Editor's note: Chuck Barancik and his wife, Margery, passed away in December 2019 after a car crash on Gulf of Mexico Drive on Longboat Key. Those who worked with Barancik and were recipients of his generosity described him as one of the most inspiring people they’d ever met.
Chuck Barancik, his wife, Margery, and their three children started the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation with $100 million in April 2014. Since then, the foundation has awarded nearly $29 million across 255 grants and initiatives. A Chicago native, Barancik had a genius for buying and developing companies in industries as diverse as bakeries, fire prevention and office furniture. Most of these acquisitions and their employees were spread out across the country, and yet Barancik ran the operations out of his Chicago office with only three other people. Active, engaging and razor sharp, Barancik says his family and his philanthropy are what he cherishes most.
“I’ll be 90 in May. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago, the third of four children. We were not a close family, and that is an understatement.”
“My dad was a doctor, first-generation American. His parents came from Poland. He worked like a dog and it ruined his health. My mother’s family came from Russia. She was a wonderful pianist, went to the Chicago Musical College, and graduated with all sorts of honors. [Growing up] was a difficult time. I didn’t get guidance from them.”
“I met Margie, who came from a loving, caring family, and that opened my eyes. I didn’t know such a thing existed. I just loved them.”
“I loved math in high school. In college, I chose accounting. When I got out I went to work for a small accounting firm in Chicago. I became the head of accounting after a few years, but I was not happy.”
“The firm had a client in California. He made acquisitions, and I was assigned to handle his affairs. That was an eye opener for me, seeing how he purchased things, drugstore chains, hotels, a small loan company, multiple banks. I thought, ‘This is what I want to do!’”
“I knew a lawyer in town who had some very wealthy clients and I told him I wanted to buy a company, but I needed partners. He said, ‘You find the company, I’ll get you the backers.’ I was 29 when I bought the first company in 1957. We made milk can washers and sold to dairy farmers. I didn’t know anything about due diligence, but [already] out in California, they were milking cows automatically into vats that were emptied into tankers to go for processing and bypassing the milking. So, we had to remake the company. We took the conveyor systems and adapted them to other uses in a whole new market.”
“I always seemed to be the victim of technology advances, but I managed to thrive. I bought a rather small publicly owned company with 85 bakeries in 65 cities. Every bakery had its own kitchen. Then Sara Lee came out with a central baking facility, freezing the goods and shipping them out. I bought Mayline, which made drafting furniture-drafting tables and accessories; that gave ground to computer-aided design.”
“I bought a company called Justrite Mfg. Co that made fire prevention equipment. When I took it over in 1965, it had a single product. From a single product we developed a complex array of products that prevented fire and explosions in companies that dealt with hazardous materials. Justrite Mfg. Co generated the money for me to buy many of these other companies. We got up to $45 million in sales. We had Justrite for 29 years.”
“Good business principles prevail in any situation. Day 1, you meet with the key people in that organization. We tried to support the officers of each company we owned, and it generally worked.”
“I wasn’t ever looking for the last dollar. We compensated our officers handsomely. And I’m not a fist pounder. If we have a problem, we’ll talk about it. Very rarely did I have to let somebody go. I don’t think anybody’s ever quit me.”
“The children, Margie and I were all shareholders of our companies. But I wanted to give an incentive [to employees] because a lot of these things I couldn’t run myself. So, we established a program of dedicating 25 percent of each company’s pretax profits to be allocated to profit sharing plans and bonuses. In the event of a sale, the officers got 20 percent of a gain. Why? I loved these people. They were beating their brains out for me.”
“There was an underlying flaw in all of this. I didn’t have any outside board members. We were inbred. I could have been much more successful had I done what I did with our foundation, bringing in people who had life experiences, business experiences, who knew what they were doing.”
“About 30 years ago, I told Margie, ‘I can’t take these Chicago winters anymore.’ Margie said, ‘Why don’t we take a look at Longboat Key?’ We fell in love with it, bought and moved in 28 years ago. I haven’t seen snow in 20 years and that’s just fine.”
“[After we sold the companies], Margie and I sat down one day, and we decided we have a nice lifestyle, and I said, ‘We don’t need this money. Let’s give back.’ Everybody was on board. In Sarasota, my family can make a difference.”
“I realized we had to have professional management. That’s how we hired Teri Hansen. It’s not just supporting organizations. It’s creating initiatives. Teri’s out there every day investigating and talking and meeting. She finds a need and we zero in on it.”
“Our two main interests are education and humanitarian. We just love what we’ve been doing with Sarasota County Schools and Reading Recovery. We teach kindergarten, pre-kindergarten kids and first graders, too, [because] if they’re not reading at the third-grade level by the time of the end of their third year, they will never achieve their potential. Reading Recovery has an 85 percent success rate.”
“Our third and fourth areas of interest are culture and the environment. Medical is our fifth category. We’re only going to get involved in medicine where a family member has had an issue. We give away $400,000 a year to a national multiple sclerosis society, dedicated to research, not to services. Our daughter has MS.”
“I would like our foundation to have impact forever. That’s in the bylaws. We pay a mandatory 5 percent a year of net assets on an average, and they can go up to 7 percent if there’s an extraordinary increase in the value of the assets. This is to be in perpetuity. You have no idea how rewarding this philanthropy has been.”
Six Ways to Make a Difference: Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation Projects
21st CENTURY LEARNING INITIATIVE A $3.7 million donation to this pilot project (in partnership with Gulf Coast Community Foundation and Sarasota County Schools) outfitted 319 Sarasota County middle school classrooms into high-tech learning environments, giving more than 10,000 students access to computers, tablets, digital microscopes, wireless handhelds and digital cameras, shifting the classroom from teacher-centered instruction to student-centered teamwork and problem solving.
BOYS & GIRLS CLUBS OF SARASOTA COUNTY A donation of $827,655 to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County helped open the Newtown Estates Park Club, which offers summertime and school-year programming for neighborhood youth.
READING RECOVERY AND KIDS READ Also in partnership with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation and Sarasota County Schools, the Barancik Foundation invested $800,500 in Reading Recovery, which teaches the bottom 20 percent of first grade students to read. Literacy experts, trained through the program, are in all 23 elementary schools. The program has an 85 percent success rate. Kids Read is the summertime version of Reading Recovery.
TEACHER MATH TRAINING The Barancik Foundation invested $1.1 million to train 800 Sarasota County elementary school math teachers how to better teach a subject that causes so much fear among students.
CORAL REEF RESEARCH AND RESTORATION In the last 40 years, Florida’s coral population has declined in many areas by more than 90 percent. The Barancik Foundation invested $625,000 to help build Mote Marine Laboratory’s new research facility in Summerland Key to expand coral reef restoration and research.
THE RINGLING museum The Barancik Foundation contributed $175,000 to The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art’s Where Everyone Belongs program to make sure low-income children and their families can participate in museum programs.