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American Dream: still coming true today

Bernardo Castillo came to Tuscumbia in 1992 from Guatemala after being asked by a friend to come help him. He was 24 years old. 

He soon moved to Russellville. He said there were only four Latino families in Russellville then. 

He went into the logging and lumber business without prior experience. He learned and advanced, working in many locales near Russellville. 

He encouraged good relatives and friends to come to Russellville. All those who came are productive, good people.

In 2004 Bernardo was working in Tennessee for a subcontractor of a large lumber company. Unknown to him, an executive of the lumber company had been watching him work and interact with his fellow workers. 

Suddenly, without warning, the subcontractor disappeared, abandoning his equipment in place. The other workers quit because they could see no source for getting paid. Bernardo was about to do the same when the executive came to him and asked him to keep working for a week, saying, “It will all work out for you.” 

Bernardo did that, keeping the work going without pay – and none in sight, except the vague promise of the executive. He trusted the man.

At the end of the week, the executive came to him and told him he could buy the abandoned equipment for $174,000. 

That was a very low price, apparently worked out between the missing owner and the executive.

There was, however, a problem. Bernardo had no money and no credit history. No way could he buy the equipment, bargain or not. 

He told the executive that. 

His response was to ask Bernardo to come with him. They went to a small, local, country bank. The president of the bank was waiting for them, and Bernardo was granted a loan for $174,000 to be repaid over three years. 

Bernardo could not believe this was happening. Was it perhaps a joke?

Then he realized the key factor. The executive who had been watching him had actually co-signed the loan, promising to pay in full with his own personal funds if Bernardo defaulted. 

He just did it. He asked for no promises or provisos or even thanks.

A few weeks later, Bernardo overheard several of the friends of the executive talking about what he had done for Bernardo. They thought he had lost his mind.

Bernardo continued the subcontractor’s work and paid the loan off in full in two years.

Look at what this mystery executive did. Based solely on his observations of Bernardo’s work ethic, productivity and relationships with other workers, he decided to mastermind a deal that would give Bernardo an opportunity to prosper. 

In doing that he was totally aware Bernardo could fall off a machine and die or get maimed for life. 

As a matter of fact, Bernardo has indeed had some serious injuries – but this man took that risk anyway, as a gesture of thanks and respect for a kindred human soul.

Today, Bernardo is an entrepreneur, independent and affluent. He states with quiet, humble pride that the man who believed in him was the trigger that has enabled him to send three of his children through college – one an architect, one a nurse and one a special education teacher. 

Further, he will soon send Bernardo Jr., now age 16, to college. 

The family owns an 85-acre farm, and Bernardo wants to become a full-time cattle farmer when he leaves the tough timber trade.

All that was started by the mystery executive who apparently desires no recognition. 

Asked if he is still in touch with his benefactor, Bernardo says he calls him 12-15 times every year. He tells him what he is doing and planning. Every time he thanks him. They have pleasant conversations.

Has the mystery guy ever asked Bernardo for anything at all? A favor, a loan, etc.? 

Not at all. Never a hint of that.

Bernardo’s phone calls must be the wind beneath his wings.

The American Dream is alive and well. Someday, Bernardo will reach out similarly to someone. 

His pay? Self-satisfaction in support of a worthy soul.

God bless America.

Dick Rowland is the senior coordinator for the Complete Census Count Committee 2020, Franklin County.