My dad passed away suddenly on July 4th 2015 at the age of 87. His death was a devastating shock to our family and my two older sisters took it extremely hard. What made this loss even more devastating was that it came only 9 months after my mom’s passing in September of 2014.
My parents would have celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary on June 28th, just a week prior to my dad’s death. Looking back on the life my parents created for themselves and their family, it was a life filled with good times, bad times and some really great times. In the end, it was glaringly obvious that my mother and father were still deeply in love with each other. That realization is sometimes hard to see when your proximity is either too close or
too far. Nevertheless, it came through as a beacon of light from all those who knew my parents and conveyed their condolences during our time of loss.
I want to share my thoughts and observations in this month’s blog on the era in which my father came of age. I’ll expand on the histories of two men focusing on only a few select decades, then bridge into the early beginnings of Space Age Electronics. This is far from my comfort zone of technical writing; however, I honestly believe it’s important to understand something about the roots of a business that shaped its character and culture. My father often said to me as a boy, “listen to what they say, then watch what they do.” With those two elements, you’ll learn all you need to know about an individual or business’ integrity.
It was post-WWII, and America was entering one of its most prosperous periods since the Great Depression. A period in American society when, with a high school diploma or less, a man could raise a family and build his American Dream by working hard and following his passion. We know this era from movies such as The Bells of St Mary’s, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, A Streetcar Named Desire and African Queen. The Greatest Generation of my father gave way to the Baby Boomers and each subsequent generation was almost guaranteed to have more opportunities and a better life than their parents.
The stories and experiences here come from two individuals who led completely different lives. These two men were successful on their own terms and measured that success not in dollars, but the legacy they left and lives they’ve influenced. As different as their arcs through life were, there exists a remarkable linearity in their individual successes.
My father, Mike Ventola Sr., was born April 20, 1928 in Newark, NJ. It was the beginning of the Great Depression and he was the 2nd eldest of four. Gene Mongeau, the founder of Space Age Electronics, was born December 1, 1931 in Marlboro, MA. He’s the middle sibling with an older brother and younger sister. Two completely different environments with completely different socio-economic demographics. Both men took different educational paths in high school, both men served several years of military service and both men went on to build successful businesses by completely different means.
Mike grew up in the inner city of Newark, NJ where he and his friends were the “REAL” Jersey Boys. His generation came of age when America was entering one of its most prosperous times since the Great Depression. It was the time when young men begin to not only learn about who they are, but unknowingly begin to shape who they’ll eventually become. This was a tough neighborhood and being connected with the right people had its benefits.
Mike’s work ethic, fearlessness and loyalty to friends and family was forged out of necessity rather than desire. The responsibilities of the family butcher business fell on the shoulders of Mike and Sam, his older brother, when their father became too ill to work. Both became the primary breadwinners for the family, and by their late twenties they were responsible for not only their entire family’s standard of living, but also that of several friends and neighbors who worked with them.
Gene Mongeau grew up in a quiet area of Marlboro, MA, hung out with the neighborhood kids whose parents owned businesses and ran some of the largest manufacturing companies in the area. These were blue collar towns with blue collar workers where the apples rarely fell far from the tree. Their deep sense of morality and faith coupled with American ingenuity were the engines that drove this community to prominence.
Gene Mongeau enlisted in the US Coast Guard at the young age of 17, where he spent the next 4 years mostly at sea. Upon his discharge, he had earned the rank of 1st Class Petty Officer. Since a military career was not Gene’s passion, he went back to Marlboro and his roots where he worked construction for several years and then became a machinist at the Marlboro Wire Cord Company. By his early thirties, Gene was an accomplished machinist and had a talent for invention as well as making specialty machine parts. It wasn’t long afterward that this growing passion drove him to seriously consider starting his own machine shop.
With the financial backing of several business associates, Gene used his skills and his many relationships within the community to start his own company. The Mongeau family, for the first time, was in business for themselves providing products and services to the very companies that were previous employers.
It was 1963, the Age of Aquarius was upon the nation and the dawn of Space Age Electronics began building its legacy by serving the life safety industry in the New England area as a custom manufacturer.
These abbreviated histories of two men from different backgrounds provide the framework of what it was like growing up in a nation that provided opportunity and the fertile ground to grow a business. The family butcher business ran by Mike and Sam was already established and passed on to the sons by circumstances beyond their control. The business started by Gene Mongeau was thoughtfully assembled around his passion and skill for building things that no one had ever built before. Space Age Electronics would serve a growing industry that America had an ever-increasing appetite for.
Today, only memories of an honorable profession in the wholesale meat industry are left, replaced by the giant food suppliers that the mom & pop run businesses could not compete against. On the other side of the coin is a thriving business in a highly competitive industry that continues to innovate products never before produced by anyone, just as the founder Gene Mongeau did half a century ago. The sons and grandsons of our founder are currently writing a new legacy. For me, as I’m sure for many others at Space Age, being a small part of this history provides a unique satisfaction that I am honored and privileged to be a contributor towards.
American Dreams come and go, some give way to new industries that render their predecessors obsolete, while others transform over the decades reinventing themselves in lockstep with the industries they serve. Thankfully, Space Age Electronics is the latter. Staying relevant in any industry takes creative thinking, risky investments, a disciplined work ethic and passion in the belief that “what you do makes a difference”. This formula is as true today as it was 50 years ago. Those that are in the trenches making that difference are the very descendants of the many fathers and grandfathers who built their American Dreams for their own reasons and on their own terms.
To use that old expression which has its many forms, “Listen to what they say, then watch what they do”, is fitting for sharing our American Dream with our friends (who are also our customers). Space Age Electronics, over the decades, continues to do what they say for their customers and the industry as a whole. We do this because it’s the only way to stay true to our roots and it’s what we know best; it’s the nucleus of our business culture. Thank you for taking the time to share in our story. This simple gesture of crafted words pays tribute to all those who came before us, so that subsequent generations may have a better life then our parents ever dreamed possible.