In the latter years of his life Bart Hartstock could often be found in his converted garage, turning pieces of wood into crafts while shavings flew into his hair, on his face and — onto his air mask.
Even as he battled a condition that damaged his heart and lungs, the retired businessman treasured the workshop — so much so he wanted to ensure it landed in the right hands after his death.
That generous quality dotted Hartstock's life and led to Hillsborough County Schools receiving the tools and machinery, valued at $100,000, for its vocational program. The donation will help future generations of Hillsborough County students land good-paying jobs, particularly those not bound for college but in need of advanced job skills and good earnings.
"Our goal is to prepare students for life's challenges," said Lauren Walden, supervisor of career and technical education at county schools. "We need to keep our equipment current within industrial standards. We are very grateful for this excellent donation."
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Born in Speed, Ind., a small town north of Louisville, Hartstock loved tinkering with machinery and solving complicated problems. That combination led to a degree in engineering at Rose Hillman Institute of Technology, in Terre Haute, Ind.
After college, he landed a job in Indonesia with Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., serving as director of a rubber plantation, for six years.
He eventually made his way to Philadelphia, but the dreaded thought of more cold Philly winter convinced Hartstock to pack up the family and move to sunny Tampa.
Once here, he met Charlie Caccamo, owner of Southern Equipment Corp., a company that built and installed commercial heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment. They hit it off and Caccamo invited Hartstock to join the company. It didn't take long for Hartstock to show his engineering skills and Caccamo offered him a partnership in the business.
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When Caccamo was ready to retire, he gave Hartstock the option to buy his shares of the company. Hartstock accepted and became president and CEO.
Over the years, Hartstock grew the business to over 200 employees from its meager beginnings in 1952. One of his more notable projects was re-plumbing the newly renovated Raymond James Stadium in 1998.
Successes like these enabled Hartstock to indulge his love of helping others though local philanthropy.
Over the next 28 years, Hartstock played a key role in Paint Your Heart Out Tampa, a citywide program that enables residents and organizations to help low-income, elderly and handicapped residents by painting their homes. Hartstock served on the Paint Your Heart Out board of directors and lent his company's property to store and distribute painting supplies.
Hartstock was a major supporter of the Helen Gordon Davis Centre for Women, a nonprofit that offers an array of programs to help local women succeed personally and professionally. His other board memberships included Hospice of Tampa, Make-A-Wish Foundation and Sacred Heart Church.
"Bart would always have his arms and wallet open wide to those in need," said Herb Gold, Harstock's friend of 30 years.
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It was while visiting his family's second home in Santa Fe, N.M., that Hartstock became gravely ill.
He survived, but spent months in coronary care recuperating. Because of the illness, Hartstock sold his business and retired.
But he was not ready to sit back and relax. Rekindling his lifelong love of working with his hands, Hartstock converted his two-car garage into a workshop any professional craftsman would envy.
As his health continued to deteriorate, Hartstock began to think of his legacy.
"I remember asking Bart, 'What in the world do you want me to do with the workshop once that times comes,' " his wife Shelley recalled.
Though his life was slipping away, Hartstock managed to make his wife laugh.
"Hold on Shelley," he'd say. "I'm not gone yet.
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Hartstock was 80 when he passed away Jan. 12. Shelley Hartstock knew from her husband's past discussions that he wanted the workshop to reside with an organization that could benefit the younger generation.
His wish was realized in August with the help of Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin. The tools and machinery, including a lathe and other woodshop items like a band saw and drill press, will be distributed to various schools in the district.
The gift comes at a time when the school district is placing greater emphasis on vocational programs.
"Not everyone wants to go to college and incur the debt that goes with it," Griffin said. "There are many careers that people can earn a great living with the appropriate technical education. We are extremely grateful for the generosity of Mr. Hartstock and his family."
Contact Mike Merino at [email protected]