Delbert Ackerman was a Bluffton student for two years in the mid-1950s, where he learned valuable lessons from Dr. Howard Raid, Bluffton's legendary business professor.
Since then, business in various forms has been good to Ackerman, who in 2014 is marking his 50th year as owner of Del's 24-Hour Store in East Naples, Fla. Selling everything from bait shrimp to soda, the convenience store has even made the Guinness Book of World Records for living up to its name, staying open continuously for more than 50 years.
He learned early on to make sure his bills were paid and to keep money in reserve "in case anything happens," while also stressing friendly service and giving back to the community that supported him. "When I give, I receive," he adds. "It's fun to help people."
Last year, after a conversation in Florida "brought back memories" of Bluffton, Ackerman extended his giving to the university and joined the President's Society, whose members commit at least $1,000 per year to support the university's mission, programs and students.
"I really enjoyed my time at Bluffton," says the Toledo, Ohio, native, who also played football until he injured his leg. He particularly remembers "being around a lot of good people, friendly people." And of course, he remembers a life lesson from Dr. Raid who chastised him for buying a car when a bicycle would have been a more prudent investment.
"I've been so fortunate, but I've also worked very hard," Ackerman points out, citing 14- and 15-hour workdays. At his side for most of them was his wife of 54 years, Nancy, who died in October 2012. While she—and their daughter, Tanya, who died in 2007—were irreplaceable, his longtime employees have become like family over the years, he says.
He recalls joking with his wife that they should have had a living room in the front of the convenience store, where their daughter also worked and they observed special occasions. "We celebrated everything with our customers," says the owner, who has always done his own advertising and has been told he is a local "legend."
"I thank the Lord every day," he says for helping me "keep everything going."