Tire dealer Olin Mott didn't found Joshua House; it sort of found him.
The residential facility in the Tampa area for helping and healing abused, neglected and abandoned children was the vision more than a decade ago of Dottie Berger MacKinnon, its director of development and community relations.
But she'll be the first to admit that Olin Mott, one of seven Joshua House founders, is really ``the heart and soul'' of the place.
``He is our greatest resource,...our greatest asset,'' Ms. MacKinnon said of the founder and chairman of Olin Mott Tire Co. in Tampa. ``And the reason for that is, no matter what you need, you ask him, and he knows how to get it done. It doesn't matter what it is, whether it's trimming the trees, buying a lawnmower, buying a van, it doesn't make any difference.... He knows somebody who can help us. And most of the time, he gets it donated.''
For his contributions to Joshua House, and for his support of young people throughout the Tampa area, Mr. Mott has become the ninth recipient of the Tire Dealer Humanitarian Award. Presented by Tire Business, the award annually recognizes a tire dealer or retreader in North America who is making a difference in his or her community through charitable and volunteer contributions.
Mr. Mott, 81, was chosen as this year's honoree by an independent panel of judges outside the tire industry who were impressed with his ongoing commitment to making a difference in the world, specifically in the Tampa area.
``He has been a founder, fundraiser and a direct service volunteer to so many successful organizations,'' the judges noted in selecting him.
Besides Joshua House, this includes serving on the Florida State Fair Authority, co-founding the Fair's Horse Show Association, supporting University of South Florida athletics and youth soccer, and his involvement with Future Farmers of America, the local 4-H Club, as well as other agricultural, environmental and social service activities. He does all of this with the intention of ``bettering the community through his commitment to charity and public service work,'' the judges said.
Mr. Mott was honored Nov. 5 during the Tire Industry Association's International Tire Expo in Las Vegas. He received an engraved medal and a $1,000 donation to the charity of his choice-in this case, Joshua House.
Helping others less fortunate has been a part of Mr. Mott's life ever since he heard a speech by Winston Churchill on Armed Services Radio while stationed in Pearl Harbor during World War II.
It was 1942 and Mr. Mott, who was in Army-Navy Liaison Intelligence, was feeling sorry for himself. He didn't want to be there, and he was depressed.
But a statement by Mr. Churchill changed his life. ``We live on what we get, but we make life out of what we give,'' Mr. Mott quoted the former British prime minister as saying.
``And just like that, I said to myself, `My God, what a statement.' What am I giving? I'm giving nothing,'' Mr. Mott said.
``I looked around me and saw a lot of people who sure could do a lot of receiving. They certainly were in a lot worse shape than I was in. And I got to feeling pretty good. And I think right there that was one thing that changed my life.''
Since that revelation, Mr. Mott has become one of Tampa's most recognized citizens. He is a well-known businessman who, although retired, still works everyday at Olin Mott Tire, the dealership he founded in 1955. Now owned by son Rick, the company has six locations and two affiliate stores in the Tampa area selling Michelin, Uniroyal, BFGoodrich and Cooper brand tires. Daughter Linda Wren is in charge of accounts payable.
But Mr. Mott also is a ``not-so-well-known Angel of Mercy, Good Samaritan and Doer of Good Works that no one else has tackled,'' said Ms. MacKinnon of Joshua House, his best known charity.
The shelter in Lutz, Fla., is home to 60 children ages 4 to 12-many of whom have been sexually and/or physically abused-as well as a handful of teenage moms and their babies. In all, the shelter has housed and cared for nearly 600 individuals.
Over the years, Mr. Mott has supported Joshua House, in part, by using his many connections to get things done, often for free. This might mean finding an electrician to hook up a freezer or getting a group of masons to donate the mortar, cement block and their time to build a foundation in a single day for one of the houses at Joshua House.
Not just a facilitator
``I just enjoy doing things and bugging people to death,'' he said of his contributions. ``I tell them I don't have all the time in the world to spare, so just get the job done and get through with it.''
But Mr. Mott is more than a facilitator. He also puts on an annual fund-raising golf tournament, title-sponsored by Michelin North America Inc., to benefit the shelter.
This past year, the Michelin Golf Tournament raised $192,000 for a total $1.3 million over nine years, with all of the proceeds going to Joshua House.
