WHEELING - Robert Contraguerro Sr. never forgot the kindness of folks at the downtown YMCA when he was just a "poor kid from East Wheeling."
When his father was ill and had to be hospitalized at Ohio Valley Medical Center, Contraguerro would walk past the 20th Street YMCA on the way to the hospital. Some of his neighborhood friends urged him to stop in and enjoy a swim in the basement pool at the Y, a place he didn't know much about - yet. When he approached the desk at the Y and said he was on his way to visit his father, the man at the desk told him he was welcome to swim any day he was visiting his father.
"So I went swimming every day," Contraguerro recalled. "I didn't know you had to pay, because they never charged me. I never forgot that."
Photo by Heather Ziegler
YMCA Light of the Valley honoree Robert Contraguerro Sr. stands with his wife, Jody, at a luncheon Wednesday at Wheeling Park.
Today, Contraguerro operates Panhandle Cleaning and Restoration in Wheeling, which services 16 states with about 100 employees. He is a long way from that poor kid in East Wheeling, but he noted his wealth is what he sees in his own children and their involvement in the community.
On Wednesday, he was honored as the seventh recipient of the annual YMCA "Light of the Valley," a designation given to the Dr. Lee Jones "Patron of Youth" award winner. The award is given to someone whose life reflects his or her contributions and dedication to the quality of life for the youth and families of the local community. Previous honorees include G. Randolph "Randy" Worls, the late Bishop Bernard Schmitt, Bob Robinson, Robert Nutting, Gary West, the Ohio County Commissioners and Greg Stewart.
A crowd of nearly 400 attended the noon luncheon at the White Palace in Wheeling Park and raised a record $74,000 for programs at the YMCA in Wheeling. A check for that amount was presented to YMCA Executive Director Mike Panas.
Humbled by all the attention, Contraguerro thanked his wife, Jody, who has been at his side since their high school days at Wheeling Central Catholic. He also thanked his four children, Robert Jr., Josh, Tom and Stacy, for all they have done in connection with the business and in the community. All four of his children work with the company and for that, he said, he is very blessed. The family also includes seven grandchildren.
Contraguerro explained how important the YMCA was and is today in his life. He recalled shooting thousands of baskets with his daughter and dropping his sons off there where he knew they were in a safe and healthy environment.
"Now my grandkids are there. I've really come full circle," Contraguerro said. "All my kids are giving back, and that's my proudest moment."
In his office at the South Wheeling headquarters of his business, Contraguerro keeps a saying on his desk: "One hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, or how much money I had in the bank. But the world may be a better place because I made a difference in a child's life."
Contraguerro urged everyone to make a difference.
"Pick a small way to get involved and give back," he said.
Jamie Bordas, who is married to Contraguerro's daughter, also serves as president of the Chambers YMCA Board of Directors. He said in addition to being a great father-in-law, Contraguerro has "touched the lives of many kids" through his support of the Y, local schools and many organizations.
West Virginia University head football coach Dana Holgorsen was the featured speaker. He said he could take some tips from Contraguerro on how to juggle a family and the responsibilities of his job. Contraguerro coached football when his sons played at St. Vincent de Paul School.
"The YMCA offers structure for young kids, and that's what they need to succeed as adults," Holgorsen offered. "It gets them headed in the right direction."