The scrap-metal business on Rock Island is a longtime family affair. Here, from left, are John Hargrove and his daughter Hannah of Orr-Reed Wrecking, Frances Okon, her granddaughter Toni and son Louis of Okon Metals.
“He came over from Poland with nothing, the shirt on his back, and started collecting animal bones,” Okon told me. “He would sell them to the fertilizer and feed companies. Then someone told him there was more money to be made by selling scrap metal.
“The reason he was doing it was because no one else wanted to. That’s where you find people who’ve been in this industry for 100 years. It starts with people who find themselves in a situation, back against the wall, nothing to lose, and they start doing what no one else wants to do and figure out how to make money out of it.
These families, these people who own and run the family businesses on Rock Island, are all college-going, money-giving, philanthropic pillars of the community now. That’s what generations of hard work and tough, smart business practice have wrought, not to mention a bunch of employment and who knows how many zillions in taxes paid over the decades.
Hannah Hargrove’s eyes flash electrically as she shows me the area of the salvage yard where she intends to bring in sculptors, artisans, glass-blowers and antique brokers to work from the materials gleaned from vast snow-drifts of salvage in her father’s yard. When her father nods and agrees — “We’re gonna have glass-blowers,” he says — it’s part assent, part question.