In late summer of 1983, Kevin McGarry left Ohio for the Nation’s Capital, where he would soon have two separate job offers to consider. One was with U.S. Wheat Associates (USW). The other was with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Baily Circus.
Wheat farmers and flour millers, or clowns and elephants? McGarry didn’t have much experience with either cast of characters, but he went with his instincts. Exactly four decades later, he is retiring as Vice President of Finance at USW. His retirement is effective Nov. 1.
Starting as an entry-level accountant and working his way up to lead the Finance department has allowed McGarry to visit USW offices around the world – he took more than 50 international trips during his career to conduct audits and manage USW’s books.
“U.S. wheat helps feed the world; something everyone who works for the organization can be proud of,” he said. “I always kept that in mind, whether it was working with our farmers here at home or while visiting our offices in other countries.”
USW is Family
McGarry grew up in Akron, Ohio – the tire capital of the world. His father was a mechanic on the Goodyear Blimps. “I didn’t know a whole lot about wheat, agriculture or the export process when I came to USW,” he said. “What I discovered early on, and what was confirmed over and over through the years, is that the people in this industry are family, and what you would call ‘salt of the earth.’ Whether it was here in the U.S. or in our overseas offices, the USW staff, and the people I’ve interacted with have been the best part of my career. The farmers and board members were tremendous to work with. They really made these 40 years a joy.”
USW President Vince Peterson has often joked that McGarry joined USW as an accountant but “quickly rose through the ranks to be its plumber, mechanic, electrician, party planner, HR manager and a host of other jobs” at USW’s Arlington Office.
Peterson said he has valued McGarry’s skills, dedication and ability to look ahead.
“Kevin has been a big part of our success over the past 40 years and is responsible for the fact that we have an organization that is financially sound, well-funded, and well run,” said Peterson, who joined USW shortly after McGarry and has worked closely with him ever since.
It was McGarry who led the charge to purchase its current office condominium 15 years ago – and then pay off its mortgage earlier this year. Both decisions turned out to be sound financial moves for USW.
Speaking of Decisions
As a young man with a degree in accounting from the University of Akron, McGarry made the decision to move to Washington, D.C. without a job in hand. But he soon had offers from USW and Ringling Bros.
Was joining the circus a serious consideration?
“The job was ‘Road Controller’ and they were serious, and I was serious,” McGarry said. “They flew me to Minneapolis to witness the circus in action on the road. They showed me the train compartment where I would live on the train. The job was 100% travel, except for about one month when the circus was down. At that time, a lot of their ticket receipts were cash. I would oversee converting that cash to payroll, because the circus workers wanted their pay in cash.”
After much consideration, including the fact that the USW job involved international travel, McGarry chose USW, which didn’t have a train for him to live on, but provided a solid organization and an admirable role in U.S. agriculture. McGarry mentioned that when he started at USW, computers were scarce so he accounted for 16 overseas offices’ expenses by pencil on large green ledger sheets.
Plans in Retirement
McGarry will remain available “on call” to USW and his successor, Kurt Coppens, for a year as a senior advisor. Otherwise, he plans to continue his work renovating a pre-1800s house he purchased in a small town in Delaware. “The house came with a baby grand piano that I don’t know how to play, so I might learn how to play it,” he said. McGarry recently earned an associate degree in auto mechanics taking night classes, so he’ll also enjoy his car hobby.
Does retiring McGarry have any regrets about 28-year-old McGarry not taking the job with the circus?
“I’m sure I would have a lot of good stories to tell had I gone that route,” he said. “But I have good stories to tell from my time with U.S. Wheat. The stories might not be as entertaining as circus stories, but USW does meaningful work, I’ve had a great career and have made great friends with great people. I’m humbled, and very appreciative.”