Where opportunity meets preparation
Danville, New River, Patrick Henry, Paul D. Camp, Thomas Nelson and Tidewater Community Colleges. Howard A. (Andy) McCready, business owner and elected official in Pulaski County, can say he has attended them all. Oh, and don’t forget Radford University and Old Dominion University (ODU) on the list of this “lifelong learning” repertoire. He holds degrees from three of these institutions – all earned within a five-year period.
How does a person earn three degrees in five years? Some could say luck might have a hand in it, others like McCready would say, “It’s where opportunity meets preparation.” That’s one of his go-to phrases.
He didn’t set out to break any educational records; he just wanted to earn a degree in the hands-on field of electrical engineering technology. A 1977 graduate of Martinsville High School, McCready entered Danville Community College (DCC) and spent two years and two summers earning his first associate degree in general electronics, with a magna cum laude designation.
He graduated from DCC on a Saturday in August 1979, left for Norfolk the following day and on Monday started classes at ODU. He spent the academic year of 1979-80 there, but found that he needed a lot of general education classes to earn a degree from ODU. That’s when he decided he would enroll at Radford for a year to take those needed credits. His high school sweetheart, Karen, who is now his wife of 30 years, was a student there and he thought his time could be better spent in the New River Valley for the 1980-81 academic year.
Every Friday after his 3 p.m. class, they would drive back home to Martinsville. With flash cards in hand, Karen would test him on his calculus theorems as he sat behind the wheel for the two-hour drive. McCready worked 20 hours at a lumber mill on the weekends so he could pay his own way through college. The drive-time/study-time helped him keep up with his college work.
But, he wasn’t only a full-time student at Radford that academic year. Two weeks after he enrolled in Radford, he started taking business management classes at nearby New River Community College. While enrolled that quarter for 18 credit hours at Radford, he also enrolled for 17 credits at New River. He didn’t tell anyone at either institution, because he was afraid someone at one of them would tell him he couldn’t do it. But he said, “It was my time and my money.” So he would take day and evening classes; sleep from 7 p.m. to 1 or 2 a.m., get up to read and study; then start the day in his dual college classes all over again. It wasn’t until the end of spring quarter 1981, that he confessed to professors at NRCC that he was dually-enrolled full-time at NRCC and Radford.
“I plotted a course,” McCready said, “I knew I eventually wanted to own my own business.” The business management classes and eventual associate degree from NRCC would help him pave the way.
The summer of 1981, back at home in Martinsville, he took an evening business course at Patrick Henry Community College knowing that he could transfer those credits to New River. Then that fall he re-entered ODU, taking with him the general education credits he had earned at Radford. Consistent with his well-honed work ethic of being a full-time student simultaneously at two colleges the previous year, he found extra ways of spending his time efficiently back at ODU. While taking a full load of classes for his electrical engineering technology degree there, he taught a lab class in electrical motors as an undergraduate and picked up evening classes at Thomas Nelson and Tidewater (Virginia Beach campus) Community Colleges toward his business degree at New River. In late May 1982, he graduated cum laude from ODU; a couple of weeks later he graduated cum laude from New River with an associate degree in business management. That’s three degrees in five years.
His first job after graduating from ODU was as a plant engineer for Union Camp, a paper mill, in Franklin, Va. After two and one half years there, he became the company’s youngest superintendent of maintenance. Ever the student, he enrolled in evening classes in welding and plumbing code at Paul D. Camp Community College at its Franklin and Suffolk campuses. He said when the staff got to know him and learned of his qualifications, they had him teaching classes such as national electrical code, electronics and fundamentals of electrical circuits.
To fulfill the dream of owning his own business, McCready decided to go back to his “roots” of wood products and furniture in Martinsville and use the experience he gained from his first job after college. In 1986, he chose Pulaski County to open McCready Lumber, offering pressure-treated lumber to authorized retail dealers and independent furniture makers. His plant is now located in the Wurno community of Pulaski County, where he also rents warehouse space to other industries.
McCready’s desire to help make his community a better place led him to run for elected office. In 2011, he was elected Massie District’s representative to the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors. His hobbies include being a high school baseball and football referee and a fireman for the Newbern Volunteer Fire Department.
He shares his story to motivate, inspire and encourage others. He says, “The bottom line for me is when I hear someone tell me that they do not have enough time for homework and work. I remind them that there are seven days to a week and 24 hours to a day. You must make a commitment to study and do your homework every day to keep your grades up. After all, it is your money you are spending to put yourself through school.” He says if he could do it, anyone could.