Monday, February 18, 2013
Robert Stasiukaitis's company, Low Country Case & Millwork, has crafted exquisite woodwork for some of the most elegant and most high-profile locations in the area, including the Charleston Yacht Club, Charleston City Market and Mepkin Abbey.
But when all is said and done, he says, he makes cabinets for a living – not typically a vocation that “makes a difference” in the world.
So it was overwhelming, in November 2003, after a devastating fire at his facility, to arrive at work in the morning after a long night watching firefighters from four stations battle to save his plant, to find his property swarming with 100 customers, suppliers, friends and associates helping to clean up the mess. Within a week he was back in business.
The outpouring gave him a glimpse of how he has touched others' lives.
Stasiukaitis said he follows the saying that you come into this world with nothing and you leave with nothing, so any money you make in the middle you're simply managing for someone else.
He tithes 10 percent of his personal income and 10 percent of the company's profit, with the money going to support causes far away, like overseas missions, and near at hand, like the Summerville High School band, with which Stasiukaitis and later his two sons played the trumpet.
His son David, who now runs the company, still works with the band, and Stasiukaitis said being around young people makes him realize the country will be OK.
“We've got great kids,” he said. “I get around these kids and they're just great people.”
Stasiukaitis gets his passion for helping from his father, Joseph.
World events of decades ago reverberate today here in Summerville. Joseph Stasiukaitis of Lithuania was separated from his family during World War II and ended up in a work camp in Germany.
A church sponsored him to come to the U.S. at the age of 15.
“The charity of others has been in his life his whole life,” Stasiukaitis said. “I grew up around all that.”
The elder Stasiukaitis joined the Air Force to earn his citizenship, and his last stint was in Charleston.
He stuck around and ended up raising a family and becoming involved in Bethany United Methodist Church in downtown Summerville.
Robert Stasiukaitis remembers being dragged to church every Sunday, but eventually, he says, what you hear in church starts to make sense.
After high school he went to the University of North Carolina, where he met his wife, Brenda, and studied physics, intending to get as far away as possible from his father's profession as a general contractor.
He can only laugh and shake his head at his youthful determination.
“Life always takes a funny turn, and God has a sense of humor,” he said.
He worked for McDonnell Douglas for a while, but the company wanted him to get a Ph.D., something he didn't really want to do.
Instead, one thing led to another and in 1990 he founded his company, focusing on woodwork rather than general contracting.
When the company started, he had two employees – his brother and his brother-in-law. Today the company is still a family affair, with his son, brother, brother-in-law, daughter-in-law and father working there, and altogether he employs more than 40 people.
His father remains committed to charity. In the years when the company can profit-share with its employees, his father gives every cent of his profit share to charity, Stasiukaitis said.
And it was his father who dragged him to his first overseas mission trip some 20 years ago.
Now Stasiukaitis finds he has to go overseas regularly to refresh his world view.
“It changes your life when you see how the rest of the world lives,” he said.
The worst poverty in the U.S. doesn't come close to what the developing world experiences, he said, and seeing others' struggles helps him realize how petty his problems are.
“When you realize how blessed you are, it makes all the difference in the world,” he said.
Like anyone, he still gets caught up in day-to-day worries and exasperations, but those regular trips remind him how small those problems are.
After a restructuring last year, he's transitioning out of the lead role at the company while David takes the helm so he can spend more time traveling and doing mission work. He and his wife will soon be traveling to Korea to visit their other son, Brian, who is teaching there.
And of course, he'll be spending time with his granddaughter, Ella.