All in the Family
Fathers. Sons. Family. Business. Experience. Youth. Competitiveness. Cooperation. Conflict. Compromise. Risks. Rewards. Finding a way to make it all work. And work well.
Not everyone can do it – in life or in business, and certainly not in both. You’ll find exceptions, however, in some of the Treasure Coast’s most accomplished companies.
From boat building to bank loans to auto repair to oral surgery to estate planning, these sons and fathers (and in some cases, grandfathers) demonstrate that with respect for their clients, love for their crafts and most importantly – respect and love for each other – success in business can show up at the bottom line and well beyond.
Seacoast National Bank
Dennis “Corky” Hudson, Jr. and Dennis “Denny” Hudson, III
The stock market crash of 1929 took the country by surprise, but not Florida, where a busted real estate bubble ignited a crash as early as 1925.
“People were mad at the banks,” remembers Dennis Hudson, Jr. “They had lost their money at the banks and they wanted to get it back. My dad had to be very careful.”
Dennis Hudson, Sr. paved the way for his sons’ illustrative careers with humble beginnings. He worked a one-man bank in Boynton Beach. The owner, while on his deathbed, called for Dennis, Sr., whispered the combination to the safe and left the elder Hudson to run the bank himself.
Relocating from Boynton to Okeechobee, then Stuart in 1933, Dennis, Jr. rode on the flatbed truck carrying the diebold safe doors when he was 5 years old. Years later, he would take his little boy Denny (Dennis, III), along for weekend construction inspections – routine for banks considering extension loans for projects in progress.
“You’d meet with the customer and find out what was going on,” recalls Denny, 59. “I loved that part of the business.”
Even though Citizens Bank of Stuart is now Seacoast National Bank, and among Florida’s largest with assets of $3 billion, Denny says maintaining those close customer connections remains a priority. In many ways, Seacoast mirrors its home community of Stuart, which, despite many changes, still honors its core appeal.
“What hasn’t changed is the small-town feel and the great connection people who live here have for each other,” he says. “It’s a great place to live, work and raise a family.”
The health of one of its core financial institutions only contributes to that climate, Dennis says.
“My grandfather stated that, ‘If the bank is strong, the community is strong,’” he says.
Oral-Facial Surgical Associates
Drs. Sandy and Jim Strauss
Four years of college. Four years of dental school. Four years of hospital training. There’s no short academic path to becoming an oral surgeon. For Dr. Jim Strauss, the schooling started even earlier.
In high school he observed the procedures conducted by his father, Dr. Sorrell “Sandy” Strauss. Although highly educational, what inspired Jim to pursue the same profession was how his father handled his off-time.
“He was always happy in his career,” says Jim, 49, of Stuart. “He wasn’t one of those people who came home and complained about how horrible his day was. He always seemed refreshed after a day of work.”
He renewed patients as well. Growing up Jim often encountered people who raved how his father changed their lives for the better.
“It does change people’s lives,” says Sandy, 71, referring to the various procedures they perform to replace teeth and prevent jawbone deterioration, among others. “They go from not looking well, not feeling well and not being able to smile confidently in front of other people to feeling good again. We’re fortunate to be able to provide these services.”
Sandy is grateful Jim made the commitment to education and is enjoying the profession by his side.
“You give up your 20s to do this,” Sandy says. “In the long run, most of us are happy being where we are and doing what we do.”
Indeed, Jim says.
“What a great mentor to have – your father,” Jim says. “There’s no doubt he’s looking after your best interests and he’s not going to steer you the wrong way.”
Thurlow & Thurlow
Tom and Todd Thurlow
Those who don’t know history may be doomed to repeat it. But those who don’t know local history are destined to call upon the Thurlows.
Matriarch Sandy Thurlow is known for authoring several books on local history. Her daughter, Sewall’s Point Town Commissioner Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, incorporates history into her blog that covers our waterways. Even patriarch Tom Thurlow, Jr. weighed in, publishing a book in 2011 called Early Lawyers of Martin County: 1925-1965.
