Carl Ricker, 66, a former RV dealer in Swannanoa, S.C., was one of 11 inductees into the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans. Ceremonies occurred over the weekend in Washington, D.C.
Established in 1947, the association honors Americans who have risen from humble beginnings to become leaders in their fields. Their stories often follow similar plotlines to those of Alger, a 19th century writer whose “rags to riches” stories depicted characters who got ahead through perseverance, honesty and a bit of luck.
At 21, Ricker entered the U.S. Army and spent a year stationed on the Demilitarized Zone in Korea. At 24, he came out of the army and, with his uncle, started the used-car business, Carver & Ricker Motors, in Swannanoa on April 1, 1967.
In 1968, the business expanded into recreational vehicles, and by 1971, it had become the second-largest dealer on the East Coast. In 1981, Ricker branched out into real estate. By 1989, he was out of the car and RV business altogether and concentrated on real estate.
Ricker rose from humble beginnings.
He related that he was so poor growing up he couldn’t afford sneakers for physical education class, according to the Ashville Citizen-Times.
“I never asked for a handout,” he said. “I didn’t want to ask for anything, so I just failed the class.”
At 16, he got a summer job at a Billups Eastern Petroleum Co. station. He had to be there at 6 a.m., so he got up every morning at 4 a.m. to make the 6-mile walk.
Ricker said the manager was a bit of a drunk, so Ricker took on the bookkeeping, at which he excelled. During his senior year of high school, Billups offered him a job managing a station in South Carolina, so Ricker dropped out of high school.
He turned that station and another in Upstate South Carolina around, and the company made him a manager of its second-largest station, in West Palm Beach, Fla. At age 18, he took a job with the local Coca-Cola bottling plant as a route salesman, but before long went back to Billups, eventually overseeing stations throughout Florida.
Ricker’s real estate development company, Azalea Holdings, has evolved over the years into a major firm that owns more than 200 properties in the Southeast, comprising more than 2 million square feet of retail and commercial space. At one point, Ricker owned 105 Hardee’s restaurants and 29 Bojangles’.
Ricker is also a partner in Campus Crest Communities, a company that builds college dormitories. He’s also chairman of Capital Bank Corp. and co-founder of a credit card company, MXT Card Services.