How did a rough-and-tumble kid survive being a gang member on Chicago’s mean streets in the early 1960s to become a successful entrepreneur? Fenwick had something to do with it — as did his nearly lifelong love of boxing.
There were 269 students in Roy Terracina’s 1964 graduating class at Fenwick. His academic rank among those boys was near the bottom: 254. “That’s why I wear these cuff-links,” the businessman and entrepreneur explained to three groups of current students in mid-April, standing on stage in the school’s auditorium and pointing to his wrist. “These remind me of where I was and where I started. I ran with a gang and got into trouble,” Mr. Terracina admitted. But he also stuck it out and got through Fenwick, by the grace of God.
His message to today’s Friars included anecdotes about some of his mistakes, his great love of family and his understanding of how faith has played an important role in his life. “My purpose is simple: to reach the bottom half of each class,” Terracina shared, “and to give them hope that the education they are getting is preparing them for the future; that the combination of studies and peer motivation mixes to make this a special, four-year education. I wanted a message of how special their time is here at Fenwick, even though they may not realize it today.”
After his high-school graduation, Terracina attended Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI, where he majored in finance. In the early 1990s he borrowed $1 million from a bank and bought Sterling Foods to provide packaged food to the military during the first Gulf War in Iraq. Eleven years later, Terracina sold the food-packaging business and transitioned to his present career at US Global Investors and CEO of Sunshine Ventures, Inc. (See bio.)
“I speak to youth groups and groups of young entrepreneurs about 10 to 15 times a year,” Terracina told the Friar Files. “However, no experience matches speaking at a place that means so much to me, as Fenwick truly changed my life.” Fenwick is unlike most places he talks, “where I normally have to ask the teachers to keep things orderly,” he shared. “Recently, I had to send a group to the principal’s office at a local elementary school in my home base of San Antonio. But Fenwick students indeed are different: well behaved and sponges for learning.”
Here is Roy’s story, in his own words:
“If I Had My Life to Live Over”
By Roy Terracina ’64
My teen years where filled with family stability, hard work with my father and a lot of confusion over who or what I was. I would travel by bus, elevated train and walk to get to a high school, Fenwick, that I didn’t feel a part of. I knew going to Fenwick was the right thing to do, but I knew it because I was told it was as opposed to ‘feeling’ it was.
My freshman year was particularly puzzling because my close friends from my younger years were all going to either public schools, or a much less academic Catholic school. My evenings as a student were filled with friends who attended mostly public schools and were learning trades, while I was trying to learn Latin and physics. The childhood friends quickly saw that I was different, as did my peers at Fenwick. So the reality is that I didn’t fit into either place. I felt lost, confused, bewildered and went with the flow of the day. When my friends were out on weeknights doing what inner-city kids did, I was to be home studying, but my heart and mind were not there.
I did what I had to do to get by, and yet found myself working twice as hard as my neighborhood friends, and still not keeping up with the Fenwick standards. I was small, and in a football-first high school at the time, did not manage to engage in sports.
In the neighborhood, we were out making trouble: fighting, chasing girls and, in general, not doing the things I needed to do to build my academic career. I found out that I loved competition, especially in sports, and particularly liked to lose my temper and fight. My friends would use me as the guy who would tease others into fighting since I looked like an easy mark. When I would get into it with someone much larger, the rest of my friends would jump in and “handle the situation,” and eventually I got tired of that and learned that my speed was enough to outmaneuver most larger boys.
One night in particular stands out, as I was clearly getting the better of an opponent only to have the police step in and take me in to the station. After calling my dad and having him come to my rescue, I was alone with him and realized that fighting was just part of my chemistry. It was then that I began to take the sweet science of boxing seriously, and began what is to this day a love affair with the sport.
School became a chore; the neighborhood became my playground, at least until one of my friends began to drive and we ventured out into the city of Chicago, where trouble awaited. Many nights were spent in fisticuffs, and it became a way to win the attention of young ladies, who thought it was brave.
In the meantime, as I got into my junior year at Fenwick, I realized that I had to stick it out at all costs and get my degree from this wonderful school. The neighborhood friends continued getting in trouble: the fights and the situations only got more dangerous. How was I, still a small, skinny kid going to make a name for myself? I chose boxing and I loved it. Any chance I would get was spent learning how to defend myself.
I knew right from wrong, and often chose wrong because it was far more fun. About this time I started dating Suzanne, who was to become my bride at the young age of 20! The craziest part was that most of my friends had been married before me, some of them having children before they were even into adulthood themselves.
I wanted to follow what I was supposed to do as a Fenwick Friar, and that was to go to college, leaving the friends and the neighborhood to the past.
Boxing is life for Terracina. Watch the 2008 video of then 61-year-old “Papa” Roy boxing Judge Nelson Wolff during an event that benefited the South Texas Hispanic Fund. Still in great shape at age 71, Terracina is a Golden Gloves Champion out of Chicago.
About the Author
Roy Terracina has been the chief executive officer at Sunshine Ventures, Inc. for nearly 25 years. Mr. Terracina also is a Partner at Jungle Labs. Prior to that, from 1984 to December 1993, he was the President at Sterling Foods, Inc. Terracina is the Vice Chairman of U.S. Global Investors, Inc. since May 1997 and Independent Director since December 1994. He is the Chairman of the Board of Our Lady of the Lake University since September 2006 and a Director of Earful of Books Inc. since 1994.
Mr. Terracina is a Director of Chase Bank, Texas Commerce Bank, National Association, United Services Advisors, Inc., and Mesirow Partners. Previously, he was a Director of Norwood Promotional Products, Inc., since November 1996. Mr. Terracina has taught Business at Marquette, St. Mary’s and Trinity universities. He was nominated as Entrepreneur of the Year by Venture Magazine. (Source: Bloomberg News)
Five years ago, Terracina shared his gut-instinct views on investing with the readers of Texas CEO magazine: “When you’re raised on a street corner, you have the ability to read people pretty quickly because you have to know who to trust. That’s how I pick businesses for investing – not because of the business – but because of the people.”
Students React to Their ‘T Talk’ with Roy
Nine out-going senior students and three sophomore boys shared their reactions to what Mr. Terracina had to say. Some responses are quite heart-felt.
Kelly Herrera ’18: “I learned that failure is a necessary process to go through in order to achieve overall success. It really isn’t where you begin, it’s where you end. I’ve heard so many talks about success, but this particular speech was very genuine and really depicted the struggles that any person could go through. I loved how humble and honest Mr. Terracina was during his talk. As a high school student, he didn’t get ideal grades for someone attending Fenwick. However, he did not let that stop him from better preparing himself for his future. I am the oldest child of three, and with that comes a huge responsibility to lead my siblings by example. I have come to believe that I have to keep my failures to a minimum for my siblings and for myself. But mistakes are how we learn and how we grow as people. I also learned that I cannot be completely wrapped up in trying to be successful because that leaves me with little room to have fun and enjoy life. I found it astounding how Mr. Terracina is now living his life; following his future, being committed to his family, and having fun. His life may not have started ideally, but he took the good and the bad and made a great life with it all.”
Siron Edwards, ’21: “Even though he was at the bottom of his class he still went on in life to be successful.”
Gabia Sleinys ’18: “I was never one of those kids who were at the top of the class and always felt discouraged by that, but this talk helped me realize that I can still redeem myself and have a successful future if I work to my fullest potential.”
Tommy Hogan ’18: “The biggest thing I took away … was that no matter how much money you make, or how successful you are, it means nothing if you are not a good person. I gained respect for him when he talked about how much he prayed and all of his charitable works. He is a very successful business man and it would have been easy for him to be arrogant or cocky. Rather, he was quite humble and talked about how his success has given him the opportunity to be a better Christian.”
William Grehan ’18: “I learned about the importance of being personable. Many people like Mr. Terracina and myself are not model students. However, grades are not the end all be all of being successful later in life. Being motivated, healthy and personable are all ways to put yourself ahead in your professional life.”
Jack Polston ’18: “Success is self-made. No matter what kind of disadvantage you are at or no matter how much you are struggling at one point in your life, success is always right around the corner for those who work hard enough. I also learned to never take your family for granted because they are always by your side. Family is something that is already the most important thing in my life, but Mr. Terracina reiterated its importance to me from a different perspective.
Maria Grija ’18: “There is nothing stopping you from becoming successful. I learned that getting good grades does not guarantee that you will be successful, and that having faith in God is important. I feel more eager to work harder beyond my academics and to place more importance on God in my life.”
John Prabhu ’21: “I learned that no failure in life is fatal, and no success is final. It is the good that we do each and every day that matters.”
Ethan Magrady ’18: “Remember to enjoy life alongside the more stressful parts of life (work, school, etc.). While Mr. Terracina clearly has a lot on his plate between his job and his family, he still finds time to do what he loves (fitness and boxing). Hopefully, I can find a good balance between my obligations and what I enjoy doing in my life going forward. Also, it was impressive that Mr. Terracina worked hard to improve his grades in college and that he continued to maintain his faith despite the adversity that he has faced in his life.”
Josh Venable ’21: “He was one of the worst in his class for Fenwick, yet he became a successful businessman. I learned that grades are important but they don’t define who you are as a person. It made me think about what I could do in this world.”
Joncarlo Soto ’18: “Both Roy Terracina and I came from rough backgrounds, but no matter what obstacles he came at him, he persevered and became a very successful man. He showed me that no matter what happens in your childhood, it is how you take it and use it to help build you up. The other thing that I took away was how strong his faith was. Even though his mother died of cancer, and his wife and daughter got cancer, his faith stayed strong and never let go of God. That is something that is quite astonishing because he knows he had many times where he could’ve said no to God and blame Him for all his troubles, [yet] he stayed close with God and never lost his relationship with Him.”
Doria Keys ’18: “Mr. Terracina’s talk gave me a lot of confidence in my future. To learn how he grew up and the grades he got while at Fenwick — and still managed to succeed — helped me better realize the opportunities we have just because we attended Fenwick and the endless ventures we can pursue to be successful.”