Libertyville Ace Hardware manager Paul LaRoche honored for 50 years of service
For 50 years, the Libertyville Ace Hardware store has been the place for Paul LaRoche, who was honored Friday for the rare milestone.
In fact, it was 50 years ago to the day the then-17-year-old high school senior reported to that very store on Peterson Road just west of Milwaukee Avenue as part of a work release program.
LaRoche joked that he wasn't in trouble. Rather, the Chicago transplant had accumulated enough course credits to be released early from Libertyville High School for job experience.
He worked part time every afternoon starting at $1.40 an hour and literally never left, making a career as the local "helpful hardware man." In the process, he became a community institution and caretaker of the local source for household needs, advice and camaraderie.
"Helping people is my whole thing. It's not a challenge. It's fun, it really is," he told family, friends, colleagues, longtime customers and well-wishers.
LaRoche was awarded the Estwing Golden Hammer Award, a hardware industry recognition presented to those who reach 50 years of service, a rare occurrence.
The event was organized by Brenda Warning, his assistant manager for 36 years.
"There isn't a day that goes by where a customer isn't asking about Paul or looking for him to ask him a question," she said. "He truly has made an impact in my life and the in the lives of so many, many people who have walked through our doors."
Paul Swatek, multi-store manager for the Ace Hardware Corp., said he's requested five Golden Hammers in his 38 years with the company. There are 4,800 locally owned and operated Ace stores in the U.S. and 5,600 worldwide.
Christine Doucet, director of the Ace Foundation and employee engagement, presented LaRoche with the "You Rock" award for his passion and community involvement. A $10,000 check in LaRoche's name also was donated to Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.
"We meet a lot of people," she said, "but not a lot like Paul."
The Libertyville Ace Hardware itself is a study in consistency, having been owned by only two families since it opened in 1955 by the Hesse family. Richard Hesse was among a group of hardware owners who in 1924 united their Chicago stores into "Ace Stores" to maximize buying power.
The Libertyville store opened downtown and moved to its current location on Peterson Road in 1964. The Hesse family, LaRoche said, welcomed him like a son, showed him the ropes and encouraged him along the way.
LaRoche was part of the package when the Libertyville store was sold to the Laskowski family in 1990. The Laskowski family owns eight Ace stores in Lake County and one in McHenry County.
"This guy right here, he is the face of Ace," said co-owner Rich Laskowski Jr. "He's Ace helpful and he knows everybody."
During his tenure, LaRoche has worked on the Children's Miracle Network fundraising events, won the corporate Presidents Cup along with Warning, and has run the annual Memorial Day tent sale for 30 years.
Mayor Donna Johnson was among those who spoke during the event and presented LaRoche with a village proclamation.
"He meets no strangers," she said. "What gives people a foundation is their values and Paul exemplifies what we value."
LaRoche still fits into the once-signature 44-long red sports jacket worn by Ace employees as they greet customers at the door. It may be half a century but he won't be retiring anytime soon.
"I'm planning on hanging around," he said. "Definitely."