Tom counts his own father among those counselors.Thomas Thurlow, Sr. loved racing sailboats, which led him to discover Stuart in 1951. Thomas, Sr. soon moved the family from Syracuse, New York and started practicing law. Thomas, Jr. made the firm Thurlow & Thurlow when he joined in 1961.
At first, they handled real-estate law before shifting to today’s focus on estate planning, probate and trust. Both practice areas uncovered the title examinations that captured property history, undergirding much of Sandy’s research, says Thomas “Todd” Thurlow, III, 45, who joined the firm as a lawyer in 1998.
“The best part (about working with Todd) has been knowing him,” says Tom, Jr. “I know what he’s all about. It was the same with my dad and myself.
“It was a privilege for me to work for my dad.”
Todd feels the same way, and also recognizes the additional privilege of being able to work with his dad in the beloved town his grandfather stumbled upon decades ago.
“I love this town,” Todd says. “I feel blessed that I’ve had the opportunity to come back and work with dad and work in the family business. I just feel lucky to carry on this third generation business. It’s especially fun to get to work for the grandchild of someone whose family once worked with my grandfather.”
St. Lucie Battery & Tire
Joey, Doug and Mickey Miller
His achievements are significant – 13 locations, 140 employees, $30 million business. But for Joey Miller, success comes in creating a job where his sons, Doug and Mickey, can work with him.
“That was my dream,” says the 72-year-old Fort Pierce resident.
Joey founded St. Lucie Battery & Tire in the late 1960s. The boys joined him in the ’90s. But both were at the shop changing tires at age 14.
Doug, 44, realized the “opportunity to build on the foundation that my dad had created.”
“We’ve had a strong reputation for customer service and fair pricing,” says Doug, the company president. “We’re looking for a long-term relationship with the customer more than being out to make a lot of money. There’s a lot more to being successful than just the measure of your bank account. There’s how the community views your business, and what you support in your community.”
Besides its main business of servicing the auto, marine and industrial sectors, St. Lucie Battery & Tire supports The Humane Society, Little League teams, the Treasure Coast Food Bank, Future Farmers of America and more.
“If it wasn’t for our community,” Mickey says, “we wouldn’t be here. We’re not a big corporate place. We’re homegrown. We support our community and they support us.”
It’s a lesson that their father taught them – to support the community.
“Both boys were always good listeners,” Joey says. “Your business is not just your job – it’s a part of your life.”
Whiticar Boat Works
Curtis and John Whiticar
George “Curtis” Whiticar probably got his sea legs moments after learning to walk. Raised by a boating family, his father was a charter boat captain who moved the family from New Jersey to Stuart in 1917 to escape the cold of oyster season.
At 11, Curtis built his first flat-bottomed boat.
“The river was clean then,” the 104-year-old Stuart resident remembers. “We’d harpoon – or try to harpoon – fish near the bottom. We didn’t get many.”
Curtis started building boats for a charter business before founding Whiticar Boat Works in 1947.
His son, John Whiticar, 64, shared the same love. He’d make little wooden boats to play with in the river. He got his first outboard in high school and tinkered with the engine at the boatyard. After returning from adventures in sailing, he teamed with his uncle, John Dragseth, and cousin, Jim Dragseth, to manage Whiticar Boat Works. Their custom, cold-molded luxury sport fishing boats (the largest 70 feet) wowed customers.
Adding new divisions, Whiticar Marine North in Fort Pierce, Shearwater Marina and Industrial and Whiticar Yacht Sales, they sidelined boat building. With 50 employees today, John hopes to build boats again, preferably as a design consultant alongside existing boat builders.
In the meantime, he enjoys honoring the inspiring legacy created by Curtis, who golfs, fishes and has painted more than a thousand works.
“He’s been a good role model,” John says. “He has a lot of energy. He showed me the importance of getting the job done well, but also in a timely fashion. He’s really accomplished. He’s really well known. He’s done a lot with his life and he’s lived a long life. There’s a lot there to live up to.”