Business Owner and World War II Vet Collects Diploma, Ovation

Great article today from Mike Bennett of the Richmond Palladium-Item (and picked up by the Indianapolis Star) that features the story of an Indiana business owner who’s getting his due:

FOUNTAIN CITY, Ind. — Bonnie Roark joined the Army as the youngest soldier in his company during World War II.

He fought for two months in the 710th Tank Battalion in the bloodiest island battle in the Pacific Theater.

The 84-year-old started Alpha Water Conditioning in 1968 without having a nickel in the bank and built it into 150 dealerships in 38 states.

His hard work and can-do spirit are well known in Fountain City, where recently he and fellow Lions Club members helped build a housing project for senior citizens.

But until Saturday night, he had never walked in another graduate’s shoes.

"I just expected to go up and pick up my diploma and walk out," Roark said Monday.

But the principal and welcoming seniors of Randolph Southern had something else in mind after they received theirs. The lights were turned down and candles were lit. The choir sang.

Principal Mike Manning told the audience about Roark’s service record, which includes two Bronze Stars, and invited him forward.

With tears in his eyes, Roark picked up the parchment he should have received from the Class of 1944 at Spartanburg High School. The crowd erupted in a standing ovation.

"I’ve never had one of those before," Roark said. "That was probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Even all the kids came around and shook my hand."

Hat tip to Chamber staffer Tim Brewer.