formally inducted into the Association on April 7-9, 2022, during the Association’s 75th Horatio Alger Award Induction Ceremonies in Washington, D.C. The annual three-day event honors 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. 

For more information about Horatio Alger Association and its Member Class of 2022, please visit www.horatioalger.org

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Larry Adams | Editor

Larry Adams is a Chicago-based writer and editor who writes about how things get done. A former wire service and community newspaper reporter, Larry is an award-winning writer with more than three decades of experience. In addition to writing about woodworking, he has covered science, metrology, metalworking, industrial design, quality control, imaging, Swiss and micromanufacturing . He was previously a Tabbie Award winner for his coverage of nano-based coatings technology for the automotive industry. Larry volunteers for the historic preservation group, the Kalo Foundation/Ianelli Studios, and the science-based group, Chicago Council on Science and Technology (C2ST).