Notable Neighbor

June 16, 2022 at 4:25 p.m.
Notable Neighbor
Notable Neighbor

By Dean M. Laux

This Guy Has Certainly Shown A Lot Of Drive
More than 200 synonyms for the word “drive” can be found in the vast repositories of our English language, and Englewood’s Roy Ault epitomizes a few of them in particular: nouns such as motivation, initiative, self-reliance and perseverance, and verbs such as impel and guide.
Born in 1934 during the Great Depression, he grew up in modest circumstances on his parents’ small farm near Columbus, Ohio “I just grew up with little guidance,” he says. “My dad and I did not see eye to eye until I was about 40 years old.” At age 14 he decided to hitchhike across the country on his own. He wanted to see the Rockies in Colorado and the ocean lapping the shores of California, where some of his cousins lived. His adventures during that trip are a story unto themselves, but it was highlighted in his memory by taking over the wheel of a stranger’s car and driving all night through the perilous mountains in northern Idaho. “He asked me if I had my driver’s license, and I told him I did, although it was restricted to the state of Ohio,” Roy recalls. He made it, but just barely.
When he was 15, his parents sold their farm and moved to a one-room accommodation closer to Columbus, but Roy didn’t go with them. Instead, he hired himself out to another farmer so that he could finish his high school years at tiny Orange Township High School. “We were going to have a good basketball team that year,” he explains. Roy excelled in basketball and football there and was a good student. “I graduated third in my class,” he says, but he reluctantly adds that there were only twelve kids in his class.
He was a big fan of Ohio State University in Columbus, which then, as now, had great football teams, and he wanted to make a career of football coaching. So even though he was recruited by some smaller Ohio colleges, he held off to go to OSU when he graduated from high school in 1952. As it turned out, he did go to OSU but lettered only in lacrosse, as the competition in sports at a university with over 30,000 students at that time was fierce. But he outdid the competition for a gal named Sherrie, whom he met as a sophomore and would marry two years later, on December 21, 1956.
At OSU Roy majored in health, physical education and recreation and got his bachelor’s degree in 1956, along with a teaching certificate. He then began a career as a football coach (and more) that would take him to several different locales and last for 18 years: Rockford High School (football), Bowling Green State University (football), Colonel White High School in Dayton (football, basketball, baseball), Cambridge High School (football, baseball), and finally Whetstone High School in Columbus, where he was assistant coach in football and head coach of the wrestling team. Wrestling?  “I knew very little about wrestling, but I recruited a lot of help from friends who were wrestling coaches,” he says, and his squads did well.
It was common in those days for the coaches to teach classes as well, usually in physical education or health. Roy followed that scenario until he reached Dayton, where driver education was added to his teaching load. That involved classroom lessons on the rules and regulations, safety measures and preparations for getting a license, plus driving practice on the road. At Dayton and thereafter, “every school where I taught, they had one car dealer who supplied the vehicles, either a Ford or a Chevrolet,” Roy says.
In 1974 Roy said goodbye to coaching. He had been teaching driver education after school to get some extra money, and he realized that he could make more money teaching driver ed than he could coaching. He had a growing family, son Brad having been born in 1959 and daughter Misty in 1961. So he and Sherrie decided to strike out on their own and set up Ault Driving School.
It was a low-overhead operation. They taught in some public schools and used church basements and space offered by nonprofit organizations. Their cars came from local Ford or Chevy dealers at no cost for the public school programs, though they had to have their own equipment for private schools. “We got busy right away, teaching kids, immigrants and adults who had never gotten around to applying for a driver’s license,” Roy says. Soon he had to take on help. Their most popular package was six hours of road and classroom training for $149, and the business grew rapidly. Roy spent most of his time managing the burgeoning operation, and Sherrie handled the purchasing and payrolls. By the time they sold the business in 1979, they had 50 employees in 12 locations in Ohio, owned over 20 cars and were one of the top three driving schools in the state.
So why did they sell? “Number one, Sherrie’s mom was down here in Englewood, and we wanted to be near her, as her health was failing. And number two, I was worn out. I had worked hard all my life, and I was ready to get some rest,” Roy proclaims. “We bought a house, we bought a boat, and we went out on that boat every day for two years.” And after two years? “We ran out of money,” he freely admits. “So I went out and got a job as construction coordinator for the La Casa mobile home community in North Port. My job was to ready all the units for occupation once they were completed.”
After two years there, the management firm in California asked Roy if he’d become the manager of their mobile home community in Bradenton, Colony Cove. It was a huge community with over 1,000 homes, and the pay was a big step up from La Casa. He took it, and for three years he was basically in charge of the sales force selling and building the units there. He’d fly up to cities in Minnesota or Wisconsin or Ohio on weekends and hold sales seminars for northerners hungry to escape the ice and snow to retire in Florida. Back home in Bradenton the rest of the week he’d supervise the handling of customers who came to the office as a result of those seminars and other sales efforts. Then he’d serve as construction coordinator to be sure the units were ready for occupancy.
In 1986 he got an offer he couldn’t refuse: manager of the Lemon Bay Isles mobile home community right here in Englewood. “I took it,” he says. “The pay was good and I didn’t have to make the long drive to Bradenton every day,” and perhaps best of all, the work week stopped on Friday at 4 p.m.
During that time at Lemon Bay Isles, Sherrie suggested that Roy could give driver training courses here in Florida part time, and he decided to give it a go. He found ready customers, and lo and behold, by 1989 they were back in the driver education business again, full time. They formed what is now known as Ault’s Driver Education Center (managed by their son Brad), and it’s a thriving business up and down the west coast of the state.
As if he didn’t already have enough on his plate, in 1986 Roy walked into the office of the Charlotte Sun newspaper and asked if he could write a regular column for them. They gave him a go-ahead, he started sending in weekly articles for a column entitled “Roy’s Rhetoric” under which rubric he could write on any topic at all, and he kept it up for 33 years until retiring in 2019. How’s that for drive?
Well, now 88 years of age and hobbled a bit by injuries to his back and knee, he has slowed down physically, but not mentally. He’s written nine books that he’s self-published and is working on a tenth, just to fulfill his longtime interest in writing–and to answer a challenge  Sherrie put to him a few years ago. He plans to keep going. He’s been his own man since he was 14 years old … and he’s Sherrie’s man too. Their 66 years of marriage will attest to that.
Dean Laux is exploring interesting folks living in our community. If you know of anyone with an interesting background please send an email to: [email protected]. Include the person’s name, contact info and give a brief description of the person’s background.