ONE ON ONE | Ron King Fast food manager soared to Eagle Heights

Q. Tell me about your career with Taco Bell?
A. I worked five years with Hardees. I started at Hardees at Kilcawley Center as an employee while I was attending YSU. By the time I graduated, I was managing the Hardees at YSU. Then I went to Temple University and I managed the Hardees there for almost two years. And from that experience, I came back to Youngstown and started as an assistant manager with Taco Bell.
When I came back to Youngstown, I actually did my training in New Castle and was relocated to Pittsburgh and opened the first Taco Bell in Pittsburgh as an assistant manager.
Q. What year was that?
A. 1981.
Q. So you really were in on the beginnings of Taco Bell.
A. Yes. There were three Taco Bells in Youngstown, one in New Castle and one in Sharon. I opened the first one in Pittsburgh in 1981, then we opened one in Duquesne, Pa., and then in Washington, Pa. The plan was to open 40 or 50 Taco Bells in Pittsburgh.
Q. You lived in Pittsburgh?
A. Yes, for almost seven years. During that seven years, we opened probably about five or six Taco Bells. And I had the opportunity to be promoted back to Youngstown. To me, it was mind-boggling because when I left Youngstown I thought I'd never return. But they had a district manager position open. They had seven stores in Youngstown. So I came back to Youngstown to supervise those seven stores. In the course of the next five years, we opened 14 Taco Bells between Youngstown and Pittsburgh.
Q. Were you happy to come back to Youngstown?
A. Happy in a lot of respects. I still had family and friends in this area. I always had a love for Youngstown, but opportunities always seemed to present themselves in other places. I spent two years in Philadelphia, which to be honest, I hated. It was just too big of a city. Moved to Pittsburgh and really enjoyed life in Pittsburgh.
Q. What year were you in Philadelphia?
A. Ahh ...1979 to 1981.
Q. Believe it or not, I attended Temple University and graduated in 1982.
A. Really. Oh my goodness.
Q. I would have been there when you were there.
A. Yeah. The student activities center.
Q. Remember it well. I used to work in the student activities center.
A. It's a small world. Man, we probably passed each other.
Q. I loved Philadelphia.
A. It was just too much of a change for me. I wasn't into rowhouse living. ... I moved to New Jersey. Took me about 40 minutes to get back and forth. ... It probably was my immaturity of having been in Youngstown all of my life. I hated the traffic, didn't like the drive. It was very eye-opening for me. There were some things I learned from working at Temple University that from a business standpoint were things I needed to learn -- it was a trust factor with people. I was very naive. Temple taught me that the world can be cruel. But in the business world, that was something I needed to learn.
Q. So how did you go from Taco Bell to Eagle Heights Academy?
A. There's a long story. My pastor is Gary Frost [at Rising Star Baptist Church and a founder of Eagle Heights]. Taco Bell was a tremendous company to work for. I've been blessed in my life to work for some outstanding companies and outstanding people. Taco Bell taught me so much, gave me tremendous opportunities.
But, as I grew, specifically as a Christian, I came to a point where I knew that I invested 10 or 12 hours of my day, and at the end of the day, nothing had really changed. So, Pastor Frost and I sat down and had some discussions about opportunities at the church.
I was flying back home one day and just felt the Lord saying that there's got to be more to life. At that point, I was doing extremely well at Taco Bell. Had some opportunities, a company car. I mean, everything a business person would want. My goals and objectives for probably the first 15 years of my life were financial.
Q. Which isn't atypical.
A. Right. And we were moving very well in that direction. But that one day, on the way home, I asked myself, 'Why am I doing this?' So I talked to my wife about it. Probably about two weeks later, I talked with Pastor Frost again and he asked me if I had ever thought about working for the church as business administrator. If he had asked me two weeks before, I would have said no. But tears came to my eyes and I told him my story. That was about six years ago.
About six months later, we formalized a 31/2-year plan for me to leave Taco Bell and go to work for Rising Star Baptist Church as business administrator.
During that 31/2 years, I had opportunities that came up in Taco Bell. You have to understand that that whole financial thing was in the back of my head, 'Hey, more money, a better car. ..."
Q. Very tempting.
A. Of course.
Q. The devil was tempting you.
A. But I stayed true to my word.
It got down to June 1998, and I was getting ready to leave Taco Bell and be business administrator at Rising Star, and Pastor Frost said he wanted to talk. ... He asked if I ever thought about becoming business administrator at Eagle Heights. He said I'd be a natural. ... I said, well, I'm willing to think about it. ... I started at Eagle Heights on July 18.
Q. A brand new school.
A. We had a month and a half to open. It reminded me of the time when I opened stores for Taco Bell. I really believe God was preparing me back then to do this. By Sept. 1, we had everything we needed in this building except teachers' desks; everything else was here. And nothing had been ordered when I got here.
Q. Was it overwhelming?
A. Never. The thought was, 'We're going to do this.' It's kind of mind-boggling. When I tell people about Eagle Heights Academy, I can say without a doubt, it's a God thing. Within ourselves, we couldn't have done it. ... I still go home in awe about how it all worked out.
Q. So to a certain extent, you were really flying by the seat of your pants.
A. No ifs, ands or buts about it. It truly was a faith move, but it came together.
Q. Have you ever had a time since then that you regretted making this move?
A. Never. It's the best thing I ever did. It's so rewarding. The reward I received out of working for Taco Bell was seeing a 16- or 17-year-old come in, fumble around, clown around and maybe after three or four years see them as an active working part of the community.
Here, it's so rewarding to see the young minds come into this building that just lack discipline, just lack direction, just lack focus, and to see the teachers place that into a child.
XTHE WRITER/ Ron Cole, Vindicator education writer, conducted the interview.

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