The Herald, Sharon,
PA Published June 29, 1997


Winner eyes valley where people will want to stay

PHOTO David E. Dale/Herald James E. Winner Jr. stands with his wife, Donna, at Tara, A Country Inn, which they own in Clark.


By Jennifer Hall
Herald Staff Writer

James E. Winner Jr. knows what it's like to go without and to work hard for what you've got.

``I was raised on a very small, very poor dirt farm in Transfer,'' he said. ``When I'm speaking to a group, I feel comfortable saying that no one in the room was raised poorer than me.''

At the age of 5, he was up at 5 a.m. to milk the cows on the Pymatuning Township farm. He attended a one-room schoolhouse and graduated in a class of eight from Reynolds at age 16.

At 17, he entered the Army and six months later found himself across the ocean in the middle of the Korean War.

But the 67-year-old chairman of Winner International attributes his successes to what he learned long ago on the farm.

``My father gave me my work ethic,'' he said as his eyes drifted off and his tone and expression became sentimental. ``Nothing has ever been physically hard for me, I've done harder work on the farm.''

But more importantly, Winner said, his mother was the true influence on his morals and integrity. At 13, after watching his parents work so hard for nothing, Winner decided that farming was not for him. His mother told him to tell his father about the decision.

``I was shaking,'' Winner said.

``It was assumed that I was to take over, but I went out to the barn and told my father as soon as I was old enough I was going to do something else.''

After a moment of silence from his father, Winner was told that if he wanted to give up farming, that was his decision.

``She was teaching me a lesson: Be forthright with your plans because when you are not, that causes problems,'' he said. ``I think she would be very proud of me now.''

The man who now runs a multimillion-dollar company attended a couple years of business school but never went to college _ something he feels put him behind a few steps along the way.

``The things I learned through trial and error you learn in college,'' he said.

``I really want to do my part in creating in the valley a quality of life that my grandchildren and their children won't want to leave. We need jobs, and we need to have a cultural center.''

James E. Winner Jr.

More than 50 years after deciding against farming, Winner bought a portion of his homestead and plans to turn the former Transfer Elementary School _ also where his four children were educated _ into a culinary school.

PHOTO Jean Angelo/Herald Traffic makes its way through State Street in Sharon in this view looking west. Businessman James E. Winner Jr. says his motive is to save the downtown.

Winner understands that with each purchase, his intentions may be misunderstood. Murmurs of ``Winnerville'' _ as a takeoff of Potterville from the Frank Capra classic movie ``It's a Wonderful Life'' _ surface with each new acquisition.

``I'm never going to please everyone,'' he said. ``But it's a lack of understanding by people because they don't know or want to believe my motives, and my motives are so simple.''

Winner's motive involves a legacy of improvement.

``I want to leave my footprint on the valley _ there's no question about that _ but what I want my footprint to say is that I bought this building with one purpose: to save downtown Sharon.''

As he looked outside his office window, Winner said he knew that with the 629A 2cooperation of other Sharon businesses such as Reyers Shoe Store, Daffin's Candies, Goldstein's Furniture and the Three by the River complex the city could compete economically with other metropolitan areas.

And by doing so, Winner believes the ``mass exodus'' of people that occurred in the 1980s with the closing of many Mercer County industries will come to an end.

Winner said he is doing his part to provide jobs through his many business holdings. He is also striving to make the downtown more interesting to attract more tourists.

``I really want to do my part in creating in the valley a quality of life that my grandchildren and their children won't want to leave,'' he said. ``We need jobs and we need to have a cultural center.''

Winner said he is trying to help the cultural aspect by developing an art museum, converting the Buhl Mansion into a spa and working on the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and Museum.

Quality of life is determined by three factors: good health care, sound education and low crime, Winner said, adding that the valley has all of those ingredients.

``I'm trying to help by strengthening each part under the blanket that covers quality of life,'' he said.

Winner also believes in the journey of life. He has gone from being a door-to-door salesman for insurance and vacuums to buying and selling the Shenango Inn to being named Person of the Year by Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Winner recognizes that he has come a long way from the farm. He first worked with the electronic security devices hooked to clothing that sound when the item is taken out of the store, then captured the personal security market with The Club line of products.

And he has faced controversy along that road, such as accusations of unfair consumer practices at his former Transfer store and lawsuits over the invention and advertising of his breakthrough product, The Club, an anti-theft device for cars.

``The passages of life are very real,'' he said. ``You think differently at 20 than you do at 30, 40 and 50. My guidelines have changed. I have always done things with integrity, but it's sometimes controversial. None of us know why things come to our minds, but I've got something telling me now in my 60s the same thing that was told to St. Paul: `To whom much is given, much is expected.' ''

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