Wheeling's Bob Gracey has compiled an eclectic resume in a variety of successful careers that would leave most people exhausted - but this 70-year-old retiree is not content to rest on his laurels or in the front porch rocking chair.
Nope. He's plunging headlong into studies for a professional culinary arts degree at West Virginia Northern Community College. As part of his studies, Gracey is engaged in a 500-hour internship at Elmhurst, The House of Friendship retirement residence in Wheeling.
"I've always enjoyed cooking and I thought I would like to learn a little bit more to do a better job at it and to make more elaborate foods," Gracey explained.
Bob Gracey, 70, of Wheeling cooks in the kitchen of Elmhurst, where he is completing a 500-hour internship. Retired from several careers, he is now pursuing a culinary arts degree from West Virginia Northern Community College.
After being welcomed with open arms by Jamie Crow, Elmhurst executive director, Gracey joined the culinary staff under the tutelage of Debbie Michaels, culinary chief at the residence.
Gracey retired not long ago from a 23-year career as a financial adviser at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, formerly Legg-Mason. But that's just the end of his professional resume.
Gracey is a Weirton native whose family moved to Wheeling when his father worked for Wheeling Steel. He attended Davis & Elkins College in the 1960s, participating in track and football while obtaining a degree in religion and philosophy. His next stop was as a student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and marriage to his wife, Pat. After graduation, the couple simultaneously served three parishes in Kentucky for two years before heading back to the seminary for advanced pastoral studies.
As part of his studies, Gracey spent time at Woodville State Hospital near Carnegie, Pa., where a colleague suggested he consider a career in community mental health.
Taking that advice, Gracey went to work part-time in a mental health and developmental disability program at a nonprofit entity in Kittanning, Pa., while serving a church in nearby Cowansville, Pa.
Gracey said he loved the community of Cowansville and the members of his church congregation. Many of those rural residents, he explained, had become wealthy due to a variety of successful ventures.
Gracey and his family became close friends with many of the residents, including one man who offered Gracey a proposal to manage a motel he owned. Career number three was looming.
Gracey could only ponder the opportunity for a day as the man expected an answer in 24 hours! Of course, Gracey said yes.
"I loved the people in the church community, but I thought if I was ever going to do something different, this was the time to do it," he recalled.
Gracey soon learned the ins and outs of the hospitality industry. He also realized the 34-room motel which had expanded to 64 units, needed a restaurant. The owner agreed and added that plus a lounge, meeting rooms and banquet hall.
Gracey moved up the motel ladder to the position of general manager of the complex. During his tenure, he was heavily involved in the Quality Inns International organization, serving on committees and attending conventions.
Not satisfied with simply working at one job, Gracey enrolled in firefighters' school at the age of 42. However, during one exercise, he fell from a perch high upon a ladder and was forced to take it easy and recover from his injuries, which gave him time think about his future once again.
"I decided I wanted to move on in the same field, but I didn't have the food and beverage experience everyone in the industry expected. I knew I would never own the motel I managed, so I started to look around," he remembers.
He applied for a position at Aladdin Foods in Wheeling which happened to be owned by Dominic Agostino who had been a baker at D&E during the same time Gracey was a student. Although there were no openings at the time, Agostino said he would keep Gracey's resume on file.
Two weeks later, Agostino invited Gracey to dinner at the Wheeling Country Club and offered him the job as manager.
"This sounded like a good opportunity, so we moved to Wheeling and I managed the club for three years," Gracey recalled.
During that time, Agostino agreed to send Gracey to attend the Greenbrier Cooking School at White Sulphur Springs where he learned more about "fancy food" preparation.
After three years of nearly working 24-7, Gracey realized the long hours kept him away from his family more than he wanted.
One Sunday, fate intervened again when he read an ad in the Sunday newspaper asking "Do You Have the Right Stuff to Earn a Six-Figure Income?"
The investment firm, Legg-Mason, was looking for a financial adviser. Growing up, Gracey had lived next door to the late Howard Corcoran who was a mainstay at the investment firm.
"We knew the Corcoran family well. I actually taught Howard Jr. how to park a car when he was a teenager," Gracey said, laughing.
And it was the late Howard Corcoran Jr. who interviewed him and asked if he had any experience selling intangibles. Gracey thought to himself, "What is more intangible than faith?" He got the job, went through a training program and earned a living on a 100-percent sales commission basis.
Looking back, Gracey vividly recalls an early moment shortly after completing his training that coincided with the infamous 1987 Black Friday stock crisis and said, "No one was mad at me because I hadn't recommended any bad deals."
It took time to build a steady clientele in the Weirton area that he covered, but Gracey embraced his new career, one he said is based on trust and confidence.
It was during a business meeting at Weirton's Millsop Community Center that he ran into WVNCC culinary instructor Marion Grubor to whom he said he would like to take one of her classes when he retired. When he finally inquired about taking a class, Grubor turned the tables on him and had Gracey teach a class on table-side food preparation.
Today, as a full-time student, Gracey is earning a 4.0 grade-point average. His previous credits from D&E were honored by WVNCC. Ironically, Gracey was intimately familiar with Elmhurst because he had served on the board of directors for six years.
After pulling some freshly baked pecan pies from the oven at Elmhurst one afternoon, Gracey said he hasn't formulated any plans for the future after earning his culinary degree, but acknowledges that he won't simply be "sitting in a rocking chair." Stay tuned - there's bound to be more to this story.