While his work with Joshua House is well known to the public, Mr. Mott does many private things only a few people, if any, know about, said friend and Tampa philanthropist Robert Thomas.
``I've been impressed by his ability to do a lot of good deeds every day, of all kinds, to all kinds of folks,'' Mr. Thomas said.
Nobody knows, for example, that many years ago he took in a rebellious young man who was a ward of the court after being asked to do so by a juvenile court judge, Mr. Thomas said.
``He was a rebellious kid, rebellious to his own family. And he told the judge, `I'm not going to go back home. You can send me to jail or wherever you want, but I'm not going back to that house.' So the judge asked Olin Mott if he would take him and do something with him. And he did. He raised him.''
Mr. Thomas added that Mr. Mott is ``constantly thinking of some way that he can help something happen.''
Helping children and young people tends to dominate Mr. Mott's charitable and volunteer efforts. But when asked why, he replied: ``Well, I used to be (a kid). I was one for a long time. Still am. I'm in my second childhood.''
If that's the case, then he remains heavily involved in his own version of after-school activities.
He supports the Dream Center in downtown Tampa, which takes care of children in need, as well as several missions that aid area migrant workers. He collects clothes and toys, delivering them to the children at those organizations. He also has befriended local charter schools, taking them donations of clothes, books and supplies that he's collected. ``I beg for everything I can get,'' he said.
A former horse breeder, Mr. Mott supports the local 4-H Clubs, the Florida Junior Rodeo Association and the Florida High School Rodeo Association. In addition, he has served several terms on the Florida State Fair Authority and annually provides two $1,500 scholarships to students participating in Future Farmers of America.
To encourage agricultural teachers in the public schools, Mr. Mott annually sponsors a dinner for them and their spouses. ``This is his opportunity to show appreciation for those who seek to continue the traditions that go with farm families and the character building that takes place on the farm,'' Mr. Thomas said.
A roper-and ropee
Why is Mr. Mott involved in so many volunteer and charitable activities? ``I get roped into it. It's not my desire,'' he said. ``Somebody ropes you into it, and you try to make it work.''
Uniroyal Tire lassoed Mr. Mott in 1999 to conduct a test program for youth soccer it was putting together.
``He kind of helped get the program going,'' a Uniroyal spokesman said. ``He helped get a lot of dealers into it and provided a good model.''
Every fall, for the local soccer program, Mr. Mott and Uniroyal conduct a fund-raising event that donates a percentage from every Uniroyal tire the dealership sells during September.
And it was through Mr. Mott that Uniroyal learned about TOPSoccer, a U.S. Youth Soccer program that helps children with disabilities get involved in the sport.
``I get emotional about it,'' he said of watching those kids play.
Mr. Mott's volunteer efforts also have extended to the University of South Florida, where he has raised funds for athletic scholarships. ``He's not only made contributions to it, but he's introduced me to people he knows who have invested in the program as well,'' said Athletic Director Lee Roy Selmon, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers football player and a member of the National Football League's Hall of Fame.
``He won't take credit for anything, which is what I admire a whole lot about him,'' Mr. Selmon said. ``There's no `me, myself and I.' He tries to give credit to other people, when I know it's him.''
Roots in poverty
Growing up in a family of eight children in Cordelle, Ga., has had a lifelong impact on Mr. Mott.
``We were poor, we didn't have anything,'' he acknowledged. ``We didn't ask for anything. But nobody came around and told us we were poor.''
That experience has stuck with him. He and his wife Doris, who have been married for 56 years, have lived debt free all of their lives. Olin Mott Tire has operated under the same principle.
``Being debt free gives you an awful lot of opportunities to do things you couldn't do otherwise,'' he said.
But while Mr. Mott has striven to keep life simple, his work on behalf of others has been just the opposite.
The Tampa Metro Civitan Club recognized his contributions earlier this year by honoring Mr. Mott as its Outstanding Citizen of the Year, an award that has gone to a virtual who's who of the local community.
Mr. Mott also received the 1992 JC Penney Golden Rule award for his work on behalf of Joshua House. A year later he was presented with the Dave Thomas Child Advocate of the Year Award from the Children's Home Society of Florida.
Yet Mr. Mott seeks no publicity for his efforts on behalf of others, according to his friend Mr. Thomas, nor does he tie his volunteer and charitable work to his business.
``He's not a money guy. He's a worker,'' Mr. Thomas added. ``And what the world needs are workers.''