Many people find success without a degree
Ahhhhh… the dog days of summer. You’ve just graduated from high school and know your days of leisure soon will come to an end as you pack your bags and head off to the university dormitory, fraternity or sorority house. Right?
Not so, in the case of many. While heading off to college is a traditional and popular route for high school grads, many either don’t have the financial option of doing so, or just choose not to. Yet years later, they’re highly successful. They chose their career paths and followed those paths to financial, physical and mental success. And some who did pack up and go away to college now are working in entirely different fields than their areas of study.
Cathay Cheung, who owns Marco Polo Global Restaurant in downtown Salem, received a bachelor of science degree in chemistry, with a biology minor. So how does that fit in with owning an award-winning restaurant?
“I have always loved the food industry, and now it’s culinary art where I can use my scientific knowledge,” Cheung said. “This knowledge enables me to concentrate on my first concern, safety of the food at all times.”
After retiring from the leading frozen food company in Hong Kong, Cheung brought his family here 11 years ago. His experience in the food industry began in quality assurance, then research and development, leading into production management. He brought this experience to the mushroom plant in Salem, but had a premonition of the financial demise of the plant. At that point, his wife, Jackey, urged him to open a vegetarian restaurant.
“I didn’t think a purely vegetarian restaurant could make it in Salem,” Cheung said.
That’s when Cheung decided to “go global.” The restaurant now has three separate menus: Asian, European/American and vegetarian. There also is a lunch buffet with menu items changing daily.
“It’s taken about four years to get on track, but I think we are there,” he said, adding that all the downtown improvements and the convention center have played a big part in his success.
Cheung, who feels he has many working years ahead of him, isn’t worried about his financial retirement.
“You can have a hundred million dollars, two million dollars or $100, but that doesn’t make retirement,” he said. “You need three things to retire: knowledge, physical health and spiritual happiness. Those are the things I want, and I’ve been fortunate to be able to do what I want for my work also.”
Prudential real estate agent Roberta Latham had a fleeting moment with college, attending the University of Oregon for a term. Latham, who began working at age 14, had an interest in banking. With full support from her parents and family, she started at the bottom while attending South Eugene High School. After 20 years of climbing the corporate ladder at U.S. Bank, she ended her banking career as a vice president with Key Bank in Salem.
“At that point, I took a year off to regroup,” Latham said.
She then set out on a three-month trek to obtain her real estate license. November will mark her fourth year in the real estate industry. How does she rate her success at age 40-something?
“Every day is different,” said Latham, who has won a number of achievement and recognition awards from her dealings with Prudential. “I’m very happy with my career decisions, but in all jobs, you can have outstanding times, then weather the storm, and it will average out.”
She says that many people think real estate is much easier than it is, but to stand out in the field, you have to go above and beyond.
“I return calls promptly and do everything it takes to help my clients.”
As far as her retirement options, Latham said it’s tough when you are basically self-employed.
“I save, and I’m forced to save more because I am not in a structured paycheck environment. I have to concentrate on it.”
Self-employed cosmetologist Trish Ahern, who attended high school in Lincoln Park, Michigan, had every intention of going to college to become a forensics scientist. However, an early marriage break-up altered that dream for her.
“Basically, I had no money whatsoever at that point,” Ahern said. “I did have my parents’ emotional support in whatever choice I made, but opted for the beauty school route because of lack of funds.”
She went directly to cosmetology school and worked nights. She has been in the field for 29 years now and leases a station at the new Capello Salon and Day Spa on south Commercial Street.
“The field has been very good to me,” Ahern said.
However, she is in agreement with Latham about retirement options.
“I put a little away on my own. At least I’ll have something to fall back on,” she said.
Reena Evans, a travel agent with Travel Network in downtown Salem, never had the intent of attending even one day at a traditional college.
“I grew to love travel at a very young age, as my parents traveled extensively,” Evans said.
Her parents were highly supportive of her decision.
Evans, who has been in the industry for 25 years, attended the Air Academy in Vancouver, and was one of only two hired by Alaska Airlines upon completion of the program. Because her husband is a career military man, Evans has not had to worry about her income or retirement. However, the primary benefit to her has been the flexibility.
“I have been available to my family more than I ever could have asked for,” she said.
Small Business Owner
Renee Bianchi, co-owner of Stone Buddha, Baby Cakes and The Purl District in Silverton, had full intentions of going on to college after graduating from high school in Santa Barbara, California. During her senior year, Bianchi learned that Santa Barbara Community College was adding a Radiologic Technology degree, and her decision became clear to her.
“The idea of being able to actually look inside someone’s body and see what is wrong with them is so amazing,” Bianchi said.
After graduating in 1970, Bianchi worked in a number of hospitals and clinics for 35 years.
“I really loved it, as it was a wonderful, fast-paced, difficult and highly physical career,” she said.
But, according to Bianchi, it was very hard on her body. At age 40, she started looking seriously at the artistic side of her life.
“I took jewelry design classes and silversmithing, and started doing Saturday markets and art fairs,” she said.
That’s when her business partner, Celia, decided to let her nursing license lapse, and they opened Stone Buddha, an Asian import shop in Silverton.
“I then let my radiologic license lapse, and we now have Stone Buddha, Baby Cakes (a paper arts store) and The Purl District (a yarn shop),” Bianchi said.
“Today, I adore running Stone Buddha. It’s my special love,” she said.
Bianchi and Stapleton work six to seven days a week, averaging 13 hours a day.
“I doubt we will ever fully retire, because this is too much fun,” Bianchi said. “I do what I love, and always have.”
In 1994, Jeremy Sigel was preparing to graduate from Salem Academy and needed to choose an elective.
“Computer class was the only one available, and I did not like computers at all,” Sigel said.
“They seemed way too complicated and boring. But it was perfect timing, as Creative Labs had just released the first sound card.”
This immediately turned him on to computers. Since he was 14 he had been working for Ken Ernst, who owned KFE Microsystems, so he bought a computer from KFE, broke it, and took it apart.
“I did this a lot, always looking for a way to make it faster and better. Ken was always there to help and teach me.”
Sigel attended a few college courses and found them very disappointing.
“Some of the things they teach in computers are not only obsolete by at least 10 years, but flat out incorrect. It’s not the teachers; rather, the books,” he said.
According to Sigel, each person at KFE has a specific area they excel in, which is an important key to doing well in the computer industry.
“Don’t get me wrong, some fields in this industry require many years of college, and you also may need some coursework in business and advertising classes so you can run your business effectively,” Sigel said.
Sigel took over KFE in the spring of 1996 when Ernst passed away unexpectedly from cancer. He kept the name KFE out of remembrance and respect for all Ernst had done for him. Sigel’s parents were not very supportive of his decision to pursue running KFE, but they changed their minds after a few years. Sigel says he would not be where he is today without the people who work for him.
“I am very happy with my career decisions. I am by no means rich, but have made a good living doing this. I have made smart investments over the years to ensure that I will be able to retire at around 58 years of age,” he said.
Big Business Owner
Bill Kampstra, a Cascade High School graduate, now runs a multi-million dollar company in Salem. He and wife Kathy own and operate Cherry City Floor. Initially, Kampstra had full intentions of getting a degree in business administration, but “money and priorities” stopped that process after two years.
While he feels good about the career decisions he’s made, being self-employed and running a business has its good and bad points.
“It’s a very risky yet rewarding opportunity,” he said. “But the buck stops at the top, so be prepared to make tough and sometimes unpopular decisions